he Coolest Thing I've Ever Done, was down a dusty old mining road just outside the remote semi-ghost town of Austin, Nevada. I had no idea what was in-store for me when I began my expedition to get a closer look at Stokes Castle two years ago, until I began following the dirt road beyond the tower further into the hills. I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the considerable risk I was taking to continue down the road. Large, commercial trucks aren't really designed for traveling in all-terrain environments devoid of asphalt. Without a trailer, there's no weight on the drive axles, yielding very little traction. Additionally, the road was narrow with lots of low branches hanging over the road and tight switch-backs as it wound up the mountain.
I began to see additional remnants of the area's mining history. The first impressive thing I found lay about a mile into the hills from Stokes Castle. It was an old stone structure, it's door sealed shut with an iron gate. The rear wall had collapsed taking a good portion of the roof with it.
I stopped the truck and went to inspect. With the collapsed wall, the barrier on the door had been rendered useless, as anyone could easily access the interior. When I first visited it two years ago, I did go inside, but it was rather uninteresting so I didn't bother with it for this reunion with the structure. There were plenty of other interesting things here to get excited about.
The other was the presence of a huge mound of rock debris. In the following photo overlooking the valley, you can see it in the foreground with a tree growing out of it. That's not a natural geological structure; that's a man-made pile of rocks excavated from a mine somewhere nearby!
I decided to trudge up the old service road to see where it led. This is what I found.
Half-heartedly cordoned-off with barbed-wire fencing was the vertical shaft entrance to a mine. In the interest of safety, a large iron gate had been secured over it and locked.
Now, I have little knowledge of mining with respect to applied architecture. The full ramifications of what this meant wouldn't sink in until much later in the day. I was excited none-the-less to have made my little find. I began hunting around and found some other interesting things: like a boom which most likely was used with a pulley and counter-weight or engine/beast-of-burden for hauling rock and ore out of the shaft.
There was also evidence that at least two other structures had resided up here at the entrance to the shaft. One was a combination of poured concrete, stone mortar, and wood which probably was the foundation for a building.
The other was a stone mortar pillar which probably served as the base for either a motor or a crane-tower.
The other thing of interest up there was a large sinkhole where the mine below had collapsed at some point.
Various mining artifacts had been piled into the hole, or possibly had been pulled down into when it sank.
Satisfied that I had found all there was to see, I made my way back to the truck. The excitement over my find made me bold. I continued down the road, looking for more piles of rock debris. Another mile or two into the mountains I drove, until I encountered what appeared to be the remains of an old mining camp and more piles of rock.
I first encountered a wooden contraption sitting all by itself at the edge of the forested foothills.
As you can see in the photo, it rests at the entrance of a small hollow situated with foothills on either side and one in the rear. It's fourth side overlooked the valley which we've already seen a few times.
But it never gets old looking at it. You can see the wooden contraption slightly to the right of center and the top of my rig to the left. I continued walking into the hollow and was treated to all sorts of things. On my right, at the base of the hill was the remains of a building which had burned. All that was left were ashes and the curled tin of its roofing.
There was also an old wooden camper here, the kind that would be attached to the bed of a standard pickup truck. It was full of holes from shotgun blasts, no doubt from locals coming up here for target practice.
There was certainly plenty of evidence to support that theory.
There was also a huge motor, just standing all by itself on the edge of the hollow.
Then I saw something set in the side of the hill that made me gasp.
You're probably thinking the same thing I was thinking, but it wasn't. It's actually a storage bunker, that was filled with boxes upon boxes of core samples.
There were actually two of these bunkers, the other one less than a hundred yards from the first.
I concluded, though, that I must be on the verge of discovering another mine entrance. I decided to hike up into the hills overlooking the abandoned camp. I started on the left hill, following faint trails that led to partial digs that had been abandoned after not yielding anything. Becoming discouraged, I sat down to take a small break. The high altitude and rocky terrain were taking it's toll on an out-of-shape trucker who smokes. I don't know why I began on the left hill, as the piles of debris pictured above were associated with the right hill, but I did. As I was resting, I looked across the hollow at the hill on the other side. I could see a small road built on the side of the hill through the trees. More importantly, I could see a wooden structure beside the road and even more on top of the hill.
I made my way back into the hollow and began clambering the side of the hill on the right side. I made my way up to the roadway and began wandering along it. I came across a another sinkhole from an apparent mine collapse, only this one had an actual hole that went somewhere into the earth, who knows how deep. Nearby, though was the best part. An actual mine entrance; a complete steroetypical mine entrance complete with the wooden frame and a sign nailed above it with a number on it!
I stooped inside to see what the condition of it was. With the sinkhole virtually next to it, I wasn't expecting to find much. To my delight, the entrance was perfectly accessible and it opened into a rather large chamber. There was a wooden ladder on my right that led to another level. I climbed it and it opened into another, even bigger chamber that was filled with all sorts of old tin cans and other refuse. I climbed back down to the lower chamber and followed a passageway off the backside, deeper into the mine. It ended at a small cliff that was maybe 15 feet high. With my flashlight I could easily see the floor below. There was also a ladder leading up to another level and another ladder leading up yet another level.
I first followed the ladders upward. They led to other passageways that went a considerable distance from the ladder system then dead-ended, as if someone had dug them in an exploratory manner and then gave up. I followed the ladders back down from it's highest point to the ledge. There was the remainder of some old pipe/conduit that led down to the floor below. I decided that lowering myself down from the ledge to the new level would be easy, and that, while it might be difficult, I could use the pipe to pull myself back up so I could get out.
I'm so glad I did. The mine only got bigger and better. Posts stuck in the rock walls where lanterns used to hang. Most of the mine cart track and been removed but there were still some choice sections where it was completely intact. I even found the portion of the mine that corresponded to the collapsed sink hole above. I took a break there from all my exploring and enjoyed the natural light for a bit before returning to the darkness. There were wooden chutes coming down from other upper levels and wooden contraptions not unlike the one outside in the abandoned camp. Eventually, I found a long passageway that allowed me to walk right out of the minel, less than 200 feet from the huge pile of rock I had seen outside.
ll of the above happened two years ago, in just that order. This huge mine that I discovered; I took all sorts of pictures that came-out blurry and unusable, the entire motivation for my return there last week was to take more.
So when I got to Austin last week, after visiting Stokes Castle, I drove down the dirt road. I drove past the building and the gated vertical mine shaft and set about finding this huge mine again. I soon located the abandoned mining camp, knowing that the mine entrances were nearby. Rather than repeat my accidental find of the side-entrance higher on the hill, I opted for going directly to the front entrance of the mine where I had walked-out two years earlier. I searched for nearly thirty minutes for it and couldn't find it. To give myself a breather from walking up and down the hillside, I wandered through the abandoned camp and took the photos you saw above.
From my vantage point in the hollow, I saw something through the trees on top of the hill. It looked like a cross.
"That's right!" I thought to myself. There were also thing on the hill which corresponded to the mine below. I walked out of the hollow and back around to the front of the right-hand hillside. I found a small service road that led up the hill and decided to follow it. I figured I would walk to the top, then follow the series of structures down the side of the hill and find the entrance that way. The reason I thought I could do this was because they consisted largely of air vents.
They're hard to make out in the photos unless you know what you're looking for. In the photo above there are two, they're rusted-brown pipes that are sunk in the ground. They're both in the center of the photo: one near the top of the photo that stands a foot or two above the ground, the other one at the bottom of the photo that's right in front of the small bush, but has been cut to be flush with the ground. Here's another photo of the same location with an additional pipe.
You can see the pipe in the background several feet behind the piece of lumber. There's another tall pipe in the foreground to the right, almost perfectly aligned with the break in the trees overlooking the valley. The one that is flush with the ground is roughly centered between the two in front of the small bush about a foot in front of the lumber.
Despite my diligence in following these air vents to locate the entrance to the mine somewhere below me, I still failed. All this time, I had been carrying my camera in addition to a backpack filled with a tripod and small flashlight, and my humongous 10 million candle spotlight on a strap over my shoulder as well. This was beginning to wear me out. I walked back to a vantage point between two different piles of debris to take a rest and to once again survey the surroundings. I couldn't believe I couldn't find this mine entrance, as I had recalled it being fairly visible the time before, once I had discovered it from the inside out.
I decided that lugging all the gear was too much trouble while I was just searching, so I left it in a fairly central spot and began hunting some more after catching my breath. I first tried the second pile of debris but had no luck. I followed the trail back over to the air vents and walked down the hill again.
And there it was. Somehow I had missed it after walking virtually right past it three times already. I hustled over to it to make sure that it hadn't caved-in in the past two years before worrying about grabbing my gear. It hadn't, but there was another problem. Someone had cemented and welded a barrier to the entrance out of steel girders. There was no way in! Now I was determined to go find the side-entrance which had served as my original discovery of the mine two years ago. I wasn't hopeful, but I had to go look. With the considerable climb that was involved, combined with an outside chance, I decided to leave the gear and come back for it if necessary.
I followed the road up and around the hillside until I found the sink hole. It looked just as I remembered it, descending into pitch black with no end in sight, even though now I knew better. I found the entrance nearby and climbed inside. It was sealed-up to, only this entrance hadn't been nearly as big and accomodating as the main entrance. They were able to seal it up with foam insulation that was impenetrable.
I made my way back to my gear. I was so dejected at not having the opportunity to re-live The Coolest Thing I've Ever Done that I didn't have the heart to tromp back to the two entrances and take photos of a mine I couldn't enter. I loaded everything up into the truck and began my way back out of the hills. There's a good chance that there are more that I haven't discovered, but I really didn't have the time and had worn myself out looking for one that I already knew about. As I was bouncing down the dirt road, back toward the stone buliding and the vertical mine shaft, that's when I remembered how that day ended two years ago.
While driving out, I had noticed a small service road off the main road, opposite the stone house and the shaft. That day two years ago, I had stopped to check it out. After learning what I had about the way mines are constructed, it occurred to me that the vertical shaft represented to top of the mine. If there was a road leading down the hillside, it had to lead somewhere right?
And right I was. I did discover another mine entrance two years ago. I figured at this point, I didn't have anything to lose, so I stopped there again on my way out. I grabbed my camera but not the flashlights, I didn't see any point in lugging them around again until I knew for sure. I walked down the old service road and had a nice view of the stone building again. This gives you an idea of the relationship of the service road where I'm taking the photo from, the main road which lies just beyond the barbed-wire, and the stone building.
I continued from here down the service road, right of that picture. The road continued down hill some then curved sharply to the right. When you come around the bend, this is what you see.
I'll agree with you, it doesn't look like much.
But if you poke your head inside and look around, you're treated to the following.
A bonafide mine entrance.
I made the assumption that if someone was going to seal this mine, they would've put some barrier on the existing doorway. That not being the case, I went back to the truck for my gear. I had been in there two years ago, and I knew it wasn't nearly as big or as impressive as the other mine, but it was all I had. It's the only way that I was going to capture what it's like being inside an abandoned mine with my camera that day.
(to be continued)
x-posted to abandonedplaces and rural_ruin