Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Wallace, Idaho

Today Nan and I started off with just a short drive east to Historic Wallace, Idaho.   We were interested in taking a tour of one of the small silver mines.   Since the brochure (that I had found in the laundry room of the RV park....) wasn't exactly current we arrived an hour to early for the first tour of the day.  We adjusted our schedule quickly to add a walking tour of the small shops and checking out the The Silver Store.  The store had some very lovely pieces. At least half their inventory is made by local artists and the clerk let us try on everything.... and gave us a mini lesson on the different stones and gems, especially those found in Idaho.

Wallace, Idaho...

Wallace is one of the last towns in the US, where the entire town was designated a Historical District.  Rumor has it that the last traffic light on I 90 was in Wallace....it is now in the town Mining Museum. I have to admit that we did not feel a need to visit the museum after touring the mine.  At one time there were over two hundred mine in the region. Now there are seven working mines left. The Sierra Silver Mine that we toured is no longer actually being mined but has been set up as a silver mine "museum" with all the equipment and history displayed and explained without having to walk a mile and a half.....



FOSSILS & INSECTS....CLOTHING & JEWELRY......and INTERNET CAFE.   Why of course! Why didn't I think of that combination?


After some successful shopping at the Silver Store the Sierra Silver Mine Office was open and it wasn't long before the trolley showed up for the first mine tour of the morning.  The mine was only a couple of miles out of town and one really gnarly, skinny, uphill driveway. 


The crowd in the back of the Trolley kept distracting us from looking how close the wheels were to the hill side.   Yes, we had a personal tour!


 As we prepare for our tour....  Our tour guide was a retired miner and his explanation of the history of this mine and the history of silver mining in general was very thorough.  He showed a map of the Sunshine mine that experienced the deadly and very unexpected fire that took the lives of 91 miners. He said his step father was the last man to get out of the mine alive only because of some safety equipment that one of the other men handed of to him. At the time the breathing masks were not required to be carried and there were only a handful in the mine.  Now each miner is required to carry one. 


Our guide explained that the original mine was worked by only a small handful of miners and by hand they dug the mine back 70 feet in 7 years.  This mining stuff is hard work.  Think of working with hand tools in candle light.....



The canary in the mine.....Except that they kept his cage on the floor so that the heavy gases would get to him quicker if there were any..... (For demonstration purposed, no actually real bird is used in this cage....)


We were sown the breathing apparatus that were used by the rescue teams that had the job of going into the Sunshine mine. They worked the rescue 24 hours a day in tow hour shifts.  That was as long as the equipment would allow them to be underground.  The smoke was still so thick that the rescuers had to use canes to feel their way through the tunnels....just as a blind person would.


Our guide and history teacher....


The tunnels required bracing so that the continued blasting would not bring additional rocks down on anyone.


Demonstrating some of the modern power drills and other tools and equipment that are used now.




Moving the "Muck."


This is the line of quartz that lead the original miners to mine in this area and lead them to believe that they would find silver ore.  They gave up after 7 years and 70 feet and much later their mineral rights were bought out by other investors who went back in and dug back another 170 feet and also began digging down.   They gave up without finding the silver ore.   Years later one of the other silver mines up the canyon  found signs of silver much deeper in the ground and bought out the mineral rights under the old Sierra Mine. They never actually mined from the mine itself because they were digging sideways from up the canyon and about 1500 feet farther down.  They did find the ore that the other investors were never able to find. 


The lower tunnels in closed mines are flooded to keep the wooden supports from rotting.  This way if someone ever wants to open up the lower levels all they need to do is pump the water out....


The mine tours are run by a non profit organization that sontributes back to the community of Wallace.  The local high school got involved t=years back by offering a class in mining.  The seniors were able to take the class for a year and worked in the mine one hour a day.   It took a long time but the students opened up a whole other entrance to the mine so that the tours start at one location and then lead through the demonstration and educational stations.   The students were promised to leave the class with mining skills that would make them employable in any of the local mines.   SOme went to work in the mines from high school and others went on to college and got degrees in engineering and others geology...... Pretty neat and unique hands on learning.



And example of an ore sample with the prized quartz (usually found near silver ore) and the dark stone is the silver ore that everyone was trying to find.....


The chipmunks playing outside the mine's entrance....


Small town houses.....


Remember that store window advertising their unique offerings along with Internet Cafe?  We had to check it out when it opening.   We checked it out along with their Huckleberry Crisp.....  

Like I have mentioned before, this if tough but Nan and I are making do......  Can't you see the suffering on her face.....brave, brave Nan....


So with our side trip and some dark, dark clouds and high winds starting up this afternoon we only made it to Missoula today... but we now know that silver mining is not in our future.   Wearing silver?  Yes, we are still very supportive of that.....did I mention that we had time to shop before the tour?

On towards Yellowstone....


2 comments:

  1. Sounds like a very interesting tour.

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  2. What a fascinating and unique tour! You are finding so e neat places.

    ReplyDelete