Outdoors Information

Stay Out of That Old Mine!


It seems like the most adventurous thing in the world. That dark opening in the hillside beckons, tantalizes, excites. What wondrous treasures await discovery inside? What artifacts might remain in this time capsule, mute testimony to an era when grizzled men moved tons of rock in pursuit of their dreams? Such is the poetic, romance-novel appeal that might induce you to take leave of your senses and crawl into an old mine. Thousands of such small openings are scattered throughout the country. Although most common in the historically "hard rock" Western mining states, they can also be found in the old lead and copper districts of the Midwest. In reality, multiple dangers lurk beyond the pale ring of light that filters through the adit mouth.

While scoping out a field area for a thesis project, I spent six weeks camping and hiking in the West Elk Mountains, in the Colorado Rockies. My days were spent tramping around the flanks of a majestic 13,000-foot peak, chosen due to tantalizing reports of silver mining activity around 1900. During my ramblings, I came across several old mine workings. Some were simply short adits driven into the hillside, designed to test for the presence of silver, copper, and lead minerals that might be distributed within the contact zone of the porphyry intrusive that defined the mountain peak. Other workings, though small, were relatively more sophisticated and had rail tracks extending from the passageways out onto the progressively extended pile of fine waste rock. I explored each of these, sometimes crawling over piles of rock that had fallen from the roof or ribs, or widening a hole and sliding down the pile of washed-in dirt to reach the adit floor.

This really was the height of folly, as I was alone in the wilderness and had no idea of the potential dangers. I currently work in the field of ground control engineering, and have firsthand knowledge of numerous fatalities that occurred in active mines when rock fell out of the roof without warning. I have also become more familiar with the extensive engineering design work, and variety of support systems, required to develop and maintain a mine opening. The "old timers" were often lucky by developing small openings in hard rock, but modern mining engineering indicates that time does not favor stability.

A more insidious danger is represented by a lack of breathable air. In sealed underground openings, the air may have become "stale" by not being circulated through the outside. In modern mines, a staff is devoted to designing and maintaining ventilation systems that cycle fresh air through the mine. Some gases displace oxygen, but are colorless and odorless and give no warning of danger until the person suddenly realizes that they feel as though they have been holding their breath for several minutes. This is a condition known to miners as "black damp" that can cause loss of consciousness or death. While working in Bolivia, I entered over a dozen small mines in a district that had been developed initially by the Spanish, or perhaps even the Inca, and later by a Polish mining engineer in the early 1900's. The most modern operation had closed in the 1980's, when the underground portion of the mine was abandoned as uneconomical, but a small open pit was developed that intersected some of the old workings. As a geologist working to unravel the geological history of this area, I entered the mine to document the relationships between intrusive phases. As I was intently concentrating on the last face of the mine, trying to decide if the rock was rhyodacite or dacite, I suddenly noticed a warm, tingly, numb sensation in my nose and lips. Panicked, I exhaled what little air remained in my lungs and held my breath, while at the same time wheeling and sprinting back up the tunnel. Weird, ghastly shapes of rotten canvas and timbers danced in the shadows thrown by my flashlight. I had little hope of sprinting the nearly 300 yards to the mine mouth, but as gray spots floated before my eyes, I determined to keep my legs pumping to at least get out of what might only be a pocket of bad air. Then I saw a sliver of light where the floor of the open pit had intersected the tunnel. Fresh air! I ran to the cut and gulped in the thin mountain air. Although the air smelled like decaying sulfides, at least the threat of black damp was gone, and so my panic subsided enough to allow me to walk briskly out of the mine.

Crawling into an old mine, in which no miner or engineer has evaluated the condition for decades, is something that I would now consider as pure stupidity. No shiny bauble or rusty artifact is worth it. Take a picture of that beckoning hole, and then leave it alone. Remember that the "old timers" have already taken out the rock and dumped it on the ground for you. Satisfy yourself with a little piece of azurite, malachite, chalcopyrite, or pyrite from the dump pile if you must have a souvenir, but stay out of that mine!

About The Author

I am a geologist who has visited several countries in Latin America and Europe, and worked on various civil engineering and mining-related projects in the U.S. and elsewhere. I have published in scientific journals, but thought it would be fun to write about some of my travel experiences on a more informal level. I have other pictures and geology items at my homepage, http://sedward.home.netcom.com/petrography.html

sedward@ix.netcom.com


MORE RESOURCES:
This RSS feed URL is deprecated, please update. New URLs can be found in the footers at https://news.google.com/news


Chron.com

Outdoors report: Dec. 16
Chron.com
Galveston - Guide James Plaag of Silver King Adventures reported a good bite for trout on Bass Assassins before the front. Most of the fish have been in 5 to 12 feet of water. Matagorda - Tides were almost 3 feet below normal. Guide Scott Sparks ...

and more »


WCBD News 2

Hike It Baby gets parents, babies outdoors
WCBD News 2
CHARLESTON, SC (WCBD) – The Lowcountry chapter of Hike It Baby is here to encourage and help parents to get outdoors with their young children. The goal is to raise a generation to love the outdoors. The groups began in Portland, Oregon and now has 300 ...

and more »


Chicago Sun-Times

Ice sketchy, ducks, walleye/sauger and perch: WWW Chicago outdoors
Chicago Sun-Times
Yet ice is sketchy enough that perch fishing remains the lead for this Wild Weekend Wandering around Chicago outdoors. There are other things, such as trying for lakefront lakers along with the perch; sandhill cranes are at a season high at Jasper ...



Baltimore Sun

Recreation and outdoors calendar (Dec. 17)
Baltimore Sun
Jay Bernstein jigged up this 32-inch rockfish on the Chesapeake Bay recently. He was fishing with Dale Morton and Martin Abel. (Courtesy photo). The Baltimore Sun. Duck season. Through Jan. 27: Last split of duck season. Daily bag limit is six birds ...



KHOU

Sutherland Springs family sues Academy Sports + Outdoors
KHOU
SUTHERLAND SPRINGS, Texas – A Sutherland Springs family is suing the retailer that sold church shooter Devin Kelley the assault rifle that killed three of their family members. The Webster Law Firm confirmed the Ward family is suing Academy Sports and ...
Sutherland Springs family sues outdoors store where church shooter ...mySanAntonio.com

all 6 news articles »


KHOU

Win tickets to the 2017 Academy Sports + Outdoors Texas Bowl ...
KHOU
The Texas Longhorns will face Missouri in the 2017 Academy Sports + Outdoors Texas Bowl at NRG Stadium. Enter for a chance to win tickets to the big game on Wednesday, December 27, 2017.

and more »


Naples Daily News

Grandview at Bay Beach residents to enjoy connection with outdoors
Naples Daily News
FORT MYERS BEACH — Residents of Grandview at Bay Beach, an 11-story luxury high-rise to be built by homebuilder and developer London Bay Homes within the gated Waterside neighborhood at Bay Beach on the southern tip of Fort Myers Beach, will enjoy ...

and more »


KTUL

Oklahoma model railroaders take the hobby to the extreme outdoors
KTUL
Oklahoma model railroaders take the hobby to the extreme outdoors. by Tyler Butler. An hour before our arrival, Hugh Keen had begun shoveling coal, stoking the fire and building steam pressure in his real, functioning steam locomotive. (KTUL). 1st.PNG ...



The Denver Post

GOCO awards $14 million to nine communities to get kids playing outside
The Denver Post
The City of Westminster's POWER-PODER group – which stands for “Promoting the Outdoors Through Wellness, Education and Recreation” and “Promoviendo Oportunidades de Educación Recreativas” gets $1.4 million to improve park and open space access in ...
$1.4 million GOCO grant will give underserved Eagle River Valley kids new access to outdoor adventuresVail Daily News

all 2 news articles »


Kokomo Perspective

Outdoors, travel, leisure: PF Hendricks has it all
Kokomo Perspective
“My slogan is outdoor, travel, and leisure,” said Fritts. “A lot of the things in here are really good for travel. You can wad them up in your suitcase, and they'll survive.” Dominating P.F. Hendricks is a display of Yeti merchandise, ranging from full ...


Google News

home | site map | Ocean Photography
© 2006