Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Keane Wonder Mine

The internet continues to be atrocious. Hours can go by without our being able to get a connection. I have a real bone to pick with the Park Service about this. My argument is that the internet is a utility. We're not told we might or might not have electricity, or that the water supply will be overloaded on weekends or when folks get home from work or back to their campsites after hiking. I've heard the lack of infrastructure argument and say hogwash. It's not like the internet was invented in the last decade. Let the leadership in Washington, San Francisco, and Denver poke along on dial-up speed if they're lucky, and then maybe something will be done for the rank and file in the boondocks. Rant over for now.

Going on three months at Death Valley and I finally got to go to an orientation class. The class is only a couple of years old and is only offered twice a year, so actually I'm pretty lucky that I was able to go at all.

The four-day orientation covers all kinds of subjects like who does what, how can I get something done, and where are things. We also get out in the park, escorted by someone particularly knowledgeable, and one day the abandoned mines expert led a field trip to the Keane Wonder Mine. It is usually closed to the public because of unstable land (due to huge areas underground having been excavated and the remaining ceilings held up only with the occasional pillar), and because of traces of cyanide, mercury, and lead that were used for extracting gold from the ore or were byproducts. Why the park thought we wouldn't fall into an unsupported tunnel or breathe cyanide blown around on the wind, I don't know, but am glad no one thought about it too much.

Read the Wikipedia article about the mine. It's brief but interesting.

Keane was one of the most profitable gold mines in the Valley but played out rather quickly. It's noted for its one and a half mile aerial tramway that carried ore down the mountain to a processing station closer to the road. When I first read about the Keane structures being stabilized in the 1980s, in the abandoned mine lands documents I've been processing (up to more than 27 linear feet of boxes so far!), I was already planning a trip, especially because I knew HH would love to see the operation. Then somewhere else I learned acres and acres of land were closed after all.

We were all blindfolded on the trip out to the mine, except for the drivers who took us there, duh. Some of the group elected to stay behind with the cars when Jeremy, the mines expert, led a hike up the mountain from the base of the tramway, below. Being a never-say-die kind of person, I dragged myself along, ignoring the youngsters who were skipping along like mountain goats. We hiked to the top structure seen in this photo. I wasn't first up there but can also say I wasn't last, either.

The cables are still in place, and an ore car or two. There's one on the right of the structure in front, below, not bad for hard-used equipment that's more than 100 years old. Somewhere I read that the Keane is listed on the National Register, or that it's eligible to be listed, but I can't find verification of that now because of the lousy internet.

The view of the valley made the hike up worth it.

It was a gorgeous day, not too warm and not much wind, so we came back unpoisoned.

On our way back down, someone spotted the chuckwalla below. I'd never heard of this animal before I saw photos of it when I was working on all the slides on the North Rim last summer, and had never seen one in person before. This one was about a foot long, placid as can be, enjoying the sunshine as much as we were. What camouflage! Chuckwallas are known for their loose folds of skin and can be referred to as the Shar-pei of the lizard world.

That was a joke about being blindfolded. You knew that, right? It's on all the maps.


Thought of the day:

The battles that count aren't the ones for gold medals. The struggles within yourself - the invisible, inevitable battles inside all of us - that's where it's at. - Jesse Owens