This week we went to a gold mine that was abandoned in the early 1880's and not rediscovered until 1996.
The thing that I found particularly valuable was that because the mine was never used in modern times, we got a glimpse into the mining techniques and practices of nearly 150 years ago--a time before electricity (at least in the wild west), cars, large machinery, or power tools.
The mine was lit with modern light bulbs, yet we were still given flashlights to be able to see into the dark corners and better spy minerals in the ore.
At one point our guide turned off the lights. If any of you have been to a cave or mine similar to this, you know how absolutely dark it is underground. He then lit a candle, a candle similar in size to one used by those original miners. It was not very bright! It was interesting to learn the techniques those pioneers used to help them discover gold and find their way around in the pitch blackness.
Several of the mines in the area have been closed, mostly due to government regulation. The couple who run this mine tour are native to the area and have worked the mines. They are passionate about preserving the history of the area, which is part of why they do such a good job here.
Outside the mine there were several rail cars and carts, relics of those closed mines.
They also had several troughs filled with sand carted down the mountain from local streams. There were actually gold flecks in there! Instead of other operations where you pan for fool's gold, these kids were actually panning for actual gold!
It was very cool to have the guy demonstrate how they would have done it (still do--lot's of hobby gold panners in our area) and then to let us have a go.
Our state is known as the gem state and for good reason. The kids also found lots of interesting agates, including my birthstone, the garnet, in the tubs.
The group rate made this field trip much more affordable, but it was still one of the more expensive trips of the summer. However, by the time the kids got into the car, they each had small bags filled with these gems--easily worth the price of admission had we purchased the stones separately. I do think the tour was worth the price, just because of the unique aspect of the tour and the experience of the guide. Since he knew we were a school group, he gave us a few more bits and facts about the geology of the mine and of Silver Valley in general. Overall, they did an excellent job of teaching us.
Right after this picture was taken, our eight year old tripped, breaking her front tooth. It was a sad end to the morning, but made worse because she felt jilted in her hunt for gold and gems. After cleaning up her wounds and comforting her the best I was able, I went to call the children back to the car. As I walked up to tell them we needed to go, they were compiling their stones and dividing them equally so that the hurt sister didn't have to go home empty handed. That was sweet, but the best part was that it was initiated by the sister who fights most frequently with her. That was the highlight of my day.
Off to the dentist!