The Marble quarry marvel | PostIndependent.com

The Marble quarry marvel

Will Grandbois
wgrandbois@postindependent.com

The Colorado Stone Quarries above Marble aren't what they used to be — and as far as the new owners are concerned, that's a good thing.

The rambling, cathedral-like chambers in the historic section have an undeniable beauty and grandeur, but the methods that shaped them were far from the height of safety or efficiency.

In the three years since Italian company RED Graniti purchased the quarry, crews have opened up an entirely new gallery 150 feet above the old one, and just this spring began work on yet another portal. The old quarry, known as the Washington Gallery because it furnished the marble for many of the capital's monuments, is now all but abandoned.

The Lincoln Gallery, named for the marble's most famous memorial, is a striking contrast. While the soaring ceilings of its predecessor are absent, the new gallery is already an impressive space. Its clean, straight lines and organized pillars full of stress sensors lend it a cleaner aesthetic marred only by a layer of pulverized marble mud on the floor. All the water used in the quarry is stored and recycled, the air is clean enough to make respirators unnecessary, and the hum of saws is manageable without ear protection.

“Everybody knows the Carrara marble, and we compete with it with Colorado marble.” Quarry Master Stefano Mazzucchelli

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The marble itself is a white of an almost unmatched purity, formed when a layer of limestone composed of tiny ancient sea creatures met the large underground bubble of molten stone that later formed the surrounding mountains.

"This is the best marble in the world," said Quarry Master Stefano Mazzucchelli. "I've worked in quarries for 37 years, and I've never seen something like this."

The top quality Calacatta Lincoln goes head to head with marble from Carrara, Italy, which was used for the likes of Michelangelo's David.

"Everybody knows the Carrara marble, and we compete with it with Colorado marble," Mazzucchelli said.

The majority of the stone quarried in Marble is taken by truck, train and ship to Italy for processing. About half of that ends up sold back into the United States. General Manager Daniele Treves hopes that someday the company will invest in a domestic processing plant to streamline the process.

Despite the foreign ownership, the quarry has done its best to become part of the community, donating blocks to the Marble Symposium and Carbondale Public Arts Council, and supporting organizations like the Marble Charter School.

Most of the workers are also local. The crew now consists of 40 people, more than three times what the company started out with three years ago.

"We invest in training, and now we have a really good team," said Treves.

Even with all that manpower, Treves estimates there are several hundred years' worth of quarrying to be done. In reality, it might take longer, to avoid flooding the market and to ensure that only the best stone gets the stamp of approval.

"We don't want to take too much," he said. "We want our quality to stay very high."

On a lush hillside at 9,000 feet above sea level, the quarry operates year-round. When snow drifts pile 10 feet high, avalanche danger sometimes closes the road. Treves hopes to improve the access by using crushed marble as road base.

It's a productive use for the waste, most of which used to end up on the hillside or in the stream. Except for a small section for historical interest, the company is working on cleaning up the area and reintroducing vegetation. Watching bears and other wildlife forage along the hillside, Treves has a sense of stewardship.

"We are in this beautiful part of the mountains," he said. "We need to keep it like that."