Well below the scenic mountains of Clear Creek and Grand counties lies a mechanical marvel. A fifteen-mile conveyor belt that hauls the earth’s material from the Henderson Mine to the Henderson Mill in Grand County. The material is a silvery-white metal called molybdenum and the Henderson mine just outside our back door just happens to be the largest producer of molybdenum world-wide.
Historically, the Climax Molybdenum Mine became known as the premier, world-class underground mining operation under the leadership of Robert Henderson in the 50’s. In 1959 he became the General Superintendent, dramatically increasing the mine’s production of material with his “slusher drift” system. Prior to that time, the mine was instrumental during World War II, when molybdenum became a strategic metal providing virtually all the molybdenum for the Allied war effort.
Molybdenum, if you’re not familiar is most commonly used commercially in the production of alloys, where it is added to increase strength and electrical conductivity. It’s highly resistance to corrosion and is used in a wide variety of products such as saw blades, electric heater filaments, missiles, drills, saw blades, engine parts, lubricant additives, protective coatings in boilers and ink for circuits. It’s sold as a gray powder, and many of its products are formed by compressing it under extremely high pressure.
The Mill in Grand County has been in operation since 1976 and has produced nearly 200 million tons of ore and over 700 million pounds of molybdenum. It still employs dozens of workers in Grand and other surrounding counties. It sits at an elevation of 10, 000 ft on Ute Pass, a scenic 27.2-mile-long road that many locals prefer as a back-road when traveling to Summit County. The drive offers jaw dropping views of the expansive Gore Range. Once a top the pass the mill’s man-made tailing pond and dams are equally impressive.
If you haven’t explored the mill area or Ute Pass you’re missing out. Ute Pass is also a favorite recreation area for hunters, hikers, campers and those who enjoy horseback riding. The Ute Pass Trail-head is also a magnificent place to view the upcoming changing aspen. If you have the opportunity, it’s a worthwhile drive.