Tagabanonded mines

Not everything left behind is good

When you look at abandoned mine sites and see what remains, not everything they left behind is good.

You practically can’t throw a rock without hitting a mining ruin in Colorado. Estimates vary, but most agree there are at least 20,000 mining sites abandoned in the state. Some of them have entire ghost towns nearby, some of them are merely holes in the ground haphazardly filled in and left by the miners. While I love exploring what they left behind, the worst part of the remains of mining is something you can sometimes only notice by an absence.

Preston, the mining site I took these photos at, is a good example. Once it was a town of 150 people, working a mine and a stamp mill. Not much remains. Part of the stamp mill still stands, it’s decay arrested by the local historical society. The mine shaft on the mountain above that once sent down ore via a tram system is fenced off with a high modern fence. I don’t know if the activity is current mining or cleanup. If it is cleanup, it’s a pretty rare place. Most of the mines in the state have no clean up operations at all. The huge expensive houses just down the road from the site might explain why action is being taken.

shoot-428All of these mine sites need to be cleaned up. Few of them will be. The most dangerous, like the Gold King mine that blew out not long ago will get attention. The reason is that these mines are governed by outdated laws. The mining companies pay no royalties, unlike coal mining and oil, to take gold out of the ground. There is no requirement for remediation after they close. They use toxic chemicals to extract gold from the ore, they pile the waste up in mounds, then they walk away, cost free. And if anyone else comes behind them and cleans it up, that someone else is responsible for any future problems. The owners’ responsibility is negligible at best.

Todd Hennis, the owner of Gold King Mine, had pushed for more clean up. In fact, he had pointed out the nature of the problem and had tried to get it dealt with properly, but other mine owners in the area are sitting back and denying any responsibility.

The pond by the stamp mill in Preston is an odd shade of green. There are no fish in it I saw, nor in the nearby stream. No tadpoles, no nothing. The water looks clear while it moves, and I don’t know if it is polluted, but there doesn’t seem to be anything living in it.

Left Behind

shoot-40I love the places that were too hard to keep. Where there is only wind rattling corrugated tin and the scuttling of field mice, now. Where lives have moved on and left the place behind. Where there aren’t even memories to ask about. Colorado is dotted with them. People came here in search of something, and moved on, whether they found it or not. So many towns popped up during the rush times, and died just as fast. Some held on for a while before fading. Some are no more than vague references in books and no one is sure where they were anymore.

These are the places are where nature won. It was too cold in this place, nothing grew here. It was too lonesome, too far from others. The wind blew too hard. The snow piled too deep. Fire came and left nothing behind. The work too hard, and the money not worth it.shoot-42 They cut their losses, picked up, and went on. This whole state was made by people like that. Ones who couldn’t find what they wanted, what they needed, where they were. So they picked up, left things behind, and moved on in search of something. I know how that feels. That is what brought me here, made me move to this place. I left many things behind, and I haven’t gone back to see them since.

shoot-43What got left behind is a playground for those like us now. We wander and photograph. But sometimes, in the back of my mind, I wonder who these people were, and what became of them.

I found what I was looking for when I moved here. I hope those who came before found what they were looking for. I hope what they found made them happy.shoot-44