Birder's Eye View

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

SD Saga: All Mines!

On the 16th day of our trip, we elected to go geocaching again. We only had 3 days left, one of which would be spent packing and prepping the cabin for our departure, and the other two would be spent traveling back to Denver and then home.

The winding road to the trailhead wove in and out of the railroad tracks where the 1880s tourist train ran between Hill City and Keystone. Mountains, valleys, forests, farms, old mines, and meadows could all be seen along the road. It was postcard-perfection.

The trail itself was as beautiful as the drive to it, but much more strenuous. Just a half mile long one way, it ascended about 700 feet up a mountain. It was steep, rugged, densely wooded, and had old car parts and mining equipment sticking out of the ground in some places.

Near the top, we came across an enormous mine shaft-type building towering up out of the terrain like an abandoned fortress. Before checking it out though, we hiked the rest of the way up to find the geocache.

Further up the mountain, we found MORE mines! These were more stereotypical -- big tunnels blasted in the side of the mountain with wooden frames around them. One mine was mostly caved in, and would require some intense crawling, but the other was more open. Mine cart tracks were sticking out of the rocks, twisted and rusted out.

We found the geocache after a bit of searching, and then after rehidingit, we cautiously crept into one of the mines. It was incredibly decrepit, and seemed like a terrible idea to go too far in, so we didn't venture much further than the first room. Rotted wood framing was the only thing between us and several hundred pounds of loose rock crumbling off the ceiling.

Although the mine had apparently produced some gold back in the day, tin, mica, garnet and lithium were much more abundant in these particular claims.

We hiked further up the mountain, and found yet another mine, but this one was visibly flooded out.

Fortunately, we had left the best for last.

As large as the mine shaft building had looked on the outside, it seemed even bigger on the inside. The first floor seemed like some sort of drive-through dumping station, where materials would pour in from big funnels on the ceiling.

After carefully clambering up a set of rotted out stairs, we found ourselves on the second floor. There wasn't much here besides some large machinery and graffiti on the walls.

On the third floor, we found an old workshop, and some interesting, though cryptic, structures. There were gaping holes all over the floor, and many of the boards groaned and cracked under even the lightest step. It was slightly terrifying and awesome at the same time.

Also on the third floor, there were some large chutes with old piles of sand under them. It looked somewhat like the equipment we had learned about in the Big Thunder Gold Mine, days before, but everything here was on a much larger scale.

The mine shaft building went up at least two more floors, each more dilapidated than the ones below it, so we didn't go any further than the fourth level.

Outside, there were heaps of quartz tailings from the mine blasts, piled over 20 feet high and glittering with crystals, mica, tiny garnets, and shards of metal. The entire mountain must have been like swiss cheese with all the mines drilled through it. I wondered how many more could be out there.

It was already well past lunch time, so the hike down on an empty stomach was exhausting. But it had been more than worth it. There aren't many places left where you can spend an entire morning and then some alone on a mountain, wandering through abandoned mines. Like everything else on this trip, it was an unforgettable experience, and one I won't soon forget.

Part 9 will be posted tomorrow.

Labels: , , ,


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home