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|Colorado: The largest underground mill in the US, et. al.|
entry by Slim Jim
6/29/2004 2:00 AM
|Here are the UE parts of last week's trip to Colorado (this will probably be a permanent rough draft, due to time constraints). I'll start with the underground mill since it was by far the coolest, and then go back and do the rest chronologically.|
The part about the mill will probably be more detailed than most of my future trip logs, because it's the third most interesting/extensive underground site that I've ever explored in North America. Not only does this site have extensive tunnels, but the tunnels are full of rooms, old equipment, and tools, for explorers that like finding artifacts.
The largest underground mill in the U. S.
Saturday, I headed up into the mountains to explore a ghost town and the neighboring mill and mine rumored to be the largest underground mill in the US. As Chainsaw had said, the town was in full view of the highway and there was no place to park, but I continued down the road until I found a safe pull-off. It was conspicuous, but there were no signs. The underground mill was supposedly at the level of the creek, which was 600 feet below the town in a steep ravine that in many places was a sheer cliff. Underground places fascinate me, so I set out to find a way down even before visiting the town.
A short trail led diagonally downhill but ended after a couple blocks. Not to fear, an easy way down the rest of the hill soon presented itself in the form of a rocky gully which was almost like a natural staircase. Not looking forward to the trip back up, I followed this down and soon appeared along the railroad tracks at the bottom. A quick scout upstream revealed no mine entrances, so I headed downstream toward the mill. Along the way, I passed a short adit which led to a T intersection. The left fork was a dead end, but the right fork was a low, rocky crawlway. Normally, I would've jumped at the opportunity to explore it, but today I had bigger places on my mind so I continued walking downstream. There were a couple mine entrances a few dozen feet uphill, which were guarded by lockable metal gates. However, somebody forgot to lock them, so I took advantage of it and snuck inside. Both tunnels ended at a solid concrete bulkheads about a block from the entrance, each with a pressure gage.
A group of hikers saw me coming out of the mine, but they looked innocent enough so I continued the exploration. The mill had a few smaller outbuildings which looked like the typical ghost town mine. It was hard to believe that this place was in operation as late as the 80s. While the hikers were out of sight behind one building, I crawled through the first hole in the ground that presented itself. Climbing down to the ground, I found myself in a large tunnel filled with cold air. The double doors behind me warned "Keep out," and "Bad air." Apparently they were warning me to stay out of outside because the air was bad out there. I was safe in the mine.
The tunnel went through a set of old double doors and around the corner. Bingo!! To the left, there was a room with a tall empty reservoir-like thing surrounded by concrete walls supported by wooden pillars around the edge. I climbed up to a platform at the corner of the reservoir, and crawled along the boards along the edge to the far side, where a wooden catwalk led off in two directions. I followed it to the left, which led back down the stairs and into a room with a chained double door leading outside. According to the topo map, this was the Newhouse tunnel entrance.
Turning around, there were two passages leading away from the room - the one I had come out of, and a passage leading steeply uphill with cart tracks. I surged up this one, filled with excitement. It was a very long hill. Along the way, there may have been one or two level side passages, but I was too excited to see how extensive the complex was to stop and check them out. The tunnel finally leveled off and entered a junction room with a booth and train tracks going to the left and right. I went left, and passed a row of ore carts with - believe it or not - toilet seats built into them. Apparently this was what the miners used to take a dump if they needed to in the back of the mine. The tunnel continued past a series of rooms filled with a variety of old, and interesting, equipment. There were some great photo ops, but sadly, by that time my camera was almost blurry enough to be rendered useless. Past the rooms, I saw a light at the end of the tunnel. This proved to be a door with a hole in it which led out to an overlook far up above the valley. There was no easy way of climbing up or down from here, and I was more interested in the underground, so I turned around and followed the passage back to the junction with the booth. Taking the other direction, I soon found a side tunnel off to the right, leading toward the bluff. It led to the best part of the complex.
Typically, when I explore tunnels, or for that matter anything UE-related, I'll be excited to check out every nook and cranny no matter how small or unpromising, because most of the underground places in the US aren't all that extensive. But this was one of the few that is overwhelming when you walk in, just like the St. Paul Labyrinth. I was curious enough to check out every single tunnel right away, to the point that I almost felt like giving up and not going anywhere at all, because the place was just too big to be real. You'd have to experience it to understand. As much as I love maps, not having a map of the complex (which would give a good idea of how extensive it really was) made the trip all the more exciting.
The tunnel became a staircase that sloped gently downward, but off to the left there were several floors of large equipment, catwalks, and stairs. One staircase in the corner led down 8 stories down (as measured looking up the neighboring freight elevator shaft) to another tunnel which also led toward the bluff. I followed it out, and through a small maze of tunnels and rooms filled with equipment. At one point, I almost turned around to avoid getting lost, but then I felt a breeze coming through the crack between ajar double doors. Sure enough, there was a light at the end of this tunnel. Soon I was in the middle of one of the ghost-town like mill buildings protruding out of the cliff, about a story off the ground. It was raining hard outside, so I was glad to abandon the dreary outside world and turn around and head back into the mill.
Several passages led off to the right, and farther back into the bluff, but they were filled with about a foot of sticky red contaminated muck, so I decided to save them for later and follow the path of least resistance. It took me back to the staircase by the elevator, by a different route. On the way, I stopped to climb up a wooden ladder. It led about a dozen feet high above the main passage, but was a dead end. Going back up the rusting metal staircase, I wandered around the middle equipment levels before heading back up the sloping passage with cart tracks back to the T intersection. To the right, away from where I had come from, the passage soon led to another junction. To the right was light - yet another surface entrance, and to the left led farther than my Mag-lite would illuminate, straight back into the hillside. Presumably, this was an entrance to the largest zinc mine in Colorado. Since that would probably take some time to explore, I headed outside first. This led to a small flat area above the buildings which, as high as it was, was only about 1/4 of the way up the hill to the town. Rail tracks that were falling apart led uphill at more than a 45º angle to the town. To the left was another tunnel entrance. Here's why Chainsaw should've been there: The door was marked "MAGAZINE EXPLOSIVES DANGEROUS." Not heeding the warning, I followed the passage back quite a ways until it ended at an empty rectangular room which apparently housed explosives at one time.
Heading back out and into the mine tunnel, I continued for a couple blocks, only to be defeated by another one of those concrete bulkheads with a pressure gage in it. This one was reading 2 psi. Not much, but there was water on the other side of that wall. I was defeated.
About then, I was starting to feel lightheaded from the altitude, and also not having enough time to explore the entire place, and being overwhelmed and certainly satisfied with what I had seen, I decided to head back to the car. Since I was already 1/4 of the way up the hill, I didn't want to spend the energy to go down to the bottom and back up the gully which I had originally come down. Plus, it's always nice to see new places, and the ghost town was right above me. So I began climbing up a steep ravine alongside the decrepid cable railway tracks.
Just then, I heard a rumbling noise. Looking up, a large rock, 3-4 feet in diameter, came charging down the mountainside. I quickly climbed out of the gully. The rock took an unexpected turn, and charged down the other side of the railway. I was safe...but it was a close call.
Soon I was climbing up the train tracks, just like a ladder, using the wooden crossmembers as rungs. It was a long, tiring, but scenic climb. At one point, I thought I heard voices close by, but never saw anybody. It was hard to believe that rock was launched by itself, because there was no wind.
Although I was absolutely exhausted when I reached the top, and didn't have much energy or desire left (at that time) to explore the town, an open window in the back of the village hotel presented itself as an inviting place to rest. I climbed inside and soon found myself wandering the halls attempting to take pictures with my crappy, abused and out-of-focus camera. The hallway layout and room numbering system (20-29 on one floor, as opposed to 200-209), as well as the rooms in the attic, reminded me of typical older European hotels.
The other buildings across the street weren't enough to persuade me to explore more right then, after the satisfying mine exploration and tiring climb up the tracks, and it was about time to head home. So I headed back to the car and drove straight to North Platte, Necrapska, non-stop.
The rest of the weekend
This will be brief, since it's much less interesting. Thursday, I headed out to the mountains near Gold Hill, just west of Boulder. On the way, I passed the famous abandoned mall over 1 km long, and spotted an easy climb to the roof, but time, the presence of a security guard, daylight, and lack of anybody to explore it with prevented me from stopping. The 10-15 mines that I scouted out were no longer accessible, except for one which had a couple feet of water in it and ended at a concrete bulkhead about a block inside. I climbed straight up a mountain to check if a "tunnel," the kind that is dug to drain the lower levels of mines, was accessible. If it was, it would've probably been much better than most of the mines, because it could connect to larger levels of several mines. But alas, an open entrance was not to be found.
Thursday night, I met ApoXX and headed out to a Titan base. We passed the sleeping neighbors, and parked on the far side of the complex. We wandered around in circles in the dark for a couple minutes, and soon spotted an access ladder that led to the ventilation ducts. This consisted of one big fan room, a main passage, and a cross passage. There was a ladder that led down into the main tunnel, but there was nothing to get down to the floor of the tunnel, or back up, so we headed back outside, wandered around in circles some more, and soon spotted the other access ladder that I had scouted out earlier that day. This led down to the middle of junction 7 on this map:
I won't get into too much detail here, because there is plenty of information on Subciety.org and elsewhere on Titan bases, but the place was incredible and, as far as I could tell, exactly as laid out on that map. We explored every nook and cranny, and the left.
Friday, I went out to a village in a canyon west of Denver to look for mines. Contrary to the Gold Hill area the day before, this area was pay dirt. Along the road following a short valley north of town, there were at least a couple dozen mines. Most of them were gated, all with the same style gate that the state of Colorado had apparently installed some time ago, but a handful were accessible. One led to a shaft leading up to open air, and continued in a water-filled passage. Another forked, but both forks dead-ended. A third, the best of the accessible lot, led back to a shaft leading both up and down. A rickety wooden ladder led down, and another rickety ladder led up, similar to mines in western British Columbia. I didn't want to risk the upper ladder tipping over, as the pit below me was at least 50 feet deep, and the lower ladder didn't look safe either. Some other day, maybe, with vertical gear to go downward.
The accessible level ended at a stope leading steeply uphill, which ended about 40 feet above the passage. Having explored all that was accessible in this mine, I left. A sign in front of the entrance informed me that this was the Queen Elizabeth mine. A sign at the bottom of the trail informed me that this mine was private property and that I was trespassing. Oops, I didn't see any signs coming in from the side. You know I wouldn't even think of going there if I had known ahead of time that it was trespassing.
Following the main canyon out of town to the west, I stumbled upon another accessible mine. This one had two levels which led back into the bluff, connected by a shaft which was angled just enough to be climbable. The upper level ended shortly after the shaft, but the lower level continued as a water passage. I changed into sandals, and splashed forward, probably going about 1/4 mile into the tunnel. The water slowly transformed into red, muddy goo which produced bubbles that smelled like poop. Methane. Thinking back on the time Action Squad almost died in the sewers trying to get to Stahlmann's cellars (see Trip 1 on http://www.actionsquad.org/stahl.htm), I turned back. Maybe another time, with other people who could drag my dead body back to the cemetery if I passed out and died of shit poisoning.
I scouted out some roads up some valleys to the south, leading out of town. All of them had signs posted that they were private property and patrolled by landowners, security, or sheriff. Despite the numerous mine entrances alongside the road, some open, I passed them up. Largely uneventful drive, with the exception of almost running out of gas, turning the engine off to conserve fuel as I coasted downhill, and then discovering that I didn't have power brakes or power steering and almost flying off the edge of a cliff because I almost couldn't brake or steer hard enough to make the turn in time.
The highest auto road in America, leading to the summit of Mt. Evans, was closed, so I headed back towards Denver. I went to scout out a mine entrance along Hogback Ridge south of Golden, which turned out to be one of the most secured entrances I've seen in the US. Not only was it gated and padlocked, but the hinges were welded shut, and two plates on the other side of the gate were welded to the gate as well. This kind of thing makes you think there HAS to be something really great on the other side of this gate. Given the location, I'd say it was probably a coal mine, but looking inside the gate revealed a bend in the passage that didn't seem to indicate any of the typical dangers associated with coal mines (collapses, methane, etc.). Maybe there's another entrance somewhere. I'd be very interested to see what's inside this place.
I briefly stopped by the campus of Colorado Christian University. Somebody drove out of the complex as I was walking in the back road. Although all the buildings were boarded up, there were accessible entrances to the larger ones. I did a brief tour of the radio station building, and a couple of the apartments, before taking off and spent the rest of the night driving around Denver's many one way streets.
Wow, that took a long time to write! Future trip logs probably won't be this long, unless it's some place worth describing in detail.
Diagram of the parts of the mill complex that I explored coming soon...as soon as I can get a spare hour to sketch it.
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