Saturday, October 29, 2016

The "Blue Monarch" Mine

This is a copper mine that had been worked by one miner, Homer Struck, for over thirty years between 1969 and 1999. Before then, its history is not really known well, and what remains of its camp is sparse and largely uninteresting. On the other hand, the road gradually changes in color as the main mine is approached; it gradually becomes bluer and bluer as the tailings spill down the gulch. For centuries, explorers searched for the city of gold; this is the road of copper.

This mine followed a vein of quartz about six feet wide and about 100 feet long, extracting most of this vein to leave behind a tall, narrow slot braced by timber. Some of the logs are native piƱon timber, others are newer lumber, clean cut. The vein itself is a mineralogical treasure trove, graced with paint-strokes of chrysocolla, malachite, limonite, quartz, jasper, and hematite, and many more I can't identify! These minerals were all deposited by rising superheated water that rose along a fault or crack in the rock and left behind these streaks and pockets of brilliant color.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

The Golden Gate Stamp Mill

High up in the Sierras above Walker Valley, outside Bridgeport, is a dilapidated old stamp mill. It is the last stamp mill managed by the Bishop BLM office, and is a remarkable site because of its scale. Only ten stamps were ever used here, and ten remain, but they are the largest stamps I have ever seen, and the beams that are used to build the mill are colossal old growth wood, 11x22 inches. Each stamp (it's said) weighs 900 pounds, and is at least ten inches in diameter.

The mill was destroyed by avalanches numerous times over the last hundred years, and this structure was built around 1900. It has suffered significant structural damage, and stabilization work took place over three months in 2005 in hopes of keeping it standing through more heavy Sierra winters. Not much else remains besides the mill, cookhouse, and bunkhouse. The arial tramway's remains lay close by, but the mine openings are nearly inaccessible without great tenacity, as they sit 2300 feet above on the mountainside. There were three tunnels, totaling a couple thousand feet of workings. The outbuildings were destroyed in the fatal avalanches in 1911, and everything was rebuilt a few hundred feet away below a lesser slope.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Lava Beds National Monument

Lava Beds National Monument is in the far northeast corner of California, just miles away from the border with Oregon. Boundless plains of grasslands, basalt boulder fields, volcanoes, and the densest concentration of lava tubes in North America (over 700 caves) make this a special place. Beyond the mystic beauty that surrounds this place is a bloody and ancient history. The Modoc Wars that finally displaced the ancient Modoc tribes placed an eventual total of 930 US soldiers against 53 Modoc warriors led by Captian Jack, Kintpuash. Eventually 73 lives were lost, including General Canby and Captain Jack and his four accomplices were captured and hanged at Fort Klamath. Remaining Modoc were moved as prisoners of war to land in what is now Oklahoma. More about the Modoc War can be read about here, Wikipedia, and at the park website for Lava Beds NM.

On a lighter note, the geology of the area is rather interesting. The park is on the fringes of the basin and range province, part of the Great Basin Desert, and at the southern end of the active Cascade Arc. It lies on the slope of the Medicine Lake Volcano, the largest (by volume) of the cascade volcanoes. Mt. Shasta is the most voluminous of the big cones, but lavas from Medicine Lake are estimated to fill at least 140 cubic miles. It is a large basaltic shield volcano with numerous cinder cones and basalt floes along its slopes, perfect conditions for lava tubes. Beneath the recent Cascade volcanism is the southern extent of some of the Columbia River Basalt Flows, namely Steens Mountain Basalt and Painted Mountain Basalt flows.