|News and Trip Reports|
UNDERGROUND 2020 IS COMING!
Our seventh annual get-together for explorers of all kinds is happening this November at the famous Ballarat Ghost Town in beautiful Panamint Valley. For more information, please visit the Facebook event page by clicking here.
We're no longer posting most updates to this news page. Current events and information can be found on our Facebook page where we can interact with everyone much more easily and post updates quicker. Pictures are still be posted to the web site as well as on Facebook. We also have a Facebook group where you can share your own pictures and adventures.
November 2018: We traveled to Tecopa, California to host Underground 2018, our fifth annual get together of mine explorers, desert rats, cavers and off-roaders. We had over 200 people attend and everyone had a great time exploring and socializing. We gave away over $3,000 worth of prizes during the free raffle and had a huge party on Saturday night. Thank you to everyone that helped make Underground happen and to everyone who attended.
October 2018: We once again travelled to the historic mining town of Cerro Gordo in the Inyo Mountains to work on the town's water system. Cerro Gordo was recently purchased and the new owners asked for our assistance in evaluating the current state of the water system and supply. The town's water comes from a seep located on the 700' level of the 900' deep Union Shaft. The water is pumped up to the surface and then distributed. The pumping system failed around 2010 and the town has not had a reliable water supply since.
We first worked on the water system in 2013 in conjunction with the Metabolic Studio who rebuilt the hoist house and provided funding for the needed equipment. Unfortunately do to issues primarily related to the hoist and cage we were not even able to reach the 700' level and only made it down to the 400' level (where we freed the cage from a piece of metal it had become stuck on). Examining the pump and water source as long been unfinished business for the team.
We rigged the shaft with a 1,000' rope and a 600' rope, both connected to haul systems. Four team members descended the shaft in tandem, adding another 600' rope attached to the 400' level. The team first descended to the very bottom at the 900' level to do a quick survey and take pictures. Then they ascended to the 700' level where we examined the pump, water cistern and water source. We mapped the level and took water samples as well. After that it was a long slow climb back to the surface with the last person leaving the mine more than twelve hours after entering.
Based on our examination the water system requires significant work to be functional and reliable. A new pump is needed along with new piping to the surface. Additional work is also needed to ensure the pump doesn't lose prime. We measured the water flow at just 1.25 gallons per hour. It may be higher in the spring but at this time it does not appear that the supply would justify the expense and risk of repairing the pump and pipes. For now water will be trucked up the mountain and stored in tanks for distribution.
We want to give a huge thank you to the owners of Cerro Gordo for entrusting us to execute this project safely and we really appreciate their faith in us and their willingness to invest in the town and preserve its history.
July 2017: We made the long drive to Colorado to explore the fabulous mining relics and beautiful scenery. We spent almost a week exploring in the San Juan Mountains and them moved on to the center of the state to spend time in Leadville, Aspen, Basalt and Marble. Our last stop was Cripple Creek and nearby Victor where headframes and ore bins are everywhere. We once again toured the amazing Mollie Kathleen Mine and also toured the massive Cripple Creek and Victor Gold Mine.
April 2017: We headed to Arizona for a week of exploring. One of our first stops was at the University of Arizona's San Xavier Mining Lab. The lab, which uses portions of the historic San Xavier Mine is used to teach mining and geological engineering students and fulfills a need for hands on underground training. The mine has three active levels accessed via two adits, several manways and a shaft with a state of the art computer controlled hoisting system. We toured the 30, 100 and 150 levels via the adit and manways. We owe a huge thanks to the James and lab director Steve for the tour.
We next visited the nearby GroupoMexico ASARCO Mission Mine. This is a huge pit copper mine that operates around the clock. The mine has two mills to handle the massive volumes of ore. Once crushed the ore is sent off site to be smelted and plated. We got a look at the pit and the impressive South Mill which features SAG mills, ball mills and a huge number of floatation cells. There's also a great display of modern and historic mining equipment.
A few days later we met up with several other team members to explore the UEC-146 Mine. This mine is privately owned and not open to the public. The mine owner wanted use to asses the current condition of the underground workings. Those conditions were not great. There is extensive bad ground in the mine and several areas of collapse. The secondary access route is completely collapsed and the shaft itself is in bad shape with missing and rotting timbers. All in all, this turned out to be one of the more dangerous mines we've explored. We did see a number a great artifacts however including several ore cars, a drill, a slusher and a electric hoist.
We also spent time in Tombstone and Bisbee and also made a visit to the ghost town of Fairbank. Fairbank existed to support several mills that handled the ore from the mines in Tombstone and other nearby mines. It's now a state park and is a fascinating place to visit.
February 2017: We headed to the high desert with SoCalX to explore a mine complex they've been working on for some time. We split into two teams with each descending a different shaft. We explored the mine, found some new areas and some great artifacts to photograph and then met in the middle on the lowest level. After a group picture we split up again and went out the way the other team had come in using their rigging. We were underground for more than either hours and had a great time seeing this facinating complex.
November 2016: We returned to Arizona for our annual Thanksgiving trip. Our first stop was at the Jerome Historic State Park we were spent a few hours with the park manager photographing the Edith and Audrey headframes and their associated shafts. We also go a look at some hidden items and a demonstration of a "portable" stamp mill.
We also spent a day near Prescott exploring the Blue Dick Mine. This is a fairly old mine with very interesting shoring and lagging. Sadly, a good portion of the workings are collapsed but what remained was well worth the time to visit.
November 2016: Underground 2016 was another huge success with 130 people attending. Everyone had a great time exploring the mines and enjoying a huge party. We rolled out some new things this year that we'll follow up with for Underground 2017!
September 2016: We returned to Nevada and the New Pass Mine to spend some more time helping out and learning about mining. We did some more blasting but the highlight was drilling. After getting the huge Diesel compressor running we drilled with both a stoper and jack leg drills. It was a massive learning experience and very rewarding. We also repaired the Diesel engine on the backup compressor and helped with other projects around the property.
We also visited several interesting mines and the White Caps Mine in Manhattan. The White Caps mine has an amazing roasting furnace of giagantic proportions and several remaining buildings. The town of Manhattan is very interesting as well. Last but not least was a stop in Tonopah to visit the Central Nevada Museum and the Tonopah Historic Mining Park.
June 2016: We spent a week driving 1,600 miles around Nevada exploring mines. We started off with a night at Cerro Gordo which is always wonderful. We next drove up to the Pine Creek mine to chat with the staff and take a look around. After that we crossed into Nevada, stopping first at the Mina Mine. This abandoned cinnabar mine has many remaining buildings but unfortunately the adit is collapsed. The high elevation gave us great weather though. We also visited the Lost Steers Mine high above the Mina Mine. The workings are small but the ore bin is spectacular.
Our next stop was the Gunmetal Mine. It has a a massive ore bin and chute structure that's worth a visit alone. Fortunately the mine workings didn't disappoint either with plenty of interesting stopes and other things to see. We then traveled to the Silver Dyke Mine. It has a massive ore bin and waste pile along with extensive workings and a very interesting camp. We spent the afternoon exploring the mine but had to bypass several winzes since we didn't have our rope or vertical gear. We'll be sure to go back in the future and explore the whole thing.
Next on the agenda was the Mable Mine. We spent a few nights in a rough cabin but had great weather and an awesome view. The main workings consist of a steeply inclined vertical shaft. We rappelled down about 100 feet to the first level, which was very small. Before we descended any further we noticed rocks falling off the sides of the shaft below us. That's a bad sign and we decided it wasn't worth the risk. We then traveled to the Garfield Mine. The upper adits were all reclaimed but the lower level was open. It wasn't a huge mine but it was also very interesting with amazing timbers.
After that if was off to the Ione Valley and the Death Valley Cinnabar Mine. This is an amazing place even though the mine workings are not accessible. There are several buildings (all in bad shape) and a beautiful brick chimney at the ruins of the furnace and retort. It was a great place to explore and spend a night.
We saved the best for last. We spent several days at the New Pass Mine visiting with Don, the owner. Don and his wife worked the mine for more than sixty years and have lived there full time since the 60's. Don is an old time miner and full of fascinating information and great stories. We toured the mine, did some blasting with 40% gelatin dynamite, drove an Eimco 911 LHD, moved timbers, installed air pipe and generally had a great time.
The Pine Creek Mine and the New Pass Mine are private property and both have staff on-site at all times. Please do not trespass or bother the owners or employees.
May 2016: We returned to the Darwin mines for another two days of surveying and exploring. This time, the lower levels of the Thompson Mine were our target. We entered via the Radiore Tunnel and proceeded a mile into the mountain to the Thompson Winze. From there we descended 500' to the 900 level, exploring along the way. We encountered 44 ore cars (31 of when were still filled with ore), several slushers and a number of huge stopes. We spent a total of 23 hours underground over two days and covered every part of the Thompson Mine below the 400 level.
The Darwin Mines are private property and there is always staff on-site. Please do not trespass!
April 2016: We spent a long weekend exploring in Panamint Valley, using the Minnietta Mine cabin as a home base. Our first task was to make emergency repairs to the cabin roof. A large section of roof paper had come off in the wind and rain was coming. We were able to secure a tarp over part of the damage to prevent water from coming into the main room.
On Friday we drove to Snow Canyon. We spent time at the mill and also explored a small mine adit which has a nice small ore bin far below. We then headed up hill towards the Golden Lady and St. George Mine. Shockingly, the road proved too much for our Jeep to handle. The extremely steep slope combined with a soft silty surface just could provide enough traction. Disappointed we checked out some tram stations and head back to camp.
On Saturday we explored all workings of the Minnietta Mine. The mine has some fine ore bins, tram stations and other artifacts, plus some small adits and a inclined shaft. We then drove to the Osborne Cabin to take a look at its condition. Unfortunately, the roof was damaged there as well and will need repairs. Lastly, we explore the workings of the nearby Mack Mine.
March 2016: We returned to the Darwin Mines for two more days of intensive surveying and exploring. Our primary task was to survey and assess the current condition of the Defiance winze haulage compartments. We looked for damaged timbers, misaligned cage rails and anything that could catch, damage or otherwise obstruct a cage. We found the winze to be in excellent condition with very few issues. In fact, more than 90% of the lagging was still intact!
Our survey of the Defiance winze and exploration of the Defiance Mine included two new records for the Underground Explorers team. We made our deepest descent (and ascent), rappelling down 900' and then climbing the vertical ladders back out again. We also spent the most time ever underground at a single stretch... fifteen hours!
The rest of our time in Darwin was spent surveying other mines and working on projects around the company town. We had wild weather too. The first day was mild with lows in the 50's. The second day was stormy with lows below freezing! Our final day was warm and sunny. Isn't the desert a wonderful place to be!?
The Darwin Mines are private property and there is always staff on-site. Please do not trespass!
February 2016: We spent more than a week exploring in Death Valley and Panamint Valley. We were treated to a special tour of the Billie Mine surface workings with Death Valley National Park staff. This mine was donated to the park in a land swap from the American Borate Company. Sadly, the mine itself has been reclaimed but the surface workings are incredible and including a massive headframe and haulage hoist. The Park Service hopes to create a number of exhibits at the site when funding and staffing levels permit. At this time the Billie Mine is a closed area. Please don't attempt to access the site or you could face citation and prosecution.
After the Billie Mine we made the short drive up the hill to visit our friend Scott, the Superintendent of Ryan Camp. Restoration and stabilization work is proceeding at the site and things are looking excellent. We high recommend keeping an eye on the Ryan Camp Facebook Page for tour announcements. They're well worth the time! For more pictures of Ryan Camp see the album from our 2013 trip here. Ryan Camp is private property with staff on site at all times. Please do not trespass.
After spending a night in the Furnace Creek area we explored Trail Canyon and then saw the wildflower super bloom on our way into Butte Valley. We spent a night at Emmet's Cabin and then crossed Mengel Pass into Goler Wash. Crews are drilling for samples at the Lotus/Keystone Mine and a large amount of water storage has been installed near the road. From there we headed up South Park Canyon and spent a couple of night relaxing at the wonderful Briggs Cabin.
We left South Park Canyon to the east and stopped by the Butte Valley overlook and Rogers Pass on our way into Pleasant Canyon. We paid a visit to the World Beater Mine Cabin and Claire Camp before stopping in Ballarat for a soda. We were on our way to the Minnietta Mine Cabin when we noticed an overheating issue with the Jeep. A little investigation revealed a large hole in the back of the radiator, likely from a rock kicked into the fan. We added water and limped to the cabin for the night. The next morning we pulled the radiator and ordered a replacement for the next day in Ridgecrest. We then set out to explore the UEC-107 Mine for the rest of the day.
We got up early the next morning and drove into town for a new radiator and coolant. The installation only took a few hours and then we were off the UEC-106 Mine. On our last day we explored the amazing UEC-143 Mine mill and camp. All in all it was another excellent trip and we can't wait to get out there again!
December 2015: We spent nine days exploring the Mojave National Preserve, Death Valley and Panamint Valley. We started off at Riley's Cabin in the Mojave National Preserve and took day trips to Cima, the Gold Dome Mill, The Death Valley Mine and the Morningstar Mine, along with visiting several abandoned camps and cabins. We next ventured into Butte Valley and spent a few nights at Russel's Camp. After that it was over Mengel Pass to the Panamint Valley where we stayed at the Stone Cabin. We visited many cabins and mines, including the Suitcase Mine and scenic spots such as Rogers Pass.
November 2015: We retuned to the Bradshaw Mountains in Arizona for our annual November excursion. This time we visited the historic Tip Top Mine and camp. There are numerous ruins here including several mills and a historic inn. We explored the extant workings but there isn't much left. Just a collapsed adit and flooded shaft. We also took a look in the original Discovery adit and shaft which started the whole mine off.
We also ventured to the UEC-134 Mine. Unfortunately, the underground workings of this gold mine are mostly collapsed. However, the mill is almost complete and was fascinating to explore and study. The mill processed ore using a Hadsel autogenous mill which fed a ball mill where cyanide was added. The slurry then passed though the carbon leach agitators and finally to a series of carbon columns. The UEC-134 Mine is private property so please don't enter it without permission.
November 2015: Over one hundred mine explorers gathered in Tecopa California for Underground 2015. We had a great weekend with groups exploring mines all over the area. Saturday night was a big party complete with movies and a laser show. The BLM stopped by for a visit and so did the superintendent of Death Valley National Park. It was a great event and we're already looking forward to Underground 2016!
August 2015: We returned to the Darwin Mines to get some work done and begin our documentation of the current state of the mine. On Saturday we traced and documented the condition of high voltage wiring inside the mine. We also assessed parts of the workings for rehabilitation and new wire runs. On Sunday we documented a stope for a future project and then descended to the 700 level in the Defiance incline and winze. Monday involved surface work moving equipment and fixing IT related issues.
The Darwin Mines are private property and there is always staff on-site. Please do not trespass!
July 2015: We spent a day touring the incredible mining history in Butte Montana. We started the day off just down the road in Anaconda Montana, the original home of the Anaconda Mining Company. The main attraction is the massive 585 foot tall Washoe smelter stack, one of the tallest free standing brick structures in the world. We next visited the World Museum of Mining where they have excellent displays and the wonderful Orphan Girl Mine yard. Preserved at the museum is the Orphan Girl headframe, engine room with intact hoist and the chippy hoist. They also offer an underground tour in the mine. After the museum we spent the rest of the day visiting headframes and engine rooms which are typically off limits on City and County of Butte-Silver Bow property. These included the Original, Steward, Anselmo and Mountain Con Mines. We also got a great view of the massive Berkley Pit and current mining operations at the Contenental Mine. We owe a huge thanks to Tom, the reclamation manager for Butte-Silver Bow and Larry from Montana Tech for arranging for access and taking the time to show us around.
July 2015: We spent an afternoon touring Montana Tech's Underground Mining Education Center (UMEC) at Montana Tech's campus in Butte. Located in the Orphan Boy Mine, the UMEC is a one of a kind facility where students get hands on experience with almost all aspects of modern underground hard rock mining including drilling, blasting, and bolting. We have to give a huge thanks to Scott, the head of the Mining Engineering School for granting us access and taking time out of his busy day to show us around.
May 2015: We spent six days in the Eastern Sierra scouting, exploring and checking out cabins. We started off with a visit to Cerro Gordo. We spent some time in town and dropped off water for the caretaker. We headed into the backcountry from there visiting Jackass Flats and the driving down into Saline Valley and out the south side to Highway 190. We revisited the Bunker Hill Mine and climbed all the way up to the workings this time. We also visited the Blue Monster, Lucky Boy, White Eagle and Grey Eagle mines. We stopped at the Saline Valley hot springs and also many cabins along the way. One highlight of our trip was seeing the Saline Valley end of the salt tram and the stations leading all the way up to the Inyo Crest.
February 2015: Many people have asked us about the Bureau of Land Management Law Enforcement Ranger that stopped by Underground 2014. We now have all the information available to share and it can be viewed here.
January 2015: We spent a wonderful week exploring new areas and visiting old favorites in Death Valley and Panamint Valley. We spent every night a a desert cabin and had every kind of weather from hot and sunny to snow!
December 2014: We headed out to the Imperial Valley near Yuma to take the new owner of the Cargo Mine and his associates underground. We managed to cover the first two levels which leaves plenty more for next time.
December 2014: We visited the Joshua Tree area to provide safety and access support for a team building exercise. We assisted two large groups in and out of a 100' deep vertical mine. All participants rappelled down (on belay) and climbed the ladder back out (also on belay). Everyone had a great time and was treated to a very unique experience.
November 2014: We headed to Arizona for our annual exploring trip. We spend a day in the Bradshaw Mountains near Cleator. We started by exploring the Thunderbolt Mine and then moved over to the French Lilly Mine (which appears to contain bad air). After the mines we went to Crown King for lunch and then to the Cleator Saloon and Yacht Club for some drinks.
November 2014: Over eighty mine explorers gathered in Tecopa California for Underground 2014. We had a great long weekend with groups exploring mines all over the area. Looking forward to next year!
September 2014: We volunteered to assist in a search of abandoned vertical mines for previously unknown human remains. The shafts were identified by cadaver dogs and other forensic means. We joined two dogs and their handlers, a forensic archeologist and three land surveyors, all of whom have extensive experience recovering the remains of MIA U.S. servicemembers overseas. We were also joined by a reporter and photographer from the Associated Press. Our job was to provide safe access into the mines and to search for remains under the direction of the team.
We searched a total of four shafts ranging in depth from 12' to 150'. The first shaft we explored had a very eroded and unstable collar. Great care was taken to avoid falling debris but this shallow (50') shaft was one of the most dangerous we've ever accessed. The two other deep shafts had wood collars and were much safer. The 12' deep mine also had a wood collar but the ground had eroded around it resulting in a significant infill of material. We removed material from each shaft for examination and future analysis.
While we didn't find any conclusive evidence of human remains, a more through and lengthy dig will be required to make a final determination. Assisting this fantastic team was very rewarding and we all greatly enjoyed the time spent and were honored that they would ask us to assist.
September 2014: We returned to the Darwin Mines to begin a special project. We're going to be using a 3D laser scanner to map the precise shape of a large, complex vertical stope. This will be a challenging project but we're looking forward to getting the task accomplished successfully. We spent most of the day underground getting a tour of the stope and the nearby workings on two levels.
The Darwin Mines are private property and there is always staff on-site. Please do not trespass!
August 2014: We spent a full week driving across Nevada visiting a number of mines, mining camps, mills and ghost towns. Among those was the historic Candelaria Mine and ghost town. There's not much left of the town and even less remains of the underground mine which was converted into an open pit. However, we did find a way into some old drifts that were left intact and opened to the surface deep in the pit. Inside were the remains of a very old ore car, an amazing windlass and another way into the pit, high up on the walls.
We traveled 1,500 miles and took hundreds of pictures on this trip so be sure to look at the pictures page and see what we accomplished!
July 2014: We had the opportunity to tour a portion of the S&B Fokis Mine in central Greece. Fokis is a large operating bauxite mine with both underground and open pit operations.
May 2014: After visiting Darwin we headed into the Eastern Sierra wilderness for several days of exploring. We visited a number of mine and prospect sites, scouted several shafts for later exploration and saw a number of nice and not so nice cabins.
May 2014: Jack, the owner of the Darwin Mines and generously allowed us to come on-site for a meeting and surface photography session. Darwin is a complex of historic silver, lead and zinc mines that were first operated in the late 1800's. After World War II, Anaconda Mining Company restarted operations, built a large company town and extracted vast quantities of lead. The workings are massive encompassing dozens of miles and multiple adits, deep winzes and huge stopes.
We were able to tour and photograph the old company town and historic Anaconda mine buildings, the miners dry, and assay office and a number of other workshops and storage buildings. We'd like to extend a huge thank you to Jack for his time and hospitality.
The Darwin Mines are private property and someone is always on-site. Please do not trespass!
April 2014: We spent a long weekend in Panamint Valley. We traveled up South Park Canyon and stayed at the wonderful Briggs Cabin and Stone Cabin. It's a challenging four mile drive up South Park Canyon to the cabins and only well equipped 4x4's are likely to make it. The cabins are well cared for an in excellent condition. We did our part by keeping them that way, restocking some supplies and cleaning up as needed. Most of our time was spent relaxing and hiking around the area but we did venture across the bridge and around Chicken Corner to explore the Thorndike Mine. This small mine has three levels and a small building. Inside the building is an old engine, compressor and riveted air tank. The upper level is the only one with significant stopes. The Honolulu Mine sits high above at the end of an aerial tramway. It's a long, long way up and we declined to make the hike.
March 2014: We visited Death Valley to meet up with Showtime Eric Young and a film crew from Animal Planet to shoot and episode of "No Limits". We spent two days taking Eric and the crew deep underground on an adventure they won't soon forget!
March 2014: We headed back to Tecopa for one of the largest gatherings of serious mine explorers ever. More than 45 fellow explorers joined us for three days of exploration and fun. Teams descended to the bottom of the Columbia #2 Mine, explored the War Eagle via the eastern adit, climbed up and out through the Grant Mine and also visited the Noonday Mine. Everyone had a great time and we're working on another get together for November.
February 2014: We were invited to tour the Oceanview Mine and jumped at the opportunity. The Oceanview is a currently operating gem mine in Pala, California. We met the mine owner Jeff and then headed over to the active portal to meet Steve the mine foreman four a walking tour. We headed into the haulage adit past the running compressor and along the inflated air ducting. As we moved through the mine we had to step aside to allow a Bobcat loader to pass in and our hauling muck. Steve passed us on to Phil who proceeding to give us a through tour of the entire workings. We visited the major stopes and saw several pockets of gems still in place. We also visited a heading which was ready for drilling and blasting.
Our next stop was the highlight of the tour. We ventured to the working face where a team of miners were drilling the hole pattern for the next shot. Using jackleg drill and four foot steels, each hole took a little less than five minutes of hard work to drill. It was really a treat to see the work in progress and chat with the hard working miners.
We finished the tour in the original adit which is now used for ventilation. We also got a look at the site for a new haulage adit that will be driven shortly. Our last stop was back at the parking area where customers screened muck looking for gems.
We have to give a huge thank you to Jeff and his crew. It was very nice of them to take the time to show us their operation and a real treat for the crew to see a mine alive and in operation rather than quite and empty like usual.
January 2014: We traveled to Panamint Valley and Death Valley for a long weekend of exploring. We started off Thursday night at the World Beater Mine Cabin in Pleasant Canyon. This cabin is well cared for an in very good condition. Mike, Sheena and Troy spent the night and headed out Friday morning to explore. We stopped by Rita's Cabin (which is in terrible condition) and then headed to Rogers Pass. We had low clouds so visibility was poor but we had a little snow which was a treat. We next drove the ridgeline to the Butte Valley overlook where we got an amazing view. After than we headed down South Park Canyon and stopped for lunch and the fabulous Briggs Cabin. After lunch we visited the Stone Cabin and a small prospect in Middle Park before returning to the World Beater Mine Cabin for dinner.
Dav, Chris and J.D. joined us Friday night and we spent another cozy evening in the cabin. It snow and stuck for a while which was amazing. We headed down Pleasant Canyon on Saturday morning and made a quick stop in Ballarat. After visiting with Rocky we headed to Goler Canyon and started up. We stopped for a bit at the UEC-122 Mine and Barker Ranch before crossing Mengel Pass into Butte Valley and Death Valley National Park. We visited all the cabins and settled for the night at Russell's Camp.
On Sunday morning we headed down Warm Springs Canyon and stopped to check out the Warm Springs Resort. After that we explored the UEC-124 Mine and had a nice lunch, enjoying the warm winter weather. We then drove out of the park, stopped in Shoshone and ended our trip visiting Saratoga Spring and the Superior Mine.
December 2013: We spent a week exploring central Nevada between Christmas and New Years. We started off exploring the Albert Mine. The mine was small, collapsed and wet but we had a great night in the remote, snow filled valley where it's located. We visited Candelaria next, checking out the ruins, the giant open pit and a few remaining adits. Our next stop was the UEC-130 Mine which has a number of remaining habitable cabins in addition to a 220' deep shaft. The mine had three levels and was in bad shape with many collapses. The bottom level was inaccessible past a few feet due to a massive amount of collapse. We had a great time relaxing at the mine camp, playing the piano and enjoying a roaring fire in 25 degree weather.
We also visited the site of Project Shoal. This was a 12 kiloton underground nuclear test conducted in 1963. There's not much there but a marker, the concrete capped shaft used to place the device and remains of the hoist pad and headframe. Regardless, it was a very cool place to visit. We stopped by the UEC-131 Mine next and surveyed its multiple headframes and shaft. After that we briefly visited the UEC-132 Mine and walked around the numerous shafts and open stopes.
We next explored the UEC-133 Mine. This mine has a spectacular headframe that's at the same angle as the inclined shaft. There mine wasn't extensive but was very interesting with huge stopes. Unfortunately, it was flooded below the first level.
We visited some random prospects and small mines and then stopped in at the fabulous Historic Mining Park in Tonopah. After a night at the Mizpah Hotel we headed to Silver Peak to see the famous Nivloc Mine trestle. After visiting the Nivloc Mine we made a brief stop at the reclaimed 16 to 1 Mine before heading to Gold Peak to spend New Years Eve. On the way home we made quick stops at Lida, Palmetto and at the Oasis Talc Mine mill building. Our last stope was at the huge Union #1 shaft headframe in Atolia.
November 2013: We traveled to the Bradshaw Mountains in Arizona to explore the Swastika Mine. The is a fascinating silver mine with several levels and multiple adits. Sadly, the main 400' winze is flooded. However, there is an amazing electric hoist still intact on the main haulage level along with a large underground headframe.
Along with the hoist, this mine had two other standout features. One is a truly rare and amazing Fairbanks-Morse "Type T" Special Electric six horsepower vertical single cylinder gasoline engine. It's hard to reach but in amazing condition. The other is a spectacular calcite flowstone floor that's up to two feet thick in places and about one hundred feet long. It's hard to reach as well but worth the effort.
We covered just about every place in the mine you can go without scuba gear and had a great time.
November 2013: After Tonopah it was back to the massive UEC-129 Mine. We covered all new ground on this trip, which is amazing. We explored the 6900, 7000, 7100 and 7200 levels. We were able to get into sections of the 7100 and 7200 levels that were cutoff or backfilled and had seen no visitors since they were closed up. We also rappelled down a 280' borehole from the 6400 level to the 6200 level. This put us behind the big collapse and we were able to explore the entire rest of the level (which had seen no visitors since the collapse).
November 2013: After touring Ryan we stopped by Goldfield for a quick look and then spent the night in Tonopah. In the morning we visited the Tonopah Historic Mining Park. This is an amazing facility with many mines and mining artifacts within its grounds. Included are five shafts, three of which still have their original headframes and hoist houses. We ended up spending most of the day there and had a great time. The staff is incredible and enthusiastic and was a please to talk to.
We were given an opportunity to tour the Ryan Camp in Death
Valley on a recent public tour put on by the Death Valley
Conservancy. Pacific Coast Borax began mining near Ryan in 1914 and
the camp sprang up to support what would ultimately
become six separate mines. The boom near Ryan was short-lived
however. Pacific Coast Borax began mining borate minerals from
new Boron mine near Kramer Junction at the end of the 1920's. This
ore was easier to process and the mine's location made for more
efficient (and less expensive) transportation. The mines near Ryan
closed soon after and Pacific Coast Borax was left wondering what to
do with the camp and their other facilities in the Death Valley
region. Their solution was to create a hotel and encourage tourism
into Death Valley. The Death Valley View Hotel was born and not
long after the company also built the Furnace Creek Inn. The loss
off the Death Valley Railroad (it's equipment was repurposed to
another mine) and the Great Depression made supplying the hotel
expensive and visitors scarce. The hotel shut down fulltime
operations in the early 1930s, but was used as overflow for the
Furnace Creek Inn and ranch through the late 1940s or early 1950s.
Its signature tourist attraction, the Baby Gage railroad tour
soldiered on until 1949.
You can keep track of developments at Ryan by visiting its Facebook page:
October 2013: We traveled to the historic mining town of Cerro Gordo to work on restoring the town's water supply. Fresh water for this privately owned ghost town comes from a cistern on the 700' level of the 900' vertical Union Shaft. The water pump failed several years ago and the town has been without a source of water ever since. With the generous assistance and support of the Metabolic Studio and town owner Sean Patterson, we worked over three days to begin the complex process of replacing the pump. The mine hoist is still operational and we worked to improve it's safety and reliability so it could be used to transport the new pump and other equipment down the shaft. We accessed the shaft by rappelling which was critical when the hoist car became stuck at the 400' level and could not be raised. We were able to clear the obstructing debris and recover the car to the surface. Due to the delay with the hoist and a long amount of time required to clear tight obstacles on the manway side of the shaft we were unable to reach the pump. However, we learned a great deal about the nature of the shaft and the equipment and we'll be able to build on the knowledge in the future to effect a successful and safe repair.
September 2013: We returned once again to the UEC-129 Mine in Nevada. We spent multiple days mapping the upper levels of this huge complex.
August 2013: We spent some time in Nevada and the Eastern Sierra visiting ghost towns and abandoned mines. We started with a quick tour of Virginia City and then moved on the Bodie. We next visited Bennettville and the amazing Log Cabin Mine. Our last stop was the incomparable Cerro Gordo.
July 2013: We returned to Nevada to continue our explorations of the massive UEC-129 Mine. We spent three days and completed three additional levels. We've gone over 50% but there is still a lot to see and map on future trips.
May 2013: We spent four days exploring the massive UEC-129 Mine in Nevada. Even after all that time we only covered about 25% of the workings! This mine features extensive surface structures, endless drifts and huge vertical stopes. Many sections of the mine are flooded and filled with mineral encrusted water. We'll be going back to continue our explorations soon.
May 2013: We spent the weekend in Big Bear relaxing and exploring mines. We spent one day north of the lake exploring in Holcomb Valley and also gaining access to the remaining underground workings of the famous Lucky Baldwin Mine. We spent a second day east of the lake exploring prospects and the large (for the area) Shooting Star Mine.
April 2013: We spent a day in St. George Utah interviewing Chick Joy and his son Fred. Chick Joy was Anaconda Mining Company's lead engineer at the Shoshone Mines in Tecopa in the early 1950's. We was responsible for locating the ore body which resulted in all the lower levels in the War Eagle mine and also for driving the eastern adit. More to come in the near future!
March 2013: We made a weekend trip to the High Desert to visit a number of mines we'd mapped before. We started by looking down on a new, large operation and then visited several interesting mines and prospects in the area. On Sunday we spend considerable time exploring two mines and dropped a number of vertical winzes.
February 2013: For the first time we went for a trip into Death Valley proper. We started with the mines in Tecopa and then visited the Inyo Mine in Echo Canyon. We spent one night back in Butte Valley at Russell's Camp and also went out to the mill at Skidoo. We finished with a drive past Cerro Gordo and a stop at the Burgess Mine in the Inyo Mountains.
January 2013: The new year found us back in the Mojave Desert exploring a large mine with an almost 500' deep vertical main shaft. We spent a good long day inside and covered all the remaining accessible portions of the mine. We also spent some time exploring in the Mojave Preserve and visited several mines in the area.
December 2012: Mike, Kurt, Ken and Brad headed back to Panamint Valley for more exploring. We ended up crossing Mengel Pass into Butte Valley and spent two night at the Geologist's Cabin. We explored all over Butte Valley and Warm Springs Canyon and had a great time.
November 2012: We headed to Arizona for a week of relaxing and mine exploring. We spent a day exploring the area near Mayer and Cleator and were able to get in some good underground time. We also did a fair bit of hiking and a lot of off-road driving. Another half a day was spent exploring the mines on Mingus Mountain near the historic mining town of Jerome. Unfortunately, everything there has been bulldozed or gated and it was quite sad to see all of the lost history there.
November 2012: Mike and Dave met Troy and a few others for a four day Panamint Valley exploring extravaganza. We started off exploring mines south of Ridgecrest, checked out the Trona Pinnacles, stopped in Ballarat and then headed into the canyons on the east side of the valley for lots of great mine exploring, hiking and off-roading.
September 2012: Mike and Robert made the long drive out to Delamar, Nevada to meet Bill, Joanne, Matt and Tony (plus Ken and Kevin on one day) for an extra long weekend of mine exploring. Joanne, Mike, Robert and Tony arrived at the Delamar mine site on Wednesday afternoon and were immediately treated to a major thunderstorm. The lightning was so intense and close that we had to retreat to our vehicles for safety. The storm passed quickly and the rain only soaked a few things. After getting camp setup we had a good dinner and relaxed while watching distant lightning. Matt arrived at camp later that night and we all hit the sack in preparation for a full day of exploring on Thursday.
Since the adit near our camp was flooded and muddy, we decided to drive up to a higher portal and work our way down along a route taken but Bill, Joanne, Matt and Tony on a previous trip. We all entered the adit, crawled under a tight spot and made out way into a tall, long and narrow stope. The back was at least 75' above us. We next walked to a winze they had found on a previous trip but not explored. Tony rigged the rope and Joanne headed down to take a look. Unfortunately, it only went down about fifty feet and was plugged at the bottom.
After Joanne returned, we derigged the winze and proceeded to another winze which was our route down. Joanne and Tony rigged the winze and Mike headed down. It was about a 100' free drop to a small intermediate drift level. We all rappelled down one by one and collected in the drift. There was a dusty, steeply inclined winze at one end that hadn't been explored. Tony climbed down and found himself in the main drift level below us. The rest of us rappelled and climbed down the remaining thirty feet in the main winze and met back up with him shortly thereafter.
This drift had some amazing stopes filled with square set timbers and two shallow winzes. Tony rappelled down one and as expected, there was nothing there. We spent some time exploring and photographing the drift, stopes and square set before heading out into the mine's main gigantic stope. This stope is beyond huge and once was fully braced by square set timbers. Only scattered frames remain but they're significant and impressive.
We rigged a rope to access the lower part of the stope and headed down one by one. After rappelling past a vertical section we descended a steep slope of breakdown rock to the other end of the stope. This part of the stope has more collapsed and standing square set and a large, partially collapsed section of heavy cribbing. We proceeded through a void in the collapse and then down underneath to levels hidden below. Some of the collapse must have happened while the mine was operating because great effort was made to shore up the drift against the collapse and permit access.
We came across yet another large stope filled with square set timbers. We also came across one of the main haulage winzes that extends up to the adit where we camped and down to the lowest level of the mine. We explored the area and then crawled back through the collapse and descended further down and through a chute into the next lower level. A few of us crawled up through a very scary collapse into a large stope. At the top was a hole where one of the other winzes from the main adit level descend down and into the stope. Bill, Joanne and Tony had rappelled down this winze before and it's about 200' of poor ladders and then 50' of free rappel to the bottom of the stope. Wow!
One part of the drift was quite moist and filled with rotted timbers. There were also amazing growths in the damp areas, white with yellow spots and tendrils extending across the rock. Very freaky! We also encountered one of the large main winzes again. Further down the drift was a wood utility car still on the tracks. We took turns riding it a short distance and had a great time. There were also some cave formations in this part of the drift which were fascinating.
After we finished exploring down below we crawled back up through the chute and collapse and back into the huge main stope. It was now time to climb the "Zig zag ladder of death". Fortunately, the ladder isn't really that bad. Tony headed up and rigged a rope as a safety and then the rest of us ascended in turn. Once in the drift above we had to climb another fifty feet up a nearby winze on a good ladder to reach the main adit level. We spent a little time looking around and visiting the impressive hoist areas at the top of the two main haulage winzes before heading towards the exit. After slogging several hundred feet through ice cold water and very sticky mud to camp we cleaned up, ate dinner and hit the sack.
On Friday we drove up the mountain to an adit higher than the one we entered on Thursday. Once inside we had to climb down about fifteen feet to the drift level below. We started exploring and soon found a strange backfilled section with very even walls made from rock and timbers. Mike crawled inside and Matt followed from another direction. They found some amazing shoring and several very crushed sections. The section eventually led into another part of the level with many stopes and square set timbers. Joanne, Robert and Tony soon followed an we set about exploring.
One stope filled with square set was huge, extending five or six frames up and even more down. Further down the drift we came to a gigantic unsupported stope in excellent condition. Joanne, Matt and Tony recognized this area and we realized that we'd crossed over into another "wing" of the drift we were in before. We headed down a perpendicular drift from the stope and eventually found a collapsed area at one end. We climbed up and found ourselves in another stope with collapsed square set timbers. Tony recognized this area as connected to the large square set stope we found earlier.
This part of the level had several other large stopes and several crosscuts. We explored those and then returned to the main drift and headed to an end none of us had visited before. In this area we located a very tight winze which dropped about twenty feet. Joanne tried to go down but found it too tight to see what was below her. Tony tried next and just went for it, finding footholds where the ladder ended. He discovered a drift which extended in two directions. It was getting late so Tony came back up and we explored the rest of the drift before heading back up and out of the mine.
There was a thunderstorm going on when we exited and after a brief rainstorm we were treated to an hours long lightning show as the storm moved through the valley to the west of us. We cooked a great dinner, got a campfire going and had a great, relaxing evening.
Saturday dawned clear, dry and hot. Matt started preparing to leave and the rest of us got ready and waited for Bill to arrive so we could start the day's exploring. We were all quite surprised when Bill walked into camp wearing his backpack. It turns out he got stuck in fresh mud from the rain on Friday night. His truck was less than a mile from a main road but he had to walk ten miles to reach our camp! After Bill rested and had some food we jumped in Mike's Jeep and Joanne's truck and drive over to where Bill's truck was stranded. Mike was able to quickly pull him free with the Jeep and we all drive back to camp together.
We finished gearing up and drove to the nearby Magnolia Mine. We entered the adit and walked for several hundred feet before coming to stope on one side and a winze right in the middle. The adit ended at the winze and turned into a large stope. The winze appeared to be quite deep and had a ladder. Above it was a large headframe and giant sheave. The ladder was hard to access due to many structural timbers. Tony crawled through a narrow gap and descended a bit before coming back up. He reported that the winze was in good shape so we rigged a 300' rope and opened a trap door so we could easily rappel down.
Mike headed down first and came across a stope about fifty feet down. He climbed in and got off rope so everyone else could come down. The stope was quite tall and steeply sloped. It was filled with loose rocks which shifted at the slightest touch. Bill climbed down while Mike took pictures and he found a connection to another stope and also a passage that went back under the stope we were in. Tony, Joanne and Mike worked at clearing loose debris and timbers from the winze and then Tony descended further to do more cleaning. Mike and Bill descended the stope, crossed over a drop-off and headed into the next stope over to explore. This stope was quite large and also contained unstable loose rocks. Bill tried to go to the bottom but large rocks started moving so he aborted and came back up. We noticed what looked like a drift about ten feet up and Bill was able to climb up and investigate. Unfortunately it only went back about ten feet.
Bill and Mike then climbed down into the stope which descended and headed back towards the winze. They got up to the bottom and met up with Joanne, Robert and Tony who had descended through the winze. This level was very small and extensively backfilled. Tony crawled into one drift that had just enough room to access and moved off to explore. He found very interesting carbide graffiti plus some dynamite so he called Mike in to join him. One section of graffiti read "The Remains of Three Men at the End of this Tunnel" and another declared "Death Beyond This Point!". More graffiti spoke of the drift being haunted. Cool and creepy!
After we finished with the backfilled drift Joanne descended further down the winze and squeezed through a tight platform about twenty feet below us. After that it was a long 100' rappel down to the next level. Mike followed and worked for a bit to enlarge the hole. Once that was done he headed down to join Joanne and every followed soon after.
This level was quite extensive and extended on two sides of the winze. There were numerous backfilled drifts, a short raise leading up and another winze which dropped down about twenty feet. At that same end was a large stope that extended above. Tony climbed up the large boulders and stulls and explored for a while while the rest of us examined other parts of the level. We located a good sized pile of old dynamite and some more carbide graffiti, plus one lonely bat. The winze continued down about another thirty feet and Bill rappelled to the bottom to see what was there. Unfortunately there was nothing. It was either an especially deep sump or the miners reached a certain depth and gave up. The total depth of the winze was a little over 250'.
After Bill returned the level we started climbing back up the winze one by one. The ladders were tight against one corner so it was an uncomfortable ascent. Once we were all back in the adit we derigged the rope and headed back to camp for a late dinner. Ken and Kevin arrived late Saturday night without incident.
Mike and Robert headed home on Sunday morning while the rest of the group headed back into one of the Delamar Mine adits to investigate the very tight winze we'd found a few days earlier. The drift level Tony had briefly looked at contained a hoist room and a deep winze. Kevin rappelled down about 75' and still couldn't see the bottom or any drifts. Dropping rocks suggested the winze could be up to 300' deep so it was decided to save it for another trip. The drift was actually a adit with the portal on the other side of the hill from where we entered.
The adit was loaded with chutes and manways leading up. It turned out that it was actually a long and narrow vertical stope with a series of false floors leading higher and higher, each about fifty feet above the one below. One of the upper levels was also an adit. We were not able to explore the whole area so it'll also have to wait for our next trip. Everyone headed home on Monday morning after another great exploring adventure.
August 2012: Mike and Stacy headed back north to the Easter Sierra to scout mines and escape the heat. We drove up Thursday night and overnighted at the Salt Tram tender's cabin in the Inyo Mountains. We spent the next two days scouting mines (which all turned out to be small or just prospects). We finally made the steep hike down to Cerro Gordo Spring and also spent two nights at the Burgess Mine cabin. We were joined by Brad and Karl and all of us had an interesting drive out due to a flash flood that destroyed a large section of the road down to Swansea. With a little patience and planning, both Jeeps handled the obstacle with little trouble.
July 2012: Jake, Jeff and Mike headed north to the Eastern Sierra to scout new mines. We headed out Saturday morning to scout mines for further exploration (although we ended up doing quite a bit of exploration anyway). Our first stop was the UEC-111 Mine. This mine had a good sized main adit and several smaller prospects nearby. About 300' into the mine was a winze with ladders and platforms. We passed the winze on boards and proceeded to the end of the adit first. It only went back another 200'. There was an exploratory stope near the end but that was it. We walked back towards the portal and Mike headed down the winze. The ladders were in decent shape, as were the platforms (but the openings were very tight). The winze was about 50' deep and had no drifts or stopes at the bottom.
We next drove over to the UEC-112 Mine. There were large tailing piles all around and we located two vertical shafts to explore on our next trip when we had more people. The mine itself had a large well timbered adit and was easily 25 degrees cooler than ambient. The adit was very tall and wide and also arrow straight. Somewhere around 700' in we came to a junction with drifts leading off in three directions. The drift on one side was short and led to a timbered winze. Unfortunately, it was flooded just below the level of the adit. After talking a look we decided to walk the adit further and check out the other drifts on the way back out.
The adit kept going and kept straight. We passed areas that were moist and had rotted wood on the floor. We finally reach the end of the adit about 2,000' feet from the portal. The very end was flooded with less than a foot of water. Even this far in we could see sunlight. After hiking back to the junction we had lunch and then proceed to explore the other drifts. We passed several shallow water filled stopes and encountered a few ore chutes. We also found a ladder leading up several levels through a stope. At the top was another drift system although it wasn't very extensive.
Once we finished exploring the UEC-112 Mine we headed high up the mountain on a very curvy mining road cut and blasted from the hillside. We were treated to great views of the Sierra Nevada Mountains and also saw some great rock formations. We eventually reached the UEC-113 Mine which was located at 7,000' elevation. Mike wormed his way inside and found a very unusual sight... rows of shoes on either side of the adit. Further in were emergency supplies with markings from 1977. Rice, sugar, powdered milk, juice and more, along with dozens of other containers and more clothing. The mine also has a very interesting shaft which drops vertically about 75' below the level of the adit and then rolls over into an incline. The ladders are in unusable condition so we had to save that for another day.
Further in, the structure of the mine was very unstable with a great deal of collapse. A huge stope was fenced above and had a false floor about one third of the way up from the floor. There were several openings to the surface high above. The end of the adit was about 350' from the portal. Once Mike extricated himself from the mine we headed over to a nearby mining cabin that wasn't in too bad a shape. Behind the cabin was a short adit filled with more ruined survival supplies.
After finishing up at the UEC-113 Mine we drove over to a mesa for stunning sunset views and more amazing rock formations. We also encountered the box off a bread truck, a railroad equipment strongroom and a large ore car trailer, all just sitting out in the open. After taking in more of the view we headed down the mountain to get dinner and a good nights sleep.
On Sunday we drove to Swansea and headed up salt tram road. We took in all the amazing views including the scenery and endless remaining towers of the tram system. We stopped at the Burgess Mine to see how the shack was doing and then spent some time at the huge salt tram summit station. After that we passed through Cerro Gordo and headed back down the mountain to Keeler and then on home.
July 2012: We headed to the high desert for a short scouting trip. We stopped to take a look at some historic mining towns along the way. We saw some old workings, some new workings, and an amazing huge wooden headframe with an integrated multi-compartment ore bin. A little further up the road we were treated to more classic wooden headframes along with several ore bins and mill structures. We also scouted a number of shafts to drop on a future trip (one of which claimed a lens cap).
May 2012: We journeyed to Tecopa yet again to continue exploration of these amazing mines. Mike, Lee, Robert and Troy were joined by Mike and Tina, Bill and Rob for a long weekend of exploring. We started Saturday morning at the War Eagle Mine. After a brief look at the cribbing and the western inclined winze we headed up a manway and stope to the upper (and older levels). We spent a great deal of time looking at the fascinating timbers (including a great square set stope), ore cars, old explosives and other artifacts. We then climbed up and out the top of the mine via an "emergency exit" manway.
After reaching the surface we walked down an old trail to the western adit, stopping for a look at the ore bin along the way. We reentered the mine and spent some time looking around the top of the inclined winze and hoist room before climbing down and into the winze for the long slide to the bottom. After clearing the winze we hiked back to the portal for a well deserved dinner.
Sunday found all of us besides Lee and Robert at the Noonday Mine (they headed to the Gunsite Mine to finish mapping the upper stopes and adits). We entered the main haulage tunnel via the western portal and proceeded to the main inclined shaft. We climbed up the shaft to the next level (which is just below the surface) and proceeded through the drift to the end. We then climbed up into the War Store stope and began to explore. This is a huge stope with many large rooms and a number of passages. We explored the full extent of the stope and were ready to leave when Mike noticed one path up that no one had yet entered. He discovered another drift level, several more stopes and an inclined winze leading up. Troy joined Mike and they proceeded higher into the mine.
We climbed up several levels and eventualy found an adit on the top level. This portal was located high above and to the south of the main shaft. There were a number of open stopes along the adit level and several smaller exploratory raises and stopes. We exited via the adit and hiked down the mountain towards the main shaft. We found and explored several additional adits and open stopes along the way. We hiked all the way back down to where the cars were parked near the portal we entered and met up with the rest of our group. Mike, Tina and Bill had to leave so Mike (confused yet?) Troy and Rob headed back into the mine and all the way through to the eastern portal so we could take a look at the trestle. After enjoying the sunset we headed out for dinner and the end of another great Tecopa trip.
May 2012: Dave and Mike headed to the high desert to scout and complete exploration of some previously visited mines. We even got the chance to start in on a new large mine. We headed out Saturday morning to a secondary shaft and adit of the UEC-101 Mine. We started with the adit which we'd briefly scouted on a previous trip. There was a great deal of collapse inside and many timbers were painted white which is very unusual. Dave crawled down a drift only to discover that it curved around and met back with the adit. Off to one side was an opening to a stope below so Mike headed down to check it out. The stope was very jumbled with many passages and significant collapsed areas. Dave also entered and waited in the upper portion while Mike crawled below to the lowest reaches.
After we finished with the stope we continued down the adit. There were a few chutes leading to stopes above but all were blocked by rocks. We soon came to the end and headed back to the surface. Our next stop was the shaft. The collar was in poor shape and quite eroded. Dave climbed down to where the shaft narrowed and had timbers and discovered that the opening was completely blocked by dirt. After Dave climbed out we walked back to the Jeep and headed over to the UEC-102 Mine. We climbed above the former mill site to examine a number of open stopes and smaller shafts. All were very eroded and in poor condition. Mike climbed down into two of them but found little besides mud and rat nests.
We drove to the top of a nearby hill to scout some prospects and have lunch before returning to the rest of the UEC-102 Mine. We climbed another hill where shafts were indicated and found several open stopes with no other workings. We carefully climbed back down and drove over to the UEC-100 Mine. This historic mine has been undergoing reclamation and significant changes have occurred since our last visit. The large mill and several nearby buildings and structures have been razed and the huge tailing piles have either been removed or buried with fresh dirt. All the other remaining buildings have been boarded up and the adit has been blocked with a very stout bat gate. We were very disheartened and disappointed by what we found.
Our last stop of the day was the small UEC-109 Mine. This mine has a great deal of interesting surface ruins including stone walled buildings and the foundations for a mill. We headed into the single adit and found that it wasn't very extensive with one stope going up (and several bats). There was also a shaft across the wash that appeared to be about 50' deep. The collar was eroded and the shaft was filled with debris. Since it was late in the day we decided to defer exploration to a future trip.
Sunday morning found us at the UEC-108 Mine. This was our first visit and we didn't know exactly what to expect. We drove just past the mine to where the canyon narrowed and the road/wash ended. There was a small adit going back about 50' before the opening became to small to explore due to washed in dirt. Of greater interest was a great slot canyon just to the side. The rock was carved from flowing water and we climbed up about 20' and back about 50' to where the wash opened up into a wide canyon. This location would be quite a sight when it's raining. After looking around we drove up to the main haulage adit of the UEC-108 Mine, geared up and headed inside.
Just inside there was a shaft leading about 50' up to the surface higher on the hill. The adit continued into the mountain for a significant distance with several branches and junctions. There were a large number of ore chutes leading to stopes above. Many were blocked with debris but the open chutes revealed near vertical stopes. We soon came across a double compartment vertical winze heading down. There were ladders on one side but they started about 15' below the level of the drift. The were debris in the winze but it appeared passable. We decide to leave any rope work for a future trip when we had more team members along for safety. We soon came to another large winze which stretched both above and below the drift. The winze above was quite large with some fire damage and ladders which started about 20' above the level of the drift. The ladders did not appear to be in good condition and exploration will be a challenge. The drift had a false floor covered in dirt across the winze with a small opening and manway heading down. These ladders came to the level of the drift but were in poor condition so ropes will be required for exploration.
Deeper in the mine we came to a raise with ladders again starting about 10' off the drift. We also found another raise with intact ladders about six feet above the drift. This raise had a semi-broken ladder at the bottom which facilitated easy access to the ladders leading higher. Dave climbed up the first ladder which was quite bouncy and found himself at a short deviation which led into stopes and chutes on both the left and right sides. The raise continued above. Mike climbed up to the same level and we took some time to examine the ladders. They appeared to be in good condition but their mounting was questionable. After testing the ladders Dave headed up and found a drift about 75' above the level of the adit. Mike followed and we set off to explore this section of the mine.
The drift was riddled with false floors where the decking had been removed. We had to cross several stopes and winzes by walking on the stulls and a few scattered boards. The drift branched and we followed one side to an area with amazing white rock formations and evidence of water intrusion. Shortly thereafter we located a shaft to the surface. It was about twenty feet up to an eroded collar with dangerous looking rocks suspended overhead in the soil. Part of the shaft was wood lined but there were no ladders. We headed back the way we came and located an area of huge interwoven stopes leading in all directions. We crawled and climbed through the stopes for a while but couldn't make significant progress up or down due to their vertical nature. We also found a shaft leading to the surface high above the drift. As we walked further down the drift we discovered that it was actually an adit when we came across a mostly buried timbered portal. We crawled through and discovered that we were on one wall of the canyon we'd been in earlier above the slot canyon.
After heading back into the mine we came across a winze with ladders and platforms heading down. We decided to skip it for the moment and explore the part of the level on the other side of the raise we'd climbed. That side contained more open false floors and several winzes leading to stopes or chutes below. The end of the adit was collapsed but Mike was able to climb up into the stope above which was separated from the adit by a false floor. This stope was also quite convoluted and contained large backfilled sections.
Once Mike returned from the stope we walked back to the winze with ladders and headed down. It was about 50' to the drift below which was filled with about four feet of dried mud. The dirt came to the bottom of the chute gates (or higher) and within twelve inches of the back in many places. We crawled down the drift and felt airflow in several constricted sections. After about thirty feet we came to a T intersection. Mike left his pack and crawled down one branch making it about another 30' until the passage became to tight to continue. Dave went the other direction and dug his way through into a filled and collapsed section. He was able to go back a short distance before that too became to small for passage. We met back up and crawled back to the winze, then climbed up the ladders to the upper adit level. We then headed back to the raise we'd originally climbed, went back down and walked out of the mine.
After a quick (late) lunch we drove around the mountain above the mine to check out another smaller mine and several prospects. We drove quite a ways up into the mountains and saw some interesting terrain. The prospects were all very small adits or shafts but the UEC-110 Mine had some decent workings. It also had a very sandy road leading to it that the Jeep couldn't climb with fully inflated tires. Rather than airing down we hiked. The UEC-110 Mine adit led back about 200' and had one branch. Near the portal were two winzes and a shaft to the surface. At least one winze requires a rope to safely explore and it was getting quite late so we left full exploration of the mine for a follow up visit.
We had to back down the sandy road and ran into a bit of trouble when Mike got too near one edge of the road as it curved. The left rear wheel started dropping into a large ditch next to the road. We stopped at once and assessed the situation. The sand was very loose and trying to drive forward just caused the wheels to spin and the left rear of the Jeep to slid further into the ditch. Rolling was a distinct possibility so we aired down the tires and dug holes (and placed rocks) in front of each wheel. Our next attempt to drive out was successful and we knew we'd dodged a bullet.
We packed up the tools, used the compressor to air the tires back up and headed out for the long drive home.
April 2012: Mike and Stacy met up with Crystal and Stuart from the Mojave Underground for a day of Utah mine exploring. Our goal was the uranium mines south of Moab. We first ventured up a canyon which the map showed as having three adits. The road was in very poor condition and hadn't been used in some time. Unfortunately, we soon found out why. The first two adits were comprehensively bulldozed and backfilled while the third was so well demolished that we couldn't even find it's former location. We found ample evidence of a large mine with a massive covered tailings pile, power lines and equipment remains.
After extracting ourselves from the canyon we continued up the road looking for the site of the famed Mi Vida Mine. We first passed the site of the Little Beaver Mine and it too had been reclaimed. We could sort of tell where the adit used to be but not with absolute certainty. Utah AML is very through. Fortunately, historical artifacts meant that they couldn't conceal the location of the Mi Vida haulage adit. The road had been blocked but the Jeep was able to navigate the obstacles and we soon found ourselves outside the portal.
The portal is quite a sight... wood timbered with a large gauge electric locomotive and five cars protruding. There is also a large steel ore bin and extensive track. The train was truly amazing and in pretty good condition considering all the years it's spent outside. We geared up (in snow flurries and strong winds) and headed into the portal. Access to the mine required a crawl and we soon found ourselves in the large adit. The back was extensively bolted and in some places military temporary runway decking was used in an effort to retain the rock overhead. As we ventured further into the mine we soon found out why these measures were necessary.
Several hundred feet in we came to a three way split. The back was extensively bolted and there was a massive amount of rockfall evident. We headed down the left most drift and soon came across a powder bunker. We also found a number of plywood and canvas walls, most of which had been knocked open at some point. These contained stopes that were all in a massive state of collapse. In many cases, only a few feet remained between the floor and back. Even the bolting was not enough to keep things from collapsing. The drift began to steadily descend and the end was flooded but did not appear to continue much further.
After exploring all the stopes we returned to the split and explored the other two directions. One led to a collapsed stope and the other continued on. We had to pass an extensively collapsed section being very careful not to touch or brush and of the hanging rocks. About 100' down the drift we came to another drift which joined at a right angle. There was substantial evidence of past water intrusion and even some plant bits. We continued past and soon after found the end of the drift. We then proceeded up the connecting drift which was rising at a low angle. About 100' in we came to the remains of a second portal which had been bulldozed.
We returned to the adit and carefully made our way back to the portal. The level of collapse in the Mi Vida Mine was amazing. It's a very dangerous place and anyone planning on exploring it should use extreme caution.
After exiting the Mi Vida Mine and getting cleaned up, we headed further down the road to the Mc Cormic Mine but it had been completely reclaimed. Nearby we found a great deal of equipment debris and a adit at the bottom of a wash. It was basically an open stope and had collapsed in a number of places. After looking around we tried to access the Louise Mine but were unable to do so due to time constraints. We did find what appeared to be a former mining camp with three abandoned cars, a number of foundations, a dump and two boreholes (for wells or assay, we don't know which).
On the way out we drove up to the Standard Mine but it too had been completely bulldozed. We had a good idea where the adit used to be but could not be certain. It's a shame because there were some very interesting equipment ruins and a huge tailings pile so we expect the mine was quite extensive. It's very sad to see the lengths the BLM and Utah AML have gone to obliterate these historic mines.
March 2012: Lee, Mike and Robert returned to Tecopa once again to tackle the amazing Gunsight Mine. We'd explored this mine several times in the past but not to the extent we have the others. On Friday morning we headed in the 700' level adit and went straight to the manway which leads up to the 600' and 500' levels. We stopped on the dusty 500' level first and started exploring. The first order of business was to explore a winze that runs parallel to the manway about 100' down the drift. Lee rigged ropes and headed down. As expected, it led to a chute on the 700' level that is blocked with debris. After Lee returned to the 600' level we carefully crawled past the winze and further down the drift. Lee mapped the stopes while Mike and Robert took pictures. After we were all done, we returned to the manway and ascended to the 500' level.
The top of the last ladder was in even worse shape than last time so Lee secured it with some spare cordage and also rigged a rope for Mike and Robert. Once we were all up we did a quick re-exploration of the level and then started to systematically map each drift and stope. Robert took pictures while Lee and Mike crawled and climbed. After mapping all the stopes going down Lee and Mike started working their way up. Lee mapped the stope with the wheelbarrow and then tackled the winze which we believed led up to the 400' level. Like Stuart did last time, Lee decided that it was too dangerous to climb after ascending about 20'. He came back down and we moved over to the last remaining stope leading up. Next to the chute for this stope is an old hemp rope and a ladder exists further up. Lee climbed up to do a quick reconnoiter before we called it a day (we'd been in the mine ten hours at this point). He discovered that the stope encountered a drift level above and came back down and we called it a night.
We made a beeline to the 500' level on Saturday might and went straight up into the stope Lee had explored the night before. Lee went up first and Mike and Robert quickly followed. We found ourselves in a short drift with significant levels of collapse. There was a very loose steeply inclined winze going down. Lee rigged a line and carefully descended. He found it blocked but determined that it led to the chute right above the top of the manway on the 500' level. When Lee returned and started mapping the remainder of the area, Mike ascended the upper portion of the winze which was filled with rock debris almost to the back. It opened into a huge stope filled with breakdown rock. There were two dead end drifts and near the top an irregular passage which led to another drift.
This last drift was exactly what we'd been looking for. It led to another stope and up above we could clearly see a large drift level with extensive timbers. Exploring the drift we were in first, we came across a large vertical winze that stretched above and below the drift. While Lee and Robert were looking around Mike crawled through a collapsed section and then climbed up to the drift level above. He immediately noticed sunlight streaming in around a bend, confirming we were in the 300' level adit (the "Sutro Tunnel"). Mike hiked out to the surface while Lee and Robert continued exploring. After walking to the top of the tramway, he returned and joined Robert in taking pictures. Lee finished mapping down below soon after and we all started exploring the 300' level adit. We discovered the top of the winze that Lee had attempted to climb on Friday. It also turned out to be the same as the winze we'd discovered on the half level below. There were a number of stopes going up which we explored as well.
After spending a few hours on the 300' level, we hiked outside and followed a trail leading to the east and higher up the mountain. We soon encountered another adit which was the 200' level of the mine. The adit exhibited a high level of collapse and had stopes going both up and down. We headed in and covered the entire drift before doubling back to tackle the stopes. Lee and Mike descended the one large stope going down and clearly heard the sound of air moving. We discovered a filled chute at the bottom and timbers which blocked off a winze. One board was missing and there was significant airflow. Lee climbed through and down and quickly found himself back on the 300' adit, near the portal. There was a small passage next to a blocked chute that we'd all missed.
After returning to the drift Lee ascended the large stope going up. There was a great deal of collapse but after crawling and climbing for a while he found where the stope opened to the sky above near the top of the mountain. He climbed back down and we all exited the adit and hiked higher up the mountain. We found dozens of open stopes and small adits near the top. Whole sections of the hillside were hollowed out and supported by timbers. By this time it was getting late (and dark). Lee and Robert re-entered the 300' level adit to climb back down through the mine and retrieve our ropes while Mike hiked the mule path back down to the 700' level portal. Mike spent some time taking pictures of the hoist and then met Lee and Robert for the final hike out.
Lee and Robert spent some time at the War Eagle Mine on Sunday, examing the numerous open stopes and small adits above the western portal. Mike drove home straight home. We had a great time at the Gunsight and were thrilled to make the connection all the way through from the 700' level to the 200' level and beyond.
March 2012: Dave, Jeff, Mike and Stacy headed to the high desert again to visit some new mines. We spent Saturday morning looking around the UEC-105 Mine and it's extensive surface workings. We had time to explore the lowermost adit. It wasn't very extensive but interesting none the less with a shaft to the surface and a long meandering drift with intact rails.
After spending a few hours at the UEC-105 Mine we drove out to meet our fellow explorers for the day. Bill, Boxcar, Dan, Guy and Micah have spent years exploring both above and below ground and it was a treat to finally meet them. We drove together to the upper portions of the UEC-106 Mine, 2,000' above the valley floor where we started. After checking out some surface ruins we drove the last little bit along a precarious mountain hugging road and geared up to explore.
We descended downhill to the adit and walked a short distance to a very historic hoist room. The hoist was steam powered and the boiler, firebox, gears and drum are still intact. Unfortunately, someone removed the small steam engine in the 70's. The elevator was also still intact, perched above the winze with it's brakes engaged. It's a combination elevator with a platform, handholds and a debris shield above for miners and a large ring for buckets below. The elevator headframe was very high allowing it to be raised enough for flat cars with the buckets to be rolled in underneath. The haulage side of the winze had a hatch with rails to allow this to happen.
Speaking of the winze, it's the stuff of legend. Rumored to extend more than 600' to the lower haulage adit of the mine, there's no record of anyone accessing it for a half a century or more. The timbers were intact but the most of the ladders were collapsed or in very poor condition. After strategizing for a bit Mike rigged a 200' rope and Dave descended down the poor looking ladders on the manway side of the winze to evaluate it's accessibility. About thirty feet down the ladder was detached from the timbers at the top had fallen across the manway. Dave bypassed this and shortly came to an even worse looking section. He gave it a shove with his feet as a test and the whole section promptly detached and plummeted down the winze. This is why we use ropes!
Dave descended about another 150' and found a short ten foot drift. He sheltered there while we re-rigged the rope. We pulled up the 200' rope and attached a 300' to it's end. We then dropped the 300' in it's bag down the haulage side of the winze. Once it was down we let the 200' rope go as well. When the dust settled, Dave got back on rope and descended further. About 250' down we started having trouble communicating via radio so Dave stood on the timbers to create slack and Stacy rappelled down to the drift to act as a relay.
Once Stacy was off rope and in place, Dave continued his descent. Stacy lost radio contact not long after but we could clearly hear Dave continuing down. At this point Boxcar and Guy departed down the mountain to enter the lower adit and attempt to contact Dave from there. Bill was outside acting as a relay and Micah moved back and forth from the portal to the winze to complete the connection. Not long after we got word that Dave had contacted Guy. He encountered a sloping deviation in the winze about 500' down. It was only about ten feet long and let to the continuation of the winze which had good solid ladders at the top. Dave descended the ladders until they ended and came within fifty feet of the adit below. He'd descended a total of 600' making the total depth of the winze an astounding 650'.
Without enough rope to descend, Dave began the long climb back to the upper adit. This was complicated by the position of the rope in the corner of the winze against the timbers separating the haulage and manway sides. Dave eventually reached the small drift and he and Stacy pulled up all the extra rope below to help prevent it getting snagged later. When that was done, Dave rested while Stacy ascended back up to the adit. Once he reached the top Dave also ascended and we de-rigged the ropes and headed out after more than ten hours in the mine. Bill, Boxcar, Dan, Guy and Micah all headed home while the rest of us returned to the motorhome for a late dinner and some much needed rest.
We headed out Sunday morning to the UEC-107 Mine which was located deep in a canyon and also 2,000' above the valley floor. The road was in very poor shape and driving to the mine took quite a while. We arrived at the mine to find an impressive ore bin and retaining wall along with a small intact building and the remains of a tram system leading higher up on the mountain. We geared up and climbed the tailing pile to find an adit with rails leading in.
A short distance in we encountered the first powder magazine. It was quite impressive with an intact outer steel door and an inner latching wood door. There was a workbench inside and even an informal geocache hidden inside. Further in we found another similar powder magazine with intact signage and a missing inner door (which we found in a nearby drift). There were a number of branches and we moved along locating a series or raises. Some obviously led to stopes or levels above and some were just exploratory. There were no stopes of any kind. We also found wonderful intact signage indicting the exits of the mine. A "Primary Exit" sign point back the way we came and a "Secondary Exit" sign pointed at a manway with good solid ladders leading up.
We headed up, stopping briefly at a short drift and found ourselves on the second level. This level was almost all stopes with very few formal drifts or crosscuts connecting them. It was about 100' above the first level and was a complete maze of passages. We explored for hours, locating the tops of many of the winzes we'd located below. We also found several striking veins of galena and more great signage. We also came across piles of core samples and an intact and fully loaded collection tray. There were also a few pieces of machinery left, mainly consisting of large tanks for compressed air. After we covered the entire level we followed the signs to another manway leading up to the third level.
The third level also consisted mainly of stopes but had more formal drifts and crosscuts. It also contained a winze with ladders that didn't seem to connect with the rest of the mine. Dave and Mike rigged the shaft with our 100' push rope and Mike headed down to see what was there. The winze was about 75' deep and led to a drift about 100' long. The drift was filled with amazing artifacts... dynamite crates, drill bit boxes and drill bits along with more core samples and sample trays. Stacy came down to take a look as well and then both he and Mike ascended back to the third level.
We cleaned up all our ropes and rigging, finished exploring the third level and then followed the signs out of the adit to darkening skies. The trail back down to the bottom was steep, winding and treacherous and we made it back to the Jeep just as it got completely dark. The drive back was long and difficult and we packed up the motorhome for the long drive back home.
January 2012: We headed back to the Imperial Valley to re-explore and map the Cargo Mine. We spent thirteen hours in the mine on our last trip and probably covered less than half of it. The Cargo Mine is deep, hot and humid. It's also filled with bats. Dave, Mike and Stacy drove out and met Lee and Robert at the mine on Saturday morning. After rigging the first rope at the collar of the shaft we proceeded down one by one.
The first level is small and contains stopes going up and down. The upper stope connects to the surface in two places. After a quick survey we all descended to the large 200 level (and the end of our first 195' rope). This level (like all of the Cargo Mine) has very interesting timbering. There are several stopes going down and a few raises going up. The back of much of the level is at a steep angle. As in other parts of the mine, the back is timbered and above that are backfilled stopes.
After finishing on the 200 level we rigged our second rope and headed down to the 300 level. This level contained more fascinating timbering and shoring, a large stope and a winze which we found connects to the 350 level. That level was more of the same and contained a tight winze which led down to the 400 level. Stacy and Dave descended through this winze and the rest of the team descended the main shaft. The 400 level had some very interesting timbering including some unfinished wood timbers that were literally folded in half. There was also a long, deep stope which contained more unusual timbering.
Once we finished exploring the 400 level it was time to descend and rig yet another rope. This allowed us to descend to the 500 level. This level is quite large and contains a stope with amazing angled and braced timbers. There is a collapsed section with the remains of square set timbers and huge boulders which have collapsed from the cavernous stope above. We explored a winze and raise and discovered several small intermediate levels. We next descended to the 600 level but before exploring decided to bottom out at the previously unexplored 700 level.
Access to the 700 level was difficult and we all had to climb around a platform that covered most of the shaft. Once on the bottom level we found we had about twenty feet of rope left in our rope bag. That put us right around 650' below the surface. The bottom level was (more) hot and humid than the rest of the mine and filled with bat guano. The level was quite small and we explored it rapidly and returned to the cooler 600 level.
The 600 level contains some interesting features (such as rails which go around a curve with a stope descending on the outside) and a continuation of the amazing timbers. We explored and photographed this level for about an hour before beginning the long climb back to the surface. Ascending and collecting rope took more than three hours and the last explorer emerged onto the surface sixteen and a half hours after we entered. Talk about a long day!
January 2012: We returned to the high desert to take Jeff and Stacy through the UEC-100 mine and to finish our exploration of the deep shaft at the UEC-101 mine. Dave and Mike were along too and the weather was much more accommodating than last time.
We arrived at the UEC-100 mine around 10am and headed straight in. Mike rigged the rope on the "Harry Potter" ladders while Dave descended a short distance down the main winze and retrieved the flashlight he dropped on our last trip. Jeff and Stacy toured the rest of the adit and then we all descended to the 100 level. After looking around we tackled the "Chutes and Ladders" pitch down to the 200 level. Mike rigged another rope for the next pitch while Jeff and Stacy explored the level. We then headed down to the 400 level, making a brief stop on the small 300 level for Jeff and Stacy to take a look.
We spent some time exploring, taking pictures and riding the ore cars on the 400 level and then descended the inclined winze to explore the wet passage we skipped last time. We rigged the rope and Dave descended, followed by Stacy. They found a short sloping drift that ended at the waterline. After taking a few pictures they both ascended back up the rope and we started back to the surface.
On the way back up we explored a stope between the 400 and 300 levels and also explored the stope just above the 100 level. We also took some great pictures to illustrate the "Harry Potter" ladders before heading out of the mine. After a look around at the surface ruins we returned to the motorhome for a great dinner and good night's sleep.
Sunday found us at the UEC-101 mine main haulage shaft. We'd descended to the second level, 200' down on our last trip and the shaft kept going. We were determined to explore the rest of the mine this time. Mike rigged the shaft and we all headed down to the first level (100' below the surface). Stacy and Dave explored a raise we'd skipped before. It was alongside a chute and had ladders for the first twenty feet. After that it rolled over into a steep, loose incline. Stacy climbed up and emerged on the surface a short distance downhill from the haulage shaft. This was the second air/access shaft we found (the other connecting to the second level 200' down). He walked to the main shaft and rappelled back down to join the rest of the group.
While this was going on Dave and Mike rigged a rope to explore the vertical winze we peered down last time just off to the side of the drift. The first ladder was fairly solid and led down about twenty feet before connecting to a second ladder. This ladder was solid but it's connection was anything but, consisting of a single loop of yellow utility rope from the top to the ladder above it. The ladder was at a slight angle, resting against the rock of the winze. This is why we use ropes! The second ladder descended about twenty five feet though clear space into an enormous stope. The stope was something on the order of 30' wide by 60' long by 25' tall. There were several pits going down even further and all the material was very loose. After looking around and taking pictures, they ascended back to the drift level and derigged the winze.
We all met up back at the main shaft and then descended to the second level. Jeff and Stacy explored while Dave and Mike rigged a second rope so we could descend further down the shaft. Dave headed down and found that the shaft below had large timbers dividing the manway and the haulage section. Due to all the wood, sound and radio signals propagated very poorly so communication was a challenge. Dave reached the bottom and Mike and Stacy soon followed while Jeff decided to stay on the second level.
The shaft ended 400' below the surface with a level that branched into three directions. In one drift we found an amazing tipping bucket and a wooden trolley with steel wheels and trucks to ride the rails. The entire level was very warm and it became warmer and more humid the further one went from the shaft. The rib was clay-like in some places and there was significant collapse in areas along with rusted rails and rotted timbers. After exploring the drifts we all headed back to the second level. After collecting the rope, Dave and Stacy headed up the air/access shaft to the surface while Jeff and Mike ascended the main shaft. We all met topside where we derigged the shaft and then headed for home.
December 2011: We headed out to the high desert to scout and explore new mines. Kurt, Dave and Mike camped in the motorhome which was a good thing because the temperature went as low as 27 degrees at night and the wind was howling too.
We did a little reconnaissance late Friday night of the UEC-100 mine. This was a gold mine that operated from the 1800's until World War II. There are a number of remaining buildings and the ruin of a large mill and cyanide leach tank complex. The mine is surrounded by huge arsenic laden tailings. Access is via an adit and after looking at the buildings we went inside for a quick reconnoiter. Several hundred feet into the mine we were surprised by the sound of wood falling, followed shortly thereafter my loud meowing. A cat had wandered into the mine and was very happy to see us. After looking around we led the cat out of the mine and returned to the motorhome for a good nights sleep.
We returned to the mine Saturday morning and got straight to work. The haulage level had a number of interesting features including several storerooms with doors. Several hundred feet in we encountered evidence of a fire. We also located a steeply inclined winze with significant damage to it's timbers. It was topped by a large pulley but the alcove behind it for hoist machinery was bare. We next located a small opening in the floor with a ladder. We discovered that the whole section of drift was a false floor over a huge stope. The ladders looked like something out of Harry Potter. They were at a slight angle and popped off the wall of the stope by six to eight foot timbers. We left the manway and proceeded further. We located another false floor which opened into the same stope. We also located the large, steeply inclined main haulage winze. It too had suffered fire damage. Near the top of the winze was a large machinery space complete with hoist, motor, battery bank remains, electrical panels and work bench.
The main haulage winze contained a significant quantity of loose debris so we elected to descend via the manway. Kurt and Mike rigged the rope and sent it down. Mike hooked up and rappelled in. The ladders seemed to be solid but stood off from the wall at an angle and did not inspire confidence. The stope was huge and the ladder eventually met the wall at a platform. A newer ladder continued down and an older ladder descended in parallel at the other end of the platform. Mike descended along the newer ladder and ended up at the bottom of the stope. One section contained a false floor and a boarded passageway was above it. Dave rappelled down and noticed another ladder located in an adjacent portion of the stope leading down. Mike climbed down while Kurt descended and we all met on the 200 level drift next to a sign which read "Second Exit" with an arrow point up the way we came.
We followed the drift under the false floor and discovered a number of openings leading down into another stope. We also located the main winze which again showed significant damage. Nearby survey tape indicated a main exit route up a short ladder so we climbed up to investigate. The ladder led up into the stope and to another series of ladders and platforms. Dave climbed up and determined that they likely led to the winze with the pulley. The ladders at the top of that winze were destroyed so we knew this was no longer a valid way out. We headed back the way we came and encountered more false floors and openings to the stope below. It quickly became apparent that the entire mine was essentially one continuous high angle stope with full or partial drifts at intervals. We also encountered another cat. This one wasn't so fortunate and was mummified. Some previous visitor had hung the poor thing from a handy nail.
At the other end of the drift we located an opening into another part of the stope with a ladder. Dave headed down and discovered what we called "Chutes and Ladders". The stope was filled with ladders connected to each other by platforms, many of which were angled. It was slightly insane and we carefully descended one by one to the next level. It also contained a number of false floors and openings to the continuing stope below. We followed the drift to the main winze and found conditions much like those above. We located another ladder going down and Dave took the lead again. This ladder led through the stope to the next level. It was small and dominated by open stope sections spanned by boards placed across horizontal pillars. One direction was rotted and collapsed and the other led a short distance back to the main winze.
After taking a quick look around, Dave climbed down the next set of ladders and called up that we weren't going to believe what was on the next level. Soon after a loud rumble filled the mine. It sounded just like an ore car being pushed on tracks!. Mike and Kurt descended to find not one but two, fully intact ore cars, on their tracks and movable over a large distance. The cars were numbered and one had a nameplate showing that it was originally in the Tropico Mine near Rosamond. It was an incredible discovery. We left the ore cars for a while and explored the rest of the drift. One end was damp and a number of cave formations were growing. Nearby was an inclined winze which led down about thirty feet to another wet area with significant cave formations and dripping water.
After investigating the winze we returned to the drift and headed over to the main winze. There was less damage on this level with ladders leading up and down. Mike climbed down about thirty feet to the point where the ladder was interrupted by a rock covered platform. Dave came down next and descend past Mike. He was on his way down when a rock knocked loose and fell down the winze. It fall was terminated by a large splash. The mine was flooded sixty three feet below the 500 level (352 feet below the surface). Ash was floating on the water when pushed aside we could see that the winze continued down.
Dave and Mike climbed back up and we all spent some time riding and photographing the ore cars. We had our first crash as well when the car Mike was riding (being pushed by Kurt) clipped a chute and detailed. It only took a few moments to set it back on the tracks and continue with our joyriding. Dave wanted to see what was up the main winze so he climbed up and unsurprisingly found himself on the level above. Kurt and Mike climbed up the the ladders in the stope and then we all ascended back through the mine in sequence.
Once we were back on the adit level we cleared our rigging and did some more looking around. Dave noticed a ladder in the stope above timbers so we all climbed up to investigate, The ladders followed the stope wall up about thirty feet and then changed over to another ladder set perpendicular to the first. Dave climbed all the way up and discovered a small level with more stopes. We all returned to the adit, packed our gear and headed out after a fun and productive nine hours underground.
We headed out on Sunday morning to visit more new mines. We had to drive up a rugged canyon and the abilities of the Jeep were essential for reaching our goal. We first stopped at the UEC-101 mine. This was another gold mine with a spread out series of shafts and adits, along with a mill site complete with more cyanide leach tailings. We first encountered moderate timbered shaft with a ladder. It only went down about twenty feet so we moved on. The next working we found was a small, wood boxed shaft with a ladder. We looked down and it seemed to go quite a way but we but decided to investigate it after seeing the rest of the site. A bit further up the road was a large, steeply inclined shaft, mill remains, a wrecked loading bin and a short adit.
The shaft was large and had wood ladders in poor condition on one side and stout metal rails with ladder like crossbars on the other. It was covered with an unsecured metal grate which we moved aside. Mike maneuvered the Jeep into position and then rigged the shaft with our 200 foot rope. Dave had gone for a walk to explore the rest of the site and once he returned Mike got on rope and rappelled into the mine. He encountered the first level 100 feet down which extended on both sides of the shaft. After a brief look around Dave also rappelled down as well while Kurt remained on the surface. We found the west side of the drift partially blocked by a large pile or rubble. Past this the drift became hotter and more humid. It split into two branches, both of which ended shortly thereafter. The eastern side of the drift contained a stope above and a winze with ladder that opened into another stope. The ladder was in poor condition and since we hadn't brought our push rope we decided to leave it for another day.
After walking the rest of the level Mike got back on rope and continued down. The rope ended just at the next level, another 100 feet down. What previously appeared to be the bottom of the shaft was actually a partial plug. The shaft continued down with no end in sight. Once Dave came down we began exploring. The western side was short on this level as well but the eastern portion continued for more than 400 feet and contained fourteen chutes down from the stope above. Near the end was a ladder going up with cold air pouring down. Dave discovered a few dead animals and plant debris on a platform about twenty feet up and we theorized that this winze might actually be the shaft we'd found earlier. We went back to the main shaft and called Kurt on the radio. He walked over to the other shaft while we walked back as well. Radio communications were clear as day and the link was confirmed.
We knew we had to return another day to finish exploring the mine so we decided to head back up and move on to other mines. Mike and Dave ascended in turns, climbing the metal rungs on the rails and managing the rope so it didn't get snagged. Once on the surface we derigged the shaft and replaced the cover. We then drove to the next mine on our list, UEC-102. This was yet another gold mine and also had a huge cyandide leach tailings pile and mill remains. On the way over we discovered another adit of UEC-101 and another, partially collapsed shaft. We decided to save both for another visit. The workings of UEC-102 extended on both side of a canyon with the mill on one side and the major workings on the other. Since it was getting dark we had to leave the rest for another day. We headed back to the motorhome, hitched up and headed home.
It has come to our attention that certain groups and organizations
are utilizing information provided by the Underground Explorers to
act in a manner inconsistent with our goals of documenting and
preserving historic mine sites. Based on this information, we've
come to the unfortunate conclusion that we must change the way we
present information to the public. Therefore, it is with great
regret that we announce that we will no longer be able to publicly
identify specific geographic locations or mine names in our trip
reports and pictures. We will not purposefully mislead the public by
creating false names and locations. Instead, we will created a
catalog and each mine will be assigned a specific code. These codes
will not correlate in any way to real world information about the
mine or it's location.
November 2011: We again ventured to the Shoshone Mines in Tecopa for another few days of exploring and mapping. Jeff, Ken, Mike and Stacy camped at the War Eagle eastern portal and met Lee and Robert who stayed at the Tecopa Hot Springs Resort.
We started out Friday morning at the Columbia #2 Mine. We rigged a 300' rope to the Jeep and tossed it down the main incline shaft. We all then descended to the 365 level where the shaft is plugged. We took a short walk to the intersection which leads to the manway going down and in the opposite direction, the manway going up. We then returned to the top of the loose inclined winze and rigged a line. We descended one by one to the bottom and into the short drift. Mike rigged a rope and we all descended into the large stope below.
After a quick look around, we slowly descend to the bottom of the stope and the 565 level. Lee started mapping some stopes he missed the last time while Mike and Ken descended another stope and moved down to the 665 level. The rest of the group soon followed and we converged at the incline shaft and evaluated ways to access the cutoff continuation of the drift on the other side. At this level, the floor of the incline shaft is at least twenty feet below the drift and the material is very loose and crumbly. There is a stope to the right which leads over the shaft and above and to the side of the drift on the other side. After some more looking, Ken and Lee rigged a rope and Lee was able to descend into the drift on the other side.
The 665 level drift on the other side of the incline shaft was not very extensive and only extended several hundred feet. There were no footprints in the dust and it does not appear that anyone has been there in a very long time (probably since before the rails across the incline were destroyed). Lee found "Dead End Kid" written in carbide at the end of the drift. After mapping the drift, Lee ascended back up and across the incline.
After a brief rest, we moved out to explore and map the rest of the 665 level and the connections down to the 765 level. Jeff and Mike went to the end of the drift and descended the ladders, stopping to explore a small stope along the way. There was a thick layer of dust in the stope and no footprints. It did not appear that anyone had been there in a long time. The stope contained a shovel head and two sticks of moldy dynamite. Once we finished in the stope, we descended down to the 765 level. Jeff explored the drift while Mike went back up an inclined winze which led to an intermediate level. He encountered Lee and Stacy who were exploring the stopes and then descended again via a different route to meet up with Jeff. Jeff and Mike then proceeded along the drift and met Robert at the intersection just before the main incline shaft which leads to the rideable timber car.
Robert spent time taking pictures while Jeff and Mike descended the nearby inclined winze. The drift below was hot and humid. All the tracks were rusted and there is white salt crystal growths everywhere. After exploring the drift they headed back up to the 765 level to meet up with everyone else. Lee and Ken ventured down the winze that Jeff and Mike just vacated while everyone else went to poke around at the bottom of the main inclined shaft. We then headed down the cart drift to the headframe, bringing the cart along for yet another ride. Lee made further explorations of the hot and humid drift and then we descended the inclined winze. The pool of water at the bottom was more than two feet deep. Lee crossed while the rest of us waited, looking around and taking pictures.
After Lee returned we headed back up to the headframe. Robert took pictures while Lee and Mike reentered the hot and humid drift to clear debris so a raise could be accessed. After clearing a great deal of material and rotted timbers (and creating a lot of dust), Lee was able to climb the raise only to discover that it only went twenty feet or so before ending. They returned to the headframe area and rode the timber car back out to the main drift to meet the rest of the group.
We rested for a bit and then started the long 400 vertical foot climb back to the surface. We ascended the stopes back to the 565 level and then up the huge stope to our waiting rope. After ascended one by one, we derigged the winze and then climbed up the loose incline using the handline. After packing everything up we made the grueling 300 linear foot climb up the main inclined shaft and emerged on the surface after eleven hours underground.
We met Saturday morning at the Noonday Mine and proceeded in with the goal of fully exploring and mapping the rear inclined winze. We stopped along the way to examine several stopes and then descended down the incline to the first level. We all branched off and started exploring the many stopes and passages in pairs. We all wound our way through different passages and met up on the second level where we repeated the process. From there, Mike worked his way through a stope to an intermediate drift and ended up on a level that parallels the incline, just above it. Everyone else climbed up from the winze and we explored the small level.
After resting and taking pictures, we moved back into the winze and descended to the level which connects to the "cavern" stope. We proceeded along the drift and descended the stope which leads to the cutoff level with the ore car and winze down to the War Eagle Mine. We spent some time looking around and taking pictures and then took a break for lunch. We were all pretty tired and were ready to climb up and out of the mine. Since Ken had his push rope with him, Mike rigged the winze and he and Ken descended into the War Eagle Mine and made the mile hike down the adit back to our camp. The rest of the group retrieved the rope and made the climb back to the main tunnel. They spent some time at the trestle in the canyon and then walked back through the mine to the cars and headed back to camp.
We all split up and headed our separate ways on Sunday morning. Jeff, Mike and Stacy drove to the Ibex Hills and proceeded off-road to scout new mines. Our first stop was the Rob Roy Mine. This is a lone hard rock mine in an area of talc mines. The road petered out about a quarter of a mine from the mine itself so we geared up and headed west across the wash.
The collapsed remains of an ore bin greeted us as we approached the mine. Above the ore bin were the remains of a short loading trestle and a wide ditch cut out of the hillside with rails. It appeared that a large adit just beyond had either collapsed or been backfilled. We split up to explore. Stacy went up slope to examine a tailing pile high above. He found several small adits and one larger adit which branched several times but had no stopes. Jeff and Mike examined another short adit lower down and also located a steeply inclined shaft that seemed to be fifty to seventy five feet deep. There was also evidence of another collapsed or filled adit. We also hiked over to an old abandoned Ford dump truck. It was in remarkable condition for it's age and very cool to see.
After hiking back to the Jeep we headed further down the road towards the various talc mines. We encountered the ghost town of Ibex Springs and stopped for a while to look at the ruins. Almost everything dates from the 60's but there was evidence of older dwellings as well. As we drove out we noticed a huge can and bottle dump. We stopped to rummage around and eventually located more than a dozen small unbroken bottles and jars. By this time it was getting dark so we headed out for the long drive home.
October 2011: We returned to Midland California for another trip through the Victor Mine. The primary purpose of this trip was for Lee to survey and map the mine. We also wanted to take more time for photography. Mike, Jeff, Lee, Robert, Troy, Dav and Katie all headed out for a weekend of exploration.
We made a short detour on the way out to revisit the Old Channel Mine Shaft. We had briefly investigated this deep vertical shaft on our last trip to the Victor. With our new MineCam 2.0 in hand, it was time to see what was really down there. We rigged the camera and sent it down in it's 30 degree configuration. The shaft ended up being about 230 feet deep with a pile of debris at the bottom. There were no drifts and it was hard to tell if it was really the bottom or just a plug. We retrieved the camera, rerigged it into a straight down orientation and sent it to the bottom again. This view was also inconclusive but it appears that it might actually be the bottom of the shaft.
We headed out early Saturday morning and made our way into the Victor Mine complex. The single remaining access point in poor condition but stable so we all proceeded inside. We headed straight down to the bottom level and worked out way from there. Mike and Robert took pictures while Lee surveyed and Dav filmed video.
We then ascended back to the second level and proceeded to explore the three ore chutes that still had gates down below. They were all filled with dirt, dust and random debris. We got a thrill when we located the mythical stop sign at the bottom of chute one. It had fallen over so we stood it back up where it belongs. We then spent some time taking pictures at the cart flipper before heading into the civil defense drifts. We split up with some of us exploring the stopes while others went with Lee to map this extensive portion of the mine.
After meeting back for lunch, we ascended the haulage winze to the top level, pausing to take pictures at the unique mobile ore hopper. We surveyed the upper level and took pictures at the hoist before descending to the intermediate level for more mapping and pictures. After that is was off the cover the remainder of the main level which including ascending on rope over a "bridge" and up a stope, the last remaining portion of the mine still unexplored. We returned to the surface after ten hours underground.
Sunday found us back in Midland to explore the remains of the Brown Mine. The Brown Mine as reclamined at the same time as the Victor and the damage inflicted on the workings is extensive. Access is only possible with a lifted short wheelbase 4x4 vehicle. The surface is so torn up it's hard to determine what used to be where. Backfilled and blasted workings were all around. After a great deal of searching we were able to located remaining complex with intact underground workings.
We entered through a hard to find adit and descended a winze with nice steel ladders. We found ourselves in a drift we'd seen pictures of before and located the ore cart jammed into a winze. The drift led to a 400 foot long tunnel that had been backfilled at both ends. Lee mapped the workings while Mike and Robert took pictures. We then returned to the surface and scoured the are for another few hours before heading home.
September 2011: We were contacted by the TKM Corporation, current owners of the Mission Mine in the Joshua Tree area about our willingness to assist their potential buyer with a survey of the mine. After some discussion we were hired to take their geologist into the mine to assess it's current condition.
Dave and Mike drove out to Palm Springs on Sunday night and met the geologist (Case) in the morning. We proceeded to drive out to the mine and get setup to descend. Case had never been in a mine before, or on rope so we took extra time to go through everything and discuss safety and procedures. Since the mine had a large fire in the last two years we were concerned about the atmosphere being contaminated. Our clients provided a four gas detector that would supplement our O2 detector (we were especially concerned about carbon monoxide).
The main shaft is burned out and the collar is eroding at a rapid pace. We hiked to the air shaft and found the ladders to be undamaged. Dave descended first, followed by Case and then Mike. At the bottom of the first set of ladders we rigged a rope before continuing further. We descended in series again and soon after found ourselves on the 125 level. There was extensive smoke and heat damage and everything was covered with soot. Several structures that used to be in the drift were gone. After spending some time taking notes, pictures and samples, we rigged a rope and descended the 200' winze to the 319 level. There was even more smoke and heat damage on this level (and more soot). The air was filled with particulates as well. There were also "growths" in several places that appear to be (toxic) condensed zinc that vaporized off galvanized metals during the fire than then condensed into hair-like formations. There were large steel beams in the main shaft that fell from above but they did not block the shaft. Case took more pictures and samples and we examined the clear ore vein running through the end of the drift.
We opened the hatch to proceed down to the 400 level and found the ladder rungs covered in soot. Dave descended to the first platform and found he was kicking up a could of ash in his face with each step. We decided that we did not have the proper protective gear to continue any further. The soot could (and likely does) contain a host of chemicals (everything from vaporized organics to chemicals used to treat timbers). Safe access will require high quality respirators, abundant replacement cartridges and goggles. We reluctantly reversed course and headed back to the surface. We emerged late in the afternoon after spending five hours in the mine.
We were dirtier than we ever remember being. Case did a great job descending and ascending the ladders (while also on rope) and certainly got the full experience on his first mine survey. Starting off with the Mission Mine is certainly starting in the deep end. After some cleanup we dropped Case off at his hotel and started the long drive home.
September 2011: Even though it was over 100 degrees during the day, we couldn't pass up the opportunity for another trip to Tecopa and the stupendous Shoshone Mines. Dave and Mike headed out Thursday night and we were met over the weekend by Lee, Robert, Troy, Stacy and Stacy's brother (also Robert). Most of us stayed in the motorhome but Lee and Robert decided the Tecopa Hot Springs Resort was more their speed this time.
Dave, Lee, Mike and Robert headed into the War Eagle Mine on Friday morning. Our first stop was the bottom of the raise which connects the War Eagle and Noonday Mines. Lee located this connection in July and even though the rest of us had seen the raise before, we had no idea where it went. There was a strong breeze flowing down and evidence of water intrusion on the floor of the drift (more on that later).
We then moved on to explore a raise that leads to an unconnected and unstable stope. Due to the conditions Lee went up on his own while we waited below. He was trying to map the stope and see if it might connect to the north Grant Mine. However, the stope was so unstable he was forced to abandon the survey and return to the adit. Our next stop was a seemingly inaccessible raise with timbers visible high above. We took a ten foot section of downed heavy duty steel ventilation pipe and stood it upright below the opening. Lee affixed a rope to the far and and was able to climb up. He then threw a line up and over the timbers above and was able to climb the wall with the line for stability. Unfortunately, the raise was a dead end so he returned to the adit after a quick look around. We next headed up a raise to another unconnected stope. It's very large with two chute complexes and no apparent connection to other parts of the mine (or any other mines). It's also quite hot and steamy. After exploring and mapping the stope, we descended back to the adit.
We took a short lunch break and then headed up into the Grant Mine via a steep partially timbered chute. It's about a 100' climb to the lowermost drift. The drift was not very extensive and led to a bare, very steep chute back down to the War Eagle adit and also to the Grant main incline shaft. This shaft is fully timbered and ascends at a steep angle to the surface. The timbering was laid with load hooks so the entire structure would be in tension from the top down. However, many of the hooks have now been removed so the timbers are in compression and some damage has resulted. One side of the shaft has a ladder and we ascended well over 200 linear feet up to the next level. This level was also quite small and we spent some time walking around and taking pictures. The surface was another 150' further up the incline but we decided to skip it as there are no more levels and the large boulder suspended in the shaft is quite treacherous.
After climbing back down to the War Eagle adit we started the mile long hike back to the portal. We'd spent about eight hours in the mine and were ready for a good meal and some relaxation. It was near sunset and it had cooled slightly but was still quite hot outside. The high ambient temperature highlighted the cool air flowing through the mountain and out the portal. It felt like air conditioning and you could feel it blowing forty feet from the portal.
We headed over to the Noonday Mine in Saturday morning with the full team in attendance. After gearing up we entered the main tunnel through the portal located on the hillside below the main workings. After a short walk and some looking around we arrived at the rear inclined winze and started down the ladders. We descended most of the way down and then headed down a drift, across a collapsed area and down a stope. The stope led the raise from the War Eagle. According to a retired mine manager, the raise was driven in the late 1950's, just before the mines were closed. Looking at the Noonday side, it looks like the raise may have intersected a winze driven down from the Nooday at an earlier time. There was strong evidence of water flows in this area and a large pile of debris at a constriction near the top of the winze. It looks like water flowed into this area via the large "cavern" stope at the end of the valley between the Noonday and Grant Mines. It must be quite a sight (and quite scary too) to see the water flowing during a flood.
There was a short drift at the level of the winze that branched a few times and led to dead ends. One of those dead ends used to connected back to the inclined winze but has now collapsed. There's a beautiful intact ore cart in this area along with a bench and near work area with shelves made from dynamite crates which have been nailed to timbers. After talking some pictures we headed back to the winze to make the journey from one mine to the other.
We rigged the winze with a 100' rope and several of is descended the upper inclined portion to where it became vertical. The air flow in the area was amazingly strong and some of us actually got cold. The lower portion of the winze (actually the top of the raise) was filled with debris. Dave and Stacy had the honor of descending down to the War Eagle main haulage adit. Making this connection is a huge accomplishment in our understanding of the Shoshone Mines. It's possible to enter the Noonday in the west and exit the War Eagle eastern portal several miles away ever returning to the surface in between. The interconnected Noonday, Grant and War Eagle Mines make for an unbelievably large complex that we still haven't fully explored.
After a short time in the War Eagle Mine, Dave and Stacy ascended the rope and returned to the Noonday Mine. We packed up our rope and climbed back up the stope to the drift. We then traveled through the mine to another steep raise which at first glance seemed impossible to climb. It wasn't. Lee scampered up, secured a rope to solid timbers at the top and the rest of the group followed. The winze lead to a short incline and then to a short timbered vertical section. The drift at the top was crushed and damaged but an amazing sight to behold. Just at the top was an intact ore cart, still on the tracks and able to roll. There was considerable collapse in the drift and we took extra care not to disturb the timbers or piles or rock. One of the stopes glittered golden and strongly reflected the light from our headlamps. The timbers had oozed sap and the effect was stunning. In another direction, the drift was mostly collapsed and led to an debris filed stope. Access to the rest of the mine was possible through this route but extremely dangerous. In this area was a cardboard tally sheet, still nailed to a timber with a date of 1941 written on it. It appears that no one had been in this part of the mine since it closed in the 1940's. It was truly a privilege to be there and we had Lee's tenacity to explore every nook and cranny to thank.
After taking time to look around and take pictures, we descended back to the drift level and then over to the inclined winze. It was a long hot climb back to the tunnel level. We exited the mine about eight hours after we entered just as the light was fading. It was a long, tiring but incredibly rewarding day.
Sunday found some of us back at the Columbia #2 Mine (Stacy and his brother had to head back in the morning). We entered through the inclined shaft and descended through the burned section to the 365 level. We began examining stopes, searching for an alternate route to the lower levels. Lee located an very loose inclined winze that led to a mostly filled chute. To one side was a short drift which led to a vertical drop. We rigged the shaft and Lee descended. He found himself in huge stope and the rest of the group quickly followed him down. The stope was very broad and intersected portions of a at least two collapsed drift levels. There were large sections of cribbing supporting the roof and many collapsed timber structures. There was also ample evidence of large rock falls from the back.
The bottom center section of the stope contained square set timbers that looked familiar. After fully exploring the upper portions of the stope we descended and found ourselves on the 565 level. The connection we'd sought had been found! The stope we had entered was one and the same as the large collapsed stope we'd been through on the 565 level so many times in the past. We spent some additional time mapping the stope and then moved into the drift system for further exploration.
Lee ventured back up the rotted raise we checked out last time and made his way into the stope. It crossed over the drift system and he was able to pass through and emerge from a chute several hundred feet away. He also descend a stope to the 665 level and then returned after mapping the connection. We then crossed over the incline shaft on the 565 level and proceeded to examine the drifts and stopes on that side in more detail (Robert stayed behind to take pictures). Lee headed up a stope while the rest of us walked the drifts. We came upon a winze with solid ladders and headed up for a look. At the top was a loose and dusty inclined winze and we proceeded up to find ourselves in a short drift. There were a few chutes and another winze that contained a solid ladder. Interestingly, there was also a sign near the winze which read "Exit" with an arrow pointing up. Near one of the chutes was a crate and cardboard box, both filled with moldy and swollen dynamite. We ascended the ladders, went up another short inclined winze and found ourselves in another drift. There were stopes above and below the drift. Critically, there were no footprints in the ever present grey dust of the Columbia #2 Mine. None in the drift and none in the stopes. The floor was completely undisturbed. It dawned on us that were were likely the first people in this section of the mine in more than 50 years.
We started to examine the level and soon Lee joined us, having ended up at the top of the last ladder by climbing through a stope. There was a great deal of collapse evident in the drift and in all the stopes heading up. We found another exit sign pointing the opposite direction of where we came. We searched extensively but it appears that all access points to the rest of the mine have collapsed. Much of the damage may have occurred during the fire which resulted in the collapse of the main shaft. Disappointed that we didn't find another connection but thrilled with our discovery none the less, we returned to the 565 drift level and then across the incline to where Robert was waiting.
It was getting late and we had a long climb out so we started back up the large stope and ended up at the bottom of the winze a short time later. We ascended the rope one by one, packed up our gear and made the climb back to the 365 level and the main shaft. Using a rope we'd dropped on our descent we ascended the 300 linear feet back to the surface. We'd been in the Columbia #2 Mine for twelve hours and were ready for a late dinner and bed.
On Monday, Lee and Robert returned to the Columbia #2 Mine to take pictures and map the 165 level while Dave and Mike headed west to scout new mines (Troy had left the night before). We first visited the Gladstone Mine which was accessed by an hour long drive on a very rough road. The mine site had several shafts. One was merely a pit with an adit for access as well. Another was inclined and partially timber. It descend about 50' and seems to basically be an open stope. The third shaft also had an adit and contained a drift system with rails. The shaft itself was only about 30' deep but the drift extended for several hundred feet and branched into two parallel drifts. There were partial crosscuts and an inclined winze that led nowhere. The surface workings contained several stone buildings and Cousin Jacks (all mostly collapsed).
We next headed to the Paddy's Pride Mine. The mine was visible for quite a distance and had a huge tailing pile which had obliterated the lower road. The road to the top was so bad and washed out that we had to leave the Jeep partway up and walk the rest of the way. Unfortunately, the mine workings appear to have be bulldozed and blasted. We did find one shaft with strong air currents flowing down it. It was very small and steeply inclined. Mike descended about 50' but had to stop where the shaft became vertical. It looked like it might lead to a stope or drift level. However, it was getting late and we had a long drive home so we were forced to postpone further exploration to another day.
We returned to the motorhome, ate lunch, hitched up and headed home. Our latest trip to Tecopa was filled with discoveries and we can't wait to come back again.
After more than a two year absence, we were finally able to return
to Tecopa and it's spectacular mines. Mike and Stacy met
Frank, Lee and Robert on Thursday night and camped at the eastern
portal of the War Eagle Mine. Friday morning found us in the
valley between the Grant and Noonday mines. We decided to
enter the previously unexplored northern inclined shaft of the Grant
Our next target was the large cavern like stope at the end of the valley. It's below a tunnel which extends from the very end of the valley around to the western slope. There is a small stope above the tunnel and the huge stope lies below it. We had previously noted similar rock formations in both this stope and the lower levels of the inclined winze in the Noonday Mine. Our goal was to locate a connection between the two. We rigged a short rope to access the stope and then a longer one to descend to the lower reaches. Lee went down first and discovered a passage very far down the eastern side which appeared to lead into a drift system. Stacy and Mike followed him down while Robert and Frank decided to explore above.
At the bottom of the stope we crossed a large fallen boulder which acted as a bridge and then descended below it. We had to pass through a small vertical opening that was about 5' tall and lined with loose rocks. There were several larger interlocked rocks at the lip of the passage making for a very dangerous descent. Once clear of this obstacle we had to remove our packs and crawl through a very narrow opening which led to a drift system. Survey tags seemed to indicate we were in the Noonday Mine but it was not any portion we recognized. We explored the area and found several stopes, drifts and inaccessible raises. Stacy descended a short winze to find a 10' dead end drift while Lee ascended a stope only to find it went vertical and was inaccessible. We regrouped and explored the rest of the area, finding no obvious connections to the rest of the Noonday Mine. Our last stop was a stope that ended with vertical drop. Someone had tied nylon rope around a stull so we suspected it led somewhere but did not know if it could be accessed safely.
Lee rigged up several lengths of cordage and peered over the lip to discover the floor about 15' below. He also discovered a ledge just five feet below the edge but off to one side. Climbing down and using the cordage for safety he was able to reach the ledge and then descend to the bottom. Mike went down next, followed by Stacy. We ended up in a large stope with an ore chute below. After exploring the stope, we dropped through the ore chute and shortly thereafter recognized that we were in the Noonday Mine. We'd ended up on the second level from the bottom of the winze. Thrilled with our success, we made the almost 300' climb out of the Noonday and met Frank and Robert back by the cavern. After derigging the stope, we packed up and headed back to camp, arriving at almost 11pm.
Dav, Kevin, (another) Mike and (another) Robert arrived on Saturday and we decided to explore the Columbia #2 Mine and ride the ore cart. Of the group, only Mike and Stacy had been down in the lower levels of the mine. Frank wasn't feeling well and decided to leave on Saturday morning (rather than that night) and Kevin, (another) Mike and (another) Robert decided to explore the Noonday mine instead of the Columbia. With everything sorted Dav, Lee, Mike, Robert and Stacy headed to the Columbia #2 mine and entered via the southern portal. We descended down the inclined shaft to the first vertical manway. Since we knew the ladders were in excellent condition we decided not to rig a rope. This turned out to be a bad decision. Mike and Stacy had forgotten that the ladders were nailed directly to the wood timbers lining the manway. This means one can't curl your hands vertically around the ladder and also leaves limited room for your feet. Climbing up or down on these sorts of ladders is extremely tiring and really wears out your arms. In addition, the ladders are located in the corners making for a tight squeeze to stay on the ladder. Everyone made it down the 150' winze with sore arms including Kevin who came to check out the scene. He returned to the surface and rigged a rope for the rest of us to use on our ascent.
We spent some time looking around the first level. Lee sketched out the main drifts, the incline shaft and a raise and drift that's unconnected to the rest of the mine. We then gathered at the second manway. Mike rigged the shaft and Dav was the first one to head down. He stopped in the first drift, located about 90' down. Mike followed, then the rest of the group. We took a few minutes to explore this small level. The end of the drift was quite warm and humid and all the timbers were rotted and crumbling. Stacy came last and went straight past the drift and all the way to the bottom. Everyone followed in sequence and we began our exploration of the lower portions of the mine. Mike examined a raise with rotted timbers at the top that led to a stope. Lee also went up but didn't see a safe way into the stope so he came back down and we continued on. We spent some time in a large stope with square set timbers and a large degree of collapse. We then proceeded further down a drift which leads back to the main incline shaft. There was a fire in this shaft and then a collapse. The plug is located at the level we descended from. The drift continued across the shaft so Lee and Stacy worked their way down and back up to explore it. It extended more than 1,000' and contained several stopes and raises. Stacy observed a bat in the drift which indicates that it may have a connection to the upper levels of the mine.
The group next moved back into the drift and descended a stope to reach the next level. The lower levels of the Columbia #2 Mine are all linked by a continuous huge (and steep) stope. The miners left a number of pillars and supports but the amount of rock removed is incredible. We spent a small amount of time on the next level exploring, including a look up a 20' raise with rotted timbers at the top. This led to yet another stope which seems to be disconnected from the rest. After that we moved down the stope to the next level and proceeded to the area of the mine near the main incline shaft where the ore cart and track is located. We took turns riding the cart (which is actually a pipe or timber cart) and examining the underground headframe perched above yet another inclined winze. Lee and Stacy decided to venture into the long hot and humid drift just past the winze while the rest of us took pictures and examined all the amazing artifacts and features in this area. Lee and Stacy also descended the winze and discovered that the pool of water at the bottom had become much deeper since our last trip.
Once we were all back together we decided it was time to start our egress from the mine. We moved rather quickly back up through the stopes and to the bottom of the second manway. We ascended one by one, stopping at the first drift again to rest and facilitate communications. We then proceeded through the drift to the top manway. Having the rope made the ascent easier (and safer) and once everyone was at the top, we derigged the shaft, ascended the incline and emerged on the surface. It was 2:30am and we'd spent 14.5 hours in the mine, a new group record. We all went to sleep as the sun was rising.
We slept in on Sunday and then decided to explore the south adit of the Gunsite Mine. Lee and Robert headed to the Noonday Mine but punctured the gas tank on Lee's car and had to make emergency repairs and then head for home. The remainder of the group took the long, bad road to the Gunsite Mine and headed inside. The adit extended for a long distance without any turns. We passed a raise with ladders which Stacy ascended. He couldn't go all the way up though due to the condition of the ladders. We then continued down the adit until It came to a junction and just past that was a winze with ladders and a headframe. We continued past and at the end of the adit was a large ore bin. All the wood was rotting and brittle. We reversed course and explored the other arm of the adit which came to a dead end. There were no stopes at all.
We went back outside and put on our harness and grabbed ropes to explore the winze. Dav, Kevin and Mike rigged the winze, which appeared to have very solid ladders. Mike descended first and found a drift about 50' down. The rest of the group followed and explored the short, featureless level. Mike got back on rope and descended another 40' to find a second level. That too was featureless and short (and also very dusty). Stacy descended to look at the drift after Mike returned and then the whole group ascended in sequence back to the adit. After derigging the shaft everyone headed outside and back to camp for an (relatively) early dinner and campfire.
On Monday morning we decided to take it easy and spend some time in the War Eagle Mine. We proceeded down the adit from the eastern portal and spent several hours taking pictures and examining features near the double track inclined winze in more detail. We emerged around 2:30pm, packed up all our gear and headed home. It was an excellent trip and everyone had a good time.
April, 2011: We returned to the Blythe area to explore the amazing Victor Mine once again. Mike, Jeff and Jake met Dav, Dominik and Kevin, experienced explorers from the Los Angeles area. We entered the Victor mine on Saturday morning and spent about seven hours exploring. We discovered two drifts we missed on our previous trip and another mid-level that appears to be inaccessible. We spent a lot of time photographing the mine and generally having a good time.
On Sunday we headed across the border into Arizona. Our first stop was the Israel Mine. There was one short adit and a clean vertical shaft. We rigged the rope and Dominik headed down to see what was there. The shaft was about 150' deep and had no drifts. There was a great deal of rubble and debris at the bottom and we're not sure if it's a plug or not. After Dominick ascended to the surface we headed over to the Goodman Mine. This is a large complex with surface ruins and extensive workings. There are signs of more recent activity at the site but it's currently abandoned. The main tailing pile is huge. The first adit we entered was full of bats (and guano). There were so many we had to abandon this portion of the mine. We climbed the steep hillside to a second adit. This one also contained bats but there were far fewer. It was filled with amazing rough timbering and features several winzes and stopes. Kevin and Mine ascended a stope and proceeded out an opening to the surface.
After connecting with the rest of the group we headed across the mountain to the main workings. There we found a large inclined shaft. Kevin headed down and immediately encountered a minefield of cholla spines. He had several well embedded in his hand. After extracting them he and Mike headed down to explore. The shaft was only about 75' deep and contain two drifts. The upper drift led to several stopes. Kevin and Mike ascended through a stope and out another opening to the surface. The whole group then carefully descended down the mountain and back to our vehicles.
At this point we split up with Dav, Dominik and Kevin heading home. Mike, Jeff and Jake proceeded to explore the area on the surface. Near the Goodman Mine we found an abandoned International stake bed truck in pretty good condition. There was also what appeared to be a large sifting rig in the streambed nearby. We found the ruins of several mines and one seemingly recent claim (which appeared abandoned). Just above a wash we located an interesting prospect. It was a vertical shaft about 50' deep with a wooden collar and two doors (like cellar doors). The shaft had a very stout ladder but we could see the bottom and there were no drifts.
After clearing the area we started home along Highway 78. We stopped at the Old Channel Mine Shaft for a look and we're glad we did. It's a clean vertical shaft and appears to be at least 400-500' deep. That's far longer than any single one of our ropes so we plan on returning in the future to lower a camera and see if it's worth obtaining more rope and descending. We then stopped to explore an unnamed mine a little further south. It had a gated shaft at the top of a decent tailings pile. There was also an adit that had once been gated and barred. The mine was very strange... There were low wood and chicken wire walls against the rib and an observation platform constructed above the shaft. Speaking of the shaft, it was a beauty, inclined about 30 degrees and sporting a solid ladder. Mike descended and discovered a small drift with one bat residing inside. There was a strong smell of rotten eggs in the drift and the end was quite yellow in color. Since this smell can be an indicator of hydrogen sulfide gas, Mike quickly exited the drift and returned to the upper level. After cleaning up, we got back on the highway for the long drive home.
March, 2011: We headed all the way to the California-Arizona border to explore a mine that just won't die. The Victor Mine is a huge gypsum mine owned by U.S. Gypsum. Underground mining ceased in 1948 and open pit operations stopped in 1966. When the mine was closed the company town of Midland was demolished. The mine was also used as a Civil Defense shelter and survival cache for the city of Blythe in the 1960's. U.S. Gypsum sealed multiple portals and open stopes when the mine closed and hired contractors to seal and demolish the remaining openings in 2003. Despite these efforts some access points have remained but these are now all collapsed or covered with the exception of one very hard to find opening. This access point is undergoing severe erosion and likely won't be around much longer.
The roads leading to the mine have been purposefully destroyed. Were were able to navigate one obstruction but had to hike a significant distance to reach the access point. After locating the opening we descended one by one into a large, steeply inclined stope. After traversing the slope horizontally we came to a large inclined stope and descended to a main level. The drift we encountered was huge, easily 30' across and 20' tall. Every 75-100' was an inclined stope which bisected the drift. Each was gigantic. Unfortunately, many of them used to be open to the surface and were filled with rock debris that had been bulldozed in.
We walked the entire length of this first level in one direction, encountering countless inclined stopes and evidence of backfilled portals. We found areas where water is seeping though the loose rock into the mine at floor level. Once we reached the end we returned to the area where we entered and continued past. Not far along there was evidence of a fire. We entered a burned area which contained huge wrecked machinery. To one side was a conveyer system with three ore chutes leading further down. On the other side was an incredible rotating ore cart dump machine. This area was significantly damaged, either from the fire, blasting to seal the mine, or both. After scampering around the equipment for a while we proceed further down the drift, passing one steel door and one chain link gate until we found ourselves in the Civil Defense storage area. Unfortunately, this part of the mine has been badly vandalized. Hundreds of biscuit containers were burned along with many other artifacts. There are also hundreds of metal drums which once contained water. Many of these have also been vandalized and most of the remainder are leaking. We did find some that were still sealed and totally intact, filled with forty to fifty year old water. Incredible. There were also a good number of another type of biscuit container but most were opened or crushed.
After spending some time looking at the Civil Defense stores and eating lunch, we proceed to explore the remainder of the level. Huge inclined stopes led upwards from this level. They were spaced about every 75' and each had a large wood chute at it's base. We left the stopes behind and proceeded further into the mine. The drift was large and meandered and split in to multiple passages, some rising or falling below the mean level of the drift. All along we found evidence of backfilled portals. In one area there was water dripping and a spectacular formation of cave popcorn on the back.
After completing our exploration of the level, we ascended one of the inclined stopes which had remains of a double track rail system. Halfway up was a huge ore hopper mounted on a platform. It was off the remaining rails but the trucks were still installed. All along the stope were openings in the rib leading to the other huge stopes. Looking behind us we saw another level cut above the stope but there seemed to be no way to access it. At the top were rollers and a large hoist which was used to move the hopper up and down the winze. The drift at this level was absolutely huge. It extended for quite a distance with the stopes falling away on one side and more huge stopes rising up on the other. We walked the whole level and then started examining the other stopes that led down to the chutes. We descended one and found a metal ladder leading up to the level we'd seen before, We climbed up and explored a relatively short drift with one side passage. The end of the passage was sealed with wood, foam and foam core. It looks like it used to be an adit. The drift also contained a false wood floor over one of the stopes.
Our exploration of the level complete, we climbed down the ladder and descend back to the level below. We walked back past the supplies to the machinery area. One stope over from the conveyer system were wooden stairs which led down to a wood platform. This extended over the stope in one direction and to the conveyer system in the other. We crawled over to the conveyer and examined it's remains which included a large electric motor and chain drive system. After finishing there we made our way back to where we entered and descended one of the giant stopes that had (huge) rails running down. This led to the lowest level where all the stopes from above ended up. Moving on that level back towards where the machinery was located led us past the remains of a metal wall and door into a huge loading area.
The drift in this area was truly gigantic. It contained four massive loading bays, each with a huge ore chute. The gates were operated by a large hydraulic ram. The area was designed for trucks to drive in from the surface and load up with ore. One chute had collapsed to the floor of the drift. The last loading area had a metal ladder which led up to the chute. We examined the mechanism and then went up an inclined winze with clear evidence of removed rails. The top was crudely sealed with wood and rails and looked to be quite old, probably from reclamation efforts in the 1940's. We headed back down to the drift and walked the rest of the way through the truck area to where the portal used to be. It's now backfilled with tons and tons of loose material. There was also a huge stope in this area. We walked back past the winze we descended through, past all the others and to the end of the drift. That spot marked the end of our exploration with our team having covered the entire remaining accessible portions of the mine.
We climbed back up the stope, using the rails to aid our progress, and then up and out the way we came in. We'd spent a total of nine and a half hours underground. The loss of the Victor Mine is a monumental shame. The mine is simply incredible. It's huge, mechanized and was once fully electrified. The Civil Defense stores are the icing on the cake. It's very depressing to see all the damage done by vandals and U.S. Gypsum. The mine will likely be inaccessible in the near future and a big piece of California mining and Cold War history will be lost forever. The thought of all those drifts and winzes sitting buried underground, empty and unseen for eternity makes us sick.
Our depression at the loss of the Victor Mine wasn't helped the next day when we drove south to examine other mines. We headed to the area of the Arlington Mine, stopping briefly at Inca which was a railroad loading site for the local mines. When we got to the area of the mine we saw several travel trailers and a semi towing a large flatbed. We first thought someone might be working claims in the area. After a little driving around we discovered the horrible truth. A BLM contractor crew was in the process of sealing mine openings. They'd already gated the Black Jack Mine and were closing up several stopes and shafts of unnamed (and unmapped) mines on the other side of the hill. Soon after we discovered that the Arlington Mine portal had been blasted and filled. Almost all remains of the mine were gone and the road was destroyed by ditches and blocked with piled rocks. About that time we also tore a sidewall, ruining a very expensive 35' tire. Not the best of days.
This was a trip of highs and lows. From the wonder and excitement of exploring the Victor Mine to the depressing reality of it and other interesting mines being destroyed and lost forever. It's a sad state of affairs when the government is so short on money that roads and education are neglected in favor of sealing mines (including a harmless adit that only went back 30'). Something for all of us to think about as we explore (and vote).
March, 2011: Unfinished business called us back to the Joshua Tree area for yet another exploration trip. Dave, Jeff, Mike and Stacy headed out Friday night and setup camp in our usual spot off Gold Crown Road. We were met by Troy, an avid off-roader and mine explorer on his first trip to the area.
Saturday was another beautiful winter desert day. We got up early and headed straight to the Ivanhoe Mine. This complex is very remote and accessed via extremely rugged and rocky roads. Reports pegged the Ivanhoe at around 350' deep. Since our longest rope is 300' we joined two together and sent them down the shaft. A strange metal and wood headframe (all the wood has now been burned away) had been built at some point and it provided an excellent anchor. Dave headed down first and encountered a drift about 75' below the surface. Mike and Stacy quickly joined him and the exploration began. The level spanned both sides of the shaft but one side was quite short and had been burned. The other side extended about 100' and contained an inaccessible raise and a dangerous winze with a very loose collar. There were the remains of rails and some timbering but otherwise the level was barren.
We got back on rope and continued descending. Not far below the first level was a burned drift which may have connected to the winze above. About 80' below we came across another drift. It too extended on both sides of the shaft but one side was filled with debris. The other was severely burned and filled with soot. It extended less than 75' and contained one winze, divided between a ore chute and manway. The lower ladders were gone but Stacy managed to climb up to where they started with Dave's assistance. Unfortunately, the ladders only led to a small area on top of the chute that had been chipped away.
With the second level cleared, we descended further into the bowels of the Ivanhoe Mine. We found the third level 270' below the surface. We also found that the main shaft had become plugged with debris just ten feet further down. The plug was substantial and the final levels of the mine are likely to now be permanently out of reach. The third level also extended from both sides of the shaft. On one side, right next to the shaft was a large ore cart. It's dump mechanism still functional but sadly someone had removed all the wheels and broken the nameplate as well. The stripped base of another cart lay discarded nearby. Continuing down the drift on that side, we found several areas of collapse. The air was very hot, stagnant and humid, however we received no alarms from our gas detector. There were obvious signs of water intrusion and all the rock was soft and crumbly. The drift extended for about 250' before ending just past a winze. The winze contained a rotting ore chute and ladder and the floor below was littered with rotted and collapsed timbers. Two rusted metal pipes headed up but the area was extremely unstable so we left at once.
We crossed the main shaft and headed into the other side of level three. There was extensive evidence of amateur miners working in the Ivanhoe. Artifacts included rope, twine, boxes from gas lanterns, candle remains and even a Radio Shack wired intercom! On the right side were ten ore chutes and two manways. The chutes extended most of the way down the 250' foot drift. After reconnoitering the entire length of the drift we stopped and took a break for lunch. When lunch was finished we headed to the first manway and Dave went straight up. The manway was very tight and the top six feet of ladder were missing. Dave was able to climb all the way to the top and Stacy soon joined him. The area above contained a drift which led back towards the main shaft and contained a connecting chute. The other direction was a stope that fed many of the chutes below. There was an interesting steel block and tackle supporting a rail hung inside one of the chutes as well as several blasting caps and a stick of dynamite.
Dave and Stacy returned to the main level and the group moved to the second manway. Mike climbed up and discovered a small stope which fed the ore chute. There was a well used hand steel and an array of interesting mineralization. Once Dave and Stacy got a look we returned to the main shaft and prepared for our ascent. Stacy went first, frogging his way 270' to the surface in just seventeen minutes. Mike followed and made the journey in twenty five minutes. Dave came up next and had the second fastest time of twenty two minutes. We had spent seven and a half hours exploring the Ivanhoe Mine.
While Dave, Mike and Stacy were below, Jeff and Troy explored the area around the Ivanhoe Mine which included several shafts. Jeff descended down two shafts with ladders but couldn't fully explore either without ropes. They also found a spectacular path carved into the hillside which lead to another small shaft. The path used to contain pipe rails and some small sections remained. There was also a small trestle and the remains of the cable used to haul the cars. We all headed back to the trestle in the dark for a look and then back to camp after a long and productive day.
Sunday was another beautiful day. We headed straight to the Vail Mine and it's spectacular wooden headframe. Mike rigged the slightly inclined shaft and Stacy headed down. The shaft was wood lined for about 80% of it's length. There was debris everywhere including parts of the ladder that used to be nailed to the wall. The shaft was plugged about 75' below the surface, right at the level of the first drift. Stacy explored the drift and found it to be quite short. Dave followed Stacy down and they went about seeing if the plug could be passed. The debris was quite loose and passage appeared possible but dangerous. They could see the bottom and it appeared to be just a pit located roughly 30' below the plug. With all that in mind we decided that it wasn't worth the risk so Dave and Stacy headed back to the surface.
We next drove across the valley to the OK Mine. This is a huge mine complex with shafts and exposed stopes everywhere, along with surface ruins. Right next to the road was a short shaft with a makeshift aluminum ladder installed. Mike and Troy headed down and discovered a narrow passageway leading into the mine. Mike slipped through and found a short shaft which led to a rather extensive drift which also contained a winze. He returned to the surface and the whole team geared up and headed in. The drift wound around and past a main OK Mine shaft. The shaft was plugged at the drift level (which was about 50' below the surface). We could see through the loose plug and the shaft extended for more than 100' below which made for a very dangerous place. The drift continued past the shaft for only another 50' and ended in a small stope "supported" by crushed timbers.
We returned to the winze and decided to descend. It contained another aluminum ladder (which started about six feet down) and rudimentary rigging from amateur miners or explorers. Mike rigged the shaft and Dave and Stacy headed down. The shaft was about 50' deep and contained ladders all the way to the bottom. Troy had never rappelled in a mine before and the ascent would be mostly ladders so he decided to head down as well. We waited until Dave and Stacy came back up and switched Stacy's gear to Troy. Mike headed down first, followed by Jeff and then Troy. At the bottom of the shaft was a dirty winze. We crossed on sturdy boards and found our way back to the main shaft. We could look up and see the plug looming above us... very scary. The shaft continued down at least 100' and was filled with timbers and ladders which had fallen from above. After a look around the rest of this small level we all ascended back to the first drift and then out to the surface.
We surveyed the rest of the OK Mine complex and located the main shaft. According to published documentation, this was once a 900' deep dual compartment timber lined shaft. It's now an eroded mess. The collar isn't too bad so we plan on taking a closer look at some point. We finished the weekend by taking a walk around the Vail Mine mill ruins and following a rough road to a prospect about two miles away. We also located the second Vail Mine shaft. It's wooden headframe has been burned and there is substantial collapse in the shaft. It appears to be less about 30' deep at this point but may undercut. We plan on taking another look on our next trip.
January, 2011: We
returned to the Joshua Tree area to explore several mines we had
scouted on previous trips. The whole Mine Team was together
again for the first time in more than a year. We were met by
Ken, an avid mine explorer with significant rope experience, who
drove down from Bakersfield. Our base camp was on the north
side of the Dale Mining District off of Gold Crown Road.
December, 2010: We traveled out of our usual territory to southwest Arizona in late December. The goal was to scout the historic and popular mining towns of Tombstone and Bisbee. We expected the Tombstone mines to all be filled or gated but found a number of excellent shafts with only hinged (and locked) covers. The hillside above town is covered with shafts. Many are just prospects but a good number are prime for exploration. The mines that are actually in town appear to be inaccessible.
Bisbee is about as impressive of a mining town as we've ever seen. Freeport-McMoRan Copper and Gold are the current owners of all the Bisbee mines. There is no mining going on at this point, just caretaking, reclamation and some small scale extraction of ore from the huge mine dumps which dominate the town. There is a giant open pit mine just outside town and other nearby. The real attraction are the seven large shafts which dot Bisbee, each topped by a massive steel headframe. Five of them have full complexes built around them with large buildings and ore bins. The shafts are supposed to extend over 4,000' down but are reportedly flooded at around the 1,500' level. According to former workers they're all connected with haulage drifts. The shaft hoist equipment is in place but needs complete refurbishing. Our information indicates that they each have manways. There are also the remains of a huge mill complex with gigantic concrete foundations and in-ground tanks. However, access is virtually impossible. Freeport-McMoRan security is highly active, as are the local police. Each site is well secured with barb wire topped fences and copious no trespassing signs.
November 28th, 2010: The episode "Mojave Mystery" of the Discovery Investigations Channel show Disappeared featuring our search for April Pitzer has aired. Here's an excerpt of the show featuring our search with the Mojave Underground.
November 22nd, 2010: Mojave Underground has produced an excellent video documentary about our search in the high desert for missing person April Pitzer. Using their HD footage and our photography that have created a very professional and informative piece.
October 29th, 2010: Underground Explorers stickers are now available. These high quality, professionally printed 3"x5" oval stickers feature the Underground Explorers logo on our signature orange background. Stickers are only $5.00 each (shipped) and can be ordered by sending payment via PayPal to "email@example.com".
You can also order Underground Explorers shirts directly from our web store by clicking here.
August 26th - 29th, 2010 (Owens Valley): We returned to the Owens Valley for the third time determined to conquer the Santa Rosa Mine. A blizzard thwarted our previous attempt and at first it looked like the weather would defeat us again. Heavy rains had flooded Highway 395 and we had to wait several hours until the road was open. After that we had beautiful weather for the rest of the weekend.
Jeff, Mike and Stacy headed up to the mine on Saturday and spent some time exploring the mountain which is pockmarked with pits and two adits. Jeff rappelled into one pit and found that it only went back about 20' We then geared up and entered the lower adit which was partially collapsed. The main level was quite extensive and we proceeded to survey it, always keeping to the right. We descended one small inclined winze, explored that level and then ascended another small inclined winze back up to the main level. We eventually came to a huge cavernous stope and a large, steeply inclined winze with a headframe, ladders and skids. We rigged the shaft for safety and descended about 175' to the next major level. There was a stripped and upended ore cart right at the bottom of the incline which made for a good lunch table. We then found a large room in the drift with a second level accessible by ladders. This lead to several large stopes and ultimately back to the winze we descended.
We continued exploring and found a gigantic cavernous stope. It was easily 100' tall, 150-200' long and 100' wide. The drift continued past the stope and we explored the whole area before returning to the main drift. We then came across another inclined winze with an intact incline cart still on the track and suspended by cables. We descend this winze and discovered that it passed through the bottom of the stope we had just been in. It continued down a total of 150-175' and concealed yet another large cavernous stope. After exploring everything we ascended back up to the previous level to continue our survey. We found some amazing cave formations growing in the mine with clear and blue crystals plus a stalactite. After finishing the second main level we ascended the main winze, stopping to explore several small levels and stopes along the way. After reaching the main level we circled back around and came across a crosscut which lead to a door. Rather than concealing a typical storage room the door lead to a huge traditional angled stope. It was 200-300' long and 100-150' high. We explored the lower areas and felt that it likely connected with an adit Stacy had found in the morning. We threw a glow stick up high and continued our exploration of the main level.
Our last task was to explore another inclined winze. We roped up and descended to find more stopes and several small levels. Stacy descended to the very bottom (about 125' down) to find yet another small level and a short dead end inclined shaft. After ascending the incline we exited the mine, stowed our gear and walked up the mountain to the adit Stacy had located. It only took moments to determine that it did indeed connect with the stope and after a little more exploring we found our glow stick.
Sunday found us back in Talc City looking to explore several vertical shafts we'd found on our last trip. We first stopped at the Alliance Talc Mine where we used the Jeep as an anchor to drop a shaft with missing and damaged ladders. Mike headed down and discovered that the mine was in terrible condition. The bottom of the shaft was filled with dangerous debris but there was a drift about 30' up. One side was almost completely collapsed. Stacy also descended and we explored an inclined raise which lead to a mostly collapsed level. The timbers were crushed and we could see where the drift was filled almost to the ceiling by falling debris. After a few pictures we got out of there and returned to the main shaft. Stacy examined the debris and retrieved the rope bag from below. Mike ascended the rope and Stacy soon followed. On the surface we noticed a long sunken area which likely formed when the first level collapsed. Scary!
We took a brief tour of Talc City and then headed over to the Viking Mine. We rigged the shaft and Stacy rappelled down to check things out. The shaft was filled with debris and except for one small level went nowhere. After packing up we took a brief look at an unnamed shaft nearby but decided it was too dangerous to descend. We finished the day with a quick trip out to Darwin to take another look at it's famous mines. We also located a number of additional mines nearby that we'll have to survey on another trip.
Once again we had a great time in the Owens Valley. We've seen everything there is to see at Talc City but mines near Darwin, east at Panamint Springs and north towards Independence beckon for another trip.
July 2nd, 2010 (Cripple Creek, CO): We stopped by the historic mining town of Cripple Creek to tour the world famous Mollie Kathleen Mine. Mike had toured this mine in 1976 and couldn't wait to see it again. The tour did not disappoint. It starts with a hoist ride down to the 1000' level. There, a former miner demonstrated a number of pneumatic tools along with pieces of pneumatic equipment. He also explained about blasting, mining methods and mine features. Visitors also ride on a pneumatic powered tram from one section of the mine to another. The tour is highly informative and a great deal of fun. We also took a little time to explore mining ruins in Cripple Creek. Everything we found had been reclaimed. There were a number of great ore bins and headframes still around however. If you're ever in this part of Colorado, the Mollie Kathleen Mine Tour is highly recommended, even if you've spend weeks underground like we have.
April 15th - 18th, 2010 (Calico): We met up with another group of Southern California mine explorers for a trip back to Calico. Ken, Matt and Scott were great guys and we had an excellent time exploring. They hadn't spent much time in Calico so we took a trip to the Bismark Mine for a tour. We rappelled into the main shaft just for fun and spent a few hours going over all the drifts on the main level (including the card room of course). We also made it a point to check out an area none of us had ever been to east of town. We whet our appetite on the Burcham Mine and it's multiple adits. One was gated but we were able to access it anyway. Others were wide open and had a range of interesting winzes, timbering and track.
Our main goal however was the Waterloo Mine. The haulage tunnel has been closed and all of the shafts are capped with steel cages. One had already been dug out and we wasted no time exploring it. Ken rappelled down about 100' only to find the bottom absolutely featureless and devoid of drifts. We then located a mostly filled adit and squirmed inside (after a bit of digging). It was just above a large tailing pile and must have been quite significant but the inside was collapsed and impassible past 100'. We refused to give up and found another vertical shaft late in the day. It's covering grate had been comprehensively torched off leaving easy access and anchor points. It was wood lined all the way down and we could see a ladder and divider as well. After a quick reconnoiter with a video camera we decided it had to be explored. About 100' down the ladder started and we could see a drift there and another 60' further down at the bottom. We returned to camp for dinner and arrived back at the mine around 9:00pm. We had the shaft rigged in no time and Mike headed down at 10:00pm. The rest of the group quickly followed. The mine proved to be very interesting with several levels and an incredible fault running down the entire main drift. The highlight was a huge stope braced with over 12 frames of square set timbers. It was over 100' from top to bottom and in excellent condition. Ken and Scott descended on the timbers and explored another level below. They found more square set and a winze leading further down that we'll have to explore another day. We climbed up the ladder to the next level but it was just a short drift that connected to a rough shaft leading to the surface. We ascended the rope one by one and were all back on the surface by 4:30am.
It was a great trip and a thrill to explore someplace new. The Waterloo Mine is easily the biggest mine in Calico and the square set timbers were a real treat to see. Thanks again to Ken, Matt and Scott for a great time.
March 20th - 21st, 2010 (Joshua Tree): With the search complete we headed to the Dale Mining District to explore some mines. We first headed to the Supply Mine but found the shaft too unstable to explore. We then located an adit that led to the shaft and the mine beyond. We decided to visit another vertical mine first before continuing our explorations. We drove over the Gold Crown Mine, which was a huge operation. The mine site is littered with foundations, shafts and tailings. We found two deep shafts and rigged them for rappelling. Miah headed down one while Stacy descended into the main shaft. Miah found his shaft to be about 250' deep with just a short drift at the bottom. Stacy descended 300' to the end of the rope and found nothing. The shaft continued down as far as he could see. We decided to save the rest for another day when we were equipped with better communications gear and headed back over to the Supply Mine. The whole group entered the adit and encountered another group heading out. The false floor and rails that once crossed the shaft were gone leaving just a small ledge. We rigged a rope and crossed the shaft without too much trouble. Further down the adit was a very small winze with a ladder, The whole group except Mike headed down. They found another drift below that led to yet another winze. This one had very poor ladders however so a rope was rigged and everyone but Robert descended. The air was becoming quite hot and humid at this point indicating that there were no further connections to the surface. Part of the group descended further and explored all the accessible portions of the mine while the rest headed back up. Once everyone was back to the adit we re-crossed the shaft and called it a night.
The Mojave Underground Mine Team headed back to Utah on Sunday morning. Dave, Jeff, Mike and Stacy took a ride to explore some mines we hadn't visited yet. We first stopped at the Imperial Mine which has two short adits with a winze connecting them. We then drove to the Gypsy Mine which has a few small shafts and one more interesting 75' or so deep shaft. With time running out we decided to head back to camp and pack up for the drive home.
March 18th - 19th, 2010 (Ludlow): The search moved east and south to Ludlow on day three. We were also joined by a videographer from the Discovery Channel show "Disappeared". Our goal was the mines in the Steadman and Ragtown area. We started with the Bagdad Chase Mine. Stuart cleared a short incline shaft while Mike and Crystal rappelled into a 300' long steep incline. It connected to a number of drifts and seemed to have been largely untouched since the 1970's. They were deep in a hot and stale part of the mine when their low oxygen detector alerted. They cleared out and left that section alone. After a few hours searching they both ascended back to the surface. While they were at the incline the rest of the team setup the mobile mine hoist. Stuart and Fish descended into a 150' deep shaft. The drift at the bottom was almost completely blocked by debris from above. They searched and found where the drift connected to the main incline (about 15' up from the floor). They also located an inclined winze. Meanwhile Jeff and Robert were searching yet another shaft east of the main complex. When they were done Jeff, Mike and Crystal descended on the hoist to join Stuart while Fish came to the surface. They rigged a rope so Crystal could descend the winze and at the bottom it connected to the drift by the main incline. She came back up and everyone cleared out of the fully explored mine.
The next morning started with Mike and Jeff rappelling into a 60' deep wood lined shaft near the road. It led to a 75' loose and dirty inclined winze. After searching the prospect they both ascended back to the surface. The group then headed over to Old Pete's Mine. It was mostly open stopes with one wood lined shaft. Mike rigged the shaft and Stuart rappelled in. While he was searching the bottom several others walked to the top of the mountain and examined a short adit. After Stuart ascended out of the shaft we drove over to the Red Dog Mine. The Red Dog has already been extensively searched with cadaver dogs but everyone wanted a look inside. It's a rather small mine with an impressive metal and wood headframe. We all headed down and were treated to bizarre timbering made from home improvement store landscape ties and welded metal plates. We searched for a short while and then exited the mine. After a group photo and many goodbyes we packed up and headed down the road to Joshua Tree.
March 16th - 17th, 2010 (Barstow): We met the Mojave Underground Mine team in Barstow to conduct a search and recovery operation for a missing woman. April Pitzer has been missing since 2004 and is presumed dead. Information uncovered in their investigation had led homicide investigators to believe that her body may be located in a high desert mine shaft. With that in mind we were given a list of locations to search by the volunteer coordinator working the case. We started off searching the mines and prospects on Lead Mountain. We encountered several shafts, one of which was filled with water. We rappelled into all the shafts and then came across an adit on the south side of the mountain. This mine was very dusty with no airflow. Inside was a very loose incline which lead to a deep winze. Rather than descending we decided to lower a camera down. The winze ended up being about 250' deep with no drifts. The bottom was surprisingly free of debris. We cleared out of this mine, checked Lead Mountain off our list and called it a night.
The next morning we headed to an area just north of the Yermo Annex. There are several shafts concentrated in a small area. There was also a large collapsed stope. Next to the stope was a small wood lined shaft. Miah rappelled in to check it out while Stuart and Crystal searched the stope. It ended up connecting to one of the other shafts. Lastly, Miah rappelled into another shaft and cleared it as well. After finishing up it was off to the Waterman Mine north of Barstow. Gloria Denton, April's mother also came out to the site to observe our search. The Waterman is a large complex with very red iron rich soil. There are numerous shafts and stopes that connect to the surface. There is also an adit which we entered while Miah and Derek rigged a large shaft for searching. The adit was filled with the usual trash. However, we also found several articles of women's clothing. We searched further into the mine and found a deep winze. It had ladders but they only went down about 50'. The winze appeared to continue at least another 100' down. Since it was very narrow we decided against rappelling in. We the continued further into the mine and found where many of the shafts and stopes connected to the adit. We also had to cross a stope on support timbers where a false floor had been removed. At the very end of the adit we came to a large shaft and found Miah heading down from the surface. He continued to the bottom of the shaft (which was about 300' total) and searched the short drifts at the bottom. He then ascended to our level and cleared off the rope. We all headed out of this section of the mine and some of us entered another series of shafts nearby. Stuart rappelled into one while Jeff, Robert and Mike climbed down into another. This area was filled with even more trash and ultimately connected to the shaft Stuart was searching. Jeff and Robert continued down a drift and found huge additional sections of the mine located under the valley floor. It was impossible to search however since many false floors had been removed. We cleared out and called it a day.