The last few weeks I’ve had to neglect the Elements Unearthed project in order to finish a client video that had a tight deadline. It was uploaded to YouTube Thursday night, so I now have a little bit of a breather before the next project and am back at work on Part 2 of the beryllium video. Winter has finally decided to let go (after one last gasp – we had a snowstorm here just two weeks ago), and already the early summer heat is drying out the cheat grass and turning it a brownish-purple color on the lower south-facing slopes. I decided now was the time to do some exploring and photography while the grass is still green in the mountains.
Over the last two years I’ve visited the Tintic Mining District several times with students and my own children and have collected a considerable amount of photos and video clips, including a tour of the Tintic Mining Museum and an interview with June McNulty, who runs the museum with his wife. But there were several places in the district that I hadn’t visited, including Mammoth and Silver City. So yesterday (Friday, June 4) I packed up the cameras and headed for the hills.
I stopped first in the hills above Burgin, the site of the town of Dividend, so called because the mine paid out fairly decent dividends to the miners compared with other mines in the district. I decided to climb up the hill further than before, toward the two large rusty tanks that can be seen from the road. I was surprised to find much more there than I had known about before, including the ruins of miner’s houses (some semi-wild purple irises and lilacs were still alive and blooming). A processing plant once existed here, and the ground is covered with yellowish-stained rocks and pieces of slag and everything smells of sulfides. One ruin 2/3 up the hill still has an old rusted stove for keeping the miners warm in what was probably the change room – the mine portal itself is just above the room, and there are even a few remains of timecards used to clock in and out of the mine. The few I looked at were dated from 1971, which was about the time that the mine at Dividend finally closed down. Mining continued, periodically, further down the slope at Burgin. Almost forty years of weather has taken its toll; all the roofs and any other wooden structures have long since rotted away, leaving old, dry fragments of boards with rusted nails sticking out littering the ground. Most of the equipment is gone, taken by looters and souvenir hunters, but enough of the foundations and structures remain that one can imagine what Dividend looked like in its heyday.
The road past Dividend is off the main path of Highway 6. It’s a good road, well maintained and asphalted but not much visited. I only saw two other cars and a motorcycle during the four hours I spent exploring along the road. The East Tintic Mountains between Dividend and Eureka are dotted with old mining ruins and tailings piles, with dirt roads leading off frequently up every side canyon and ridgeline. Most of the area is posted No Trespassing, so I limited myself to taking photos from the main road. It is still late spring up there; the maple trees in the canyons have only just gotten their leaves, and wildflowers including mountain lupine and Indian paintbrush cover the hillsides.
I traveled through Eureka and saw the continuing cleanup efforts there (more on this in my next post) and drove on to the town of Mammoth. Located in a side box canyon just to the south of Eureka, this was one of the richest areas of the Tintic Mining District. The mines are located ringing the valley – many long since abandoned but several showing recent work. With prices for gold and silver high right now, much exploration is underway to re-work the old claims and tailings piles and to do new exploratory drilling. Again, most of the area is posted and is private property; I limited myself to the main streets of Mammoth to photograph the old buildings and mine dumps.
At one time, when the processing plant was in full operation in the early 1900s, Mammoth boasted a population of about 2000. The people lived in the upper eastern portion of the canyon (Upper Mammoth) while the mill was at the mouth of the canyon lower down the slope (called Robinson after the mill’s foreman and later Lower Mammoth). Once the town was incorporated, public works such as churches and even a hospital (rare for a mining town) were built in the middle, or Midtown. In the early 1930s, my father used to visit his first cousin Ralph Larsen, whose family lived in Mammoth. During the winter the road leading up to town would be covered in packed snow, and the two of them would ride their sleds from Upper Mammoth all the way down to Highway 6, almost two miles, without ever stopping. Then they’d have to wait for someone to give them a lift back to the top.
Even though the mines had all closed by the 1950s, Mammoth somehow escaped the fate of most boom-and-bust mining towns; it never completely died. A few people hung on. Over the last ten years, since I last drove up here, it even appears to have grown in population. More houses have been fixed up and are occupied than before, and it is becoming an artistic community of sorts. Renewed interest in mining has also given the town a boost.
After Mammoth, I visited the old Jesse Knight smelter at Silver City and drove up the canyon there, but I’ll leave that for next time.