“For weeks and months I’ve read about
The Independence Mine.
The wonders of its treasure vaults
The walls with gold that shine…”
– Anonymous ¹
This is the first section of a field report on places of interest near the town of Victor, Colorado. Today we cover one of the largest abandoned structures the Bureau has ever encountered: the Independence Mine.
This building is so big that from a distance I thought it looked more like a church steeple than a mining tower. It still feels immense today, but imagine what it must’ve looked like through the eyes of someone seeing it when it was built in 1891 (when the tallest building in the United States had 20 floors!).
The Independence Mine has a history of producing extraordinary wealth but has also experienced many disturbing events. In 1904 an elevator failure caused fifteen miners to die falling down the 1500 ft. mine shaft, and a while later thirteen miners were killed in a bombing during the Colorado Labor Wars.
Beside the main structure is an ore-sorting machine.
I love the meticulous network of supports that makes up this structure. There are so many hundred-foot beams, tiny struts, wooden chutes and metal plates, intricate works of geometry that keep the colossus standing. It’s definitely one of the grandest pieces of mining history that the Bureau has encountered.
¹: Full poem (at bottom of page) and further information about Victor, CO here.
Rising over the suburbs of the modern world is a looming remnant of the Machine Age.
A few months back, there was a little slope and an entryway which led inside the smokestack itself. When I returned, I was surprised to find that the passage had vanished- a smooth floor of dirt covered where the entrance used to be. Unfortunately the only picture I got of the interior when I first visited is this, which doesn’t show much.
It was a very interesting space to be inside of. The base was ~15 ft. in diameter, entirely empty, illuminated purely by light from hundreds of feet above, and the walls made strange echoes.
Due to the surrounding construction, I expected that the smokestack would soon be torn down. However, interestingly enough there’s actually a plan to keep it and use it as a centerpiece in a planned community!
While it’s a shame that the inside isn’t accessible, I’m glad that the smokestack won’t be torn down. It was very cool to explore while in this state of flux between its industrial past and being integrated into the modern world.
Clerks at the Bureau of Exploration had long heard tales of a great wonder awaiting them across the Rocky Mountains. Travelers spoke of a vast plane which when filled with snowmelt created a horizon-spanning mirror to the sky.
Reports indicated that this mirror could only reliably be seen in the winter when snow is expected- a precarious time for travel. There were risks, yet the Bureau knew there was simply no other option: we would have to undertake a treacherous winter voyage!
And a treacherous winter voyage it was. To reach our destination we needed to cross the mountains, and we soon found that the mountains were in the midst of blizzards.
Yet after trundling slowly through snowstorms, navigating highway closures in the hinterlands, and me getting the car stuck in the snow for several hours (note: windshield scrapers double as shovels and fir tree branches create excellent traction for wheels), we emerged from the snow at our destination: the Bonneville Salt Flats.
Suddenly it seemed as if we were on another world.
Donning our rain boots, we waded out onto the immense surface before us.
At one point, we split up to wander the surface on our own. Spying a mountain in the distance, I decided to walk in that direction for a long time, soon losing sight of my companions.
It felt something like walking atop an infinite plane from a mathematics class. There’s nothing for the mind to cling to other than distant mountains and their reflections, so far away they might as well be mirages. If one yells into the sky, there is no chance another human can hear it- total isolation. Distances are impossible to tell and even the passage of time is difficult to grasp.
There were odd things on the way to the mountain: fields of bullets scattered in the mud, as well as many areas with bubbles rising out of tiny holes (a possible indication of life in even so harsh an environment?). The distance to the foot of the mountain was greater than expected- by the time I got there, dusk was well on its way and the storms had caught up with us. I followed my footsteps back to our car, feeling something like an astronaut fleeing to a spaceship to get off some distant world.
It is a place of vast perspectives and surreal frames of reference. A strange and wondrous place to be!
Greetings from the Bureau of Exploration. This is the fourth section of a field report by the Mining Infrastructure and Geological Survey Corps on places of interest in the San Juan Mountains.
My fellow operative and I parked our car in a large open space, an area where records state a mining town once stood. The town is no more, but rising over the valley are stacked concrete foundations, the skeleton of what the town was built around: the Eureka Mill.
The way the structure climbs up the mountain makes me think of an immense staircase. Scaling the first few ‘steps’ of the staircase, we were surrounded by the shattered concrete floors and scattered wooden remains of the mill. One can see what it once looked like from pictures such as this.
We scrambled up the side for the first seven steps. By the eighth, we found a convenient window blasted through the concrete to hop through into the structure proper.
The rubble-strewn floor had the remains of railway tracks that once ran on the roof. To our right was an overlook of the valley, and to our left we saw strange cylindrical tanks towering overhead. We continued our ascent.
I think that these tanks once held ore before it was processed further down the mountain. They seemed out of place in the middle of the Rocky Mountains, being made of great concrete slabs and steadfast rebar rather than decaying wood. To me, Eureka felt less like a mill and more like a sci-fi bunker or strange industrial plant.
The last two steps, eleven and twelve, had more columns. Cascading down the rubble were metal wires that looked like big heaps of snakes, wrapping themselves around the surrounding rock and pillars.
We stood at the top of the ruins for a while under the noonday sun, overlooking the valley and the structure below us.
A winding path led up to the punctured walls of our last structure of the day: the Sound Democrat Stamp Mill.
Entering through a hole in the wall at the structure’s base, we looked up and realized that we were inside a vast, century-old machine. The whole structure is a vertically-stacked mechanism: according to records, ore was loaded in at the top, and then gravity pushed it through many different devices, refining it further with each step. At the end of the process were these ‘ripple tables’, which sorted out valuable metals by size.
As we ascended, we were surrounded by both the archaic and the modern. Decaying wood supported complex mechanisms, steel pipeworks ran along rotting staircases.
Light threaded through the walls, illuminating strange machines.
We emerged from the structure through its tram tower. Temperatures were dropping and the sun was nearly gone: we took one last moment to behold the mill and the surrounding mountains, and then began the descent back to town.