A specialized industry is bringing jobs to Colorado and it is all because of gold prices.
Unexpectedly, the value of the commodity has skyrocketed in recent years as countries around the world are faced with devalued currency. The translation is record high gold prices never seen before.
The demand has reignited work in towns across America that were once close to uninhabited. Two Colorado towns - Cripple Creek and Victor, about 40 miles west of Colorado Springs - are reaping the benefits with miners returning.
"Gold is where it's at," Shannon Murphy, owner of Murphy Mining and Exploration, describes. His company is one of a handful taking advantage of new opportunities in the district.
The last time this area saw heavy production was during Colorado's biggest gold rush between 1890 and 1910. Dozens of mines set up shop as they all hoped to find the valued treasure.
Back then, most mines were tunneled by hand. Over $500 million worth of gold was extracted during that 20 year period making Cripple Creek and Victor the third best producing region in the U.S.
During that boom in production, the district's population surpassed 50,000 people at one point. Today, however, just over 1,000 live in the area.
Murphy comes to the town almost every single day where his flagship operation, Providence Mine, is just one mile away.
"You'll see the actual location of our underground workings," he said while pointing to a cross-section diagram of his mine. "We drill from the surface, go underground and are able to define the gold rich areas."
Today, crews are adding to Providence Mine by building onto older tunnels which were abandoned in the late 1950's. Miners follow a gold vein down ten levels of tunnels while extracting only the gold-rich dirt. "We actually extract what would essentially be the cheese in the sandwich."
Since 2004, Murphy and his team of investors have paid over $12 million to get this mine operational again. Most of the cost has funded new safety measures, a reinforcement of the tunnels inside, and expansions within the mountain.
"We are going to be able to control our overhead costs because we've got our own processing facility," Murphy said. "It really makes us a one-stop shop."
But, he admits full production could not have been accomplished without the spike in gold prices. "On a number of occasions, it's brought great smiles when we see the results and other times, mixed emotion," Murphy said. "[In 2007 and 20078,] it became more and more difficult to operate."
"We were forced to look at the options of liquidating company and selling off assets."
When Murphy started filing the paperwork to explore for gold in Colorado, he says the price per ounce was $370. Today, that same amount of gold is going for nearly five times that - over $1,700 an ounce.
"Gold has got such a potential upside that we knew we needed to fight the fight."
At full production, Murphy hopes to process 100 tons of gold each day. Out of that dirt, he expects to get between 75 and 100 ounces of gold, netting him nearly $175,000 per day. He expects a little more than one-third of that money to cover overhead and the rest to be profit.
These record prices are also driving business at another operation just down the road. The massive Cripple Creek and Victor Mine has been processing thousands of tons of dirt each day since 1994.
Instead of drilling tunnels, this mine moves mountains. "We are currently a 24 hour a day, seven day a week, 365 day a year operation," Public Relations Specialist Sue Greve described. "We do not seize running."
Each year, the mine extracts hundreds of millions of dollars worth of gold - all below the mines that dotted this landscape at the turn of the 20th century.
Crews here focus on the richest dirt, carting "waste rock" off to a dump site. Today, though, in light of record prices, things have changed.
"They are processing rock now as ore that would have been considered waste rock," Greve said. "The gold that is in here is very hard to extract for us, but it is worth going after."
Crews use explosives to jar the dirt inside of these mountains free. From there, massive 100-ton shovels load 300-ton dump trucks on their way to the crusher.
After a half-hour drive, jack-hammers crush boulders of this gold-bearing material into tiny pieces to be processed. At the end of the day an unimaginably small amount of gold is extracted.
"We don't dictate price of gold but will take advantage of it," Greve said. "The current price makes it very lucrative for us to do business."