Rhodochrosite: The Leadville Connection
Colorado’s Red, White, and Blue
Happy Birthday, Colorado! Yes, this weekend kicks off the state’s 144th birthday parties. It’s an outright celebration of everything red, white and blue. And fellow Americans, when it comes to states, Colorado simply couldn’t be more patriotic. Its nickname is the Centennial State, because in the year of America’s 100th Birthday – 1876 – Colorado received its statehood. And of course, there’s the fact that “America The Beautiful” was written by Katherine Bates when she saw Pikes Peak and was inspired to write the verse, “Purple’s mountain’s majesty, above the fruited plain.”
But did you know that Colorado is the only state whose official geological symbols are red, white and blue?! Yes, when it comes to Colorado’s State Mineral (red- rhodochrosite), State Rock (white – Yule marble) and State Gem (blue- aquamarine) this color trio is an intended tribute to America. And – of course – this patriotic gesture has a Leadville connection!
The color red is represented by Colorado’s Official State Mineral: Rhodochrosite. And it’s here that the local connection weaves into the red, white and blue story. The official bill to designate a state mineral was sponsored in 2002 by State Senator Ken Chlouber and Representative Carl Miller, both from Leadville.
The initial suggestion was presented by a high school Earth Science class, located near Bailey, who became aware that Colorado did not have a state mineral. After some debate, the students decided that rhodochrosite, because of its red color (similar to Colorado, which means “reddish” in Spanish) should be the state mineral. They wrote a letter to Rep. Miller suggesting the designation. And for a couple of country-loving Americans like Miller and Chlouber, working jointly to introduce this legislation was easy! Within three months rhodochrosite was designated the Colorado State Mineral and signed into law by Governor Bill Owens on April 17, 2002.
The white color in the geologically patriotic combination is represented by Yule Marble, Colorado’s State Rock. Again, it was a group of young people – Girl Scout Troop 357 – who prompted State Representative Betty Boyd to introduce the bill. As the state known for the majestic Rocky Mountains, the scout group argued, it seemed odd that the state did not yet have an official state rock. Being surrounded by Yule Marble in the floors and trim of the State Capitol building, it wasn’t too much of a legislative reach to accept the designation.
In addition, the Girl Scouts urged, designating the Yule Marble would complete the official geological symbols to be red, white and blue. Smart young women! Gov. Owens had the honor of completing the star-spangled trifecta when he signed the bill into law in March 2004.
Yule Marble has been used in many famous buildings and sculptures, including the Lincoln Memorial, Washington Monument, and the Tomb of the Unknowns.
Rounding out the American-themed symbols is the color blue, represented by Aquamarine designated as the state gemstone of Colorado back in 1971.
You’ll need to head a bit south of Lake County, towards the mountain peaks of Mount Antero and Mount White in Chaffee County, to capture the finest quality of these “blue” aquamarines. According to the Colorado Geological Survey website, they are also among the highest in elevation, located at 13,000 to 14,200 feet. The crystals in these cavities range in color from light blue to pale blue and deep aquamarine green, and in size from very small to 6 cm in length.
There you have it! As you celebrate America’s birthday this week, sing out a little song of “Three Cheers for the Red (Rhodochrosite), White (Yule Marble), and Blue (Aquamarine)!” That’s how we’ll be celebrating it in Leadville Today.
Kathy Bedell © Leadville Today. Colorado Journalist Kathy Bedell owns The Great Pumpkin, A Media Company located in Leadville, Colorado which publishes LeadvilleToday.com and SaguacheToday.com. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.