VICTOR EXPEDITION 1: THE INDEPENDENCE MINE

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“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.

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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.

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Beside the main structure is an ore-sorting machine.

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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.

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¹: Full poem (at bottom of page) and further information about Victor, CO here.

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THE PANORAMIC MIRROR

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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!

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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.

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Suddenly it seemed as if we were on another world.

Donning our rain boots, we waded out onto the immense surface before us.

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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.

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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.

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It is a place of vast perspectives and surreal frames of reference. A strange and wondrous place to be!