Finding Mines

What started as an email conversation with Bert Smith ended with me traveling down a dirt trail through a narrow canyon Southeast of Electric City. On either side of me huge granite boulders the size of mountains formed steep unpassable cliffs. I had just left Little Forrest and as I traveled down the path the sun played hide and seek between the trees, there was a slight nip in the air. All around I could see signs of this path being traveled, after all it was a shortcut between Osborne and Electric City back in the 1930s and 1940s and was still in use. I could see the signs of campsites most likely left from hunters slowly fading into the fallen pine needles.

As I traveled along I listened to the wind in the bushes and the birds in the trees. It was very unlikely I would encounter anyone. I was following old trails behind the Electric City and Delano looking for lost mines, or at least, lost to the general public. I knew where one was, and going off multiple emails with Bert I had a general idea where to look for the other mines, but it was still a wild area full of overgrown vegetation and several miles wide and deep. As I neared the end of the valley pass I slowed up, turned off the trail and headed up the steep bank about 30 feet to the first mine. From the outside it looks like a cave, but when you get closer you can see it is a roughly hewed mine cut into a solid granite hill. I knew where this one was, a friend showed me. The entrance is less than 6 feet high making you feel like ducking when you enter. The inside smells damp, cold and a little musty, it is the shallowest of all the mines I would encounter in this outing, going back maybe 60 feet. From where I stood at the entrance I could see the sun touched the back illuminating the orange / white granite. The sides were all jagged like the ceiling, and the floor littered with little pieces of granite. The inside was white orangish granite, and a rusty vein ran down the back wall. I made my way back out pausing at the opening to take a look around. The area was very overgrown, but the trail easy going. I couldn’t really image being able to get a big haul out of here, if anyone did they must have used pack mules and elbow grease. I started a numbering system since I really didn’t know which mine or adit I was visiting, this would be #1. It was such a beautiful day, endless blue sky covered me like a blanket as I made my way down the slope back onto the trail.

I always carry a stick with me, and I was using it to clear brush in front of me as I made my way down the last of the narrow canyon and out into a field of yellow grass dotted with clumps of bunchgrass. I wanted to stay close to the wall looking for tell tale signs like dirt piles and rock walls, of which I found several. The rock walls seemed to be detaining walls holding back other rocks, and usually there were two sides, with an opening at the back and a dead end at a granite bluff. I’m sure I discovered undocumented dig sites as well in the rocks and granite hills behind Electric City.

As I made my way along the granite walls and rounded a bush and that is where I saw the second mine, actually an adit. It was sitting on top of a mound of dirt and looked like the mines you see on movies and cartoons with a rounded ceiling. Mine #2. This one I had never seen before. When I approached it I could see there was a indent in the ground right in front of the mines opening. Without stepping on the indent, I looked closer and could see that there was buried pieces of wood there. As always, I looked around the mine entrance real close for anything etched or written, but nothing. So I entered the mine. This one was much taller and better cut, stretching back into the dusk about 60 feet. The ceiling was at least 6 and a half feet, and tunnel itself about 4 and a half feet wide (the last one was about 3 and slightly claustrophobic). Again, the sun shone all the way to the back, only not as bright making the color of the granite and veins harder to determine. The air inside was dry and calm, but obviously still a place visited infrequently. From the mouth of the mine looking out I could clearly see the back of Electric City. It would be easy to get a truck and equipment here, if anything this spot seems highly obvious to me, and I bet it is what caused all the ruckus with the paper, and the ‘gold fever of Electric City’. It would be hard to do anything sneaky back here in the mid or late 1930s, especially with dynamite and trucks. I wondered which mine this was, it was obviously newsworthy in such plain sight. Taking a drink of water, I packed up my speculation and moved on. Before I got too far I ran into another one of those rock walls with a dig spot. I feel they are associated, but don’t know that much about mining. Before I started this excursion I didn’t even know the difference between an adit and a mine, and I still use the terms wrong.

I continued along the granite I noticed more campsite and the trail I was walking fanned out into what looked like an old road. I could see way up about 100 or more feet on the side of a very steep granite hill what might have been evidence of a dig site. The road and campsite could be hunters and construction people, campsites and old dirt roads are as common around here as sagebrush and cheatgrass. Still, I decided to climb up and check out what looked like a tell tale mound of dirt. There was a lightly defined trail headed up that zigged and zagged and was so steep I often had to grab rocks to make my way. When I got up there, about halfway up the granite hill, I was perched on a dirt ledge and in the back of it I could see a spot where the granite had been chipped away and there was a hole with pieces of wood in it. Mine #3. Looking closer I could identify the wood as a old pulley system, or the remains of one. It looks like it had been broken off and stuffed down the shaft along with a rock or two. As I pulled back to get a better look I noticed the top of the mine was shaped like a crown made out of orange granite, while the other granite that surrounded it was grayish white. By this time I was getting close to Delano and I knew that property lines might become an issue, and up ahead I could see the fence cutting me off from private land so I decided to continue up to that point. As I pushed forward on the game trails at the edge of the granite something caught my eye about 40 feet up in the bushes. It looked like a plywood door sitting on a mound of dirt, but as I made my way up I could see it was actually the metal door to the final mine I would find on this outing. Mine #4. As I stepped up onto the mound in the solid orangish granite wall I saw the opening, it was deep and dark, and a cold gust of air seemed to rush out of it at me invisibly. Then I knew I was standing in the same place that Bert stood with his friend that cold winter night, and soon I was about to pass through the same portal he had walked through 52 years ago. I knew Bert was going to shit. I smiled and took some pictures of Mine #4. It was deep, the light almost didn’t make it to the back, and most of the walls were covered in shadows. It was at least 100 feet deep as I gazed in wishing I had a flashlight. Even though the door lay on the ground behind me 7 or 8 feet, the broken wooden door frame still hung at the entrance. There was also a short basic cemented rock wall on both sides of the door that looks like it was to help support the door. The wall looked to be made of rocks taken from the dig site and was higher on one side. The shaft itself was at least 6 and a half feet, maybe 4 and a half feet wide, cut into solid granite and stretched back into the darkness. Looking back I could see what almost looked like rooms, but turned out to be spots where the mine widened to about 8 feet. Beyond that the tunnel traveled into a small room shaped area no bigger than 4 feet wide with a 3 foot wide opening. The air was moist at the back, and black shadows loomed on every wall and the length of the ceiling. From the back looking forward the entrance looked like a small porthole of light trying to illuminate the granate back wall. Again, it was orangish in hew like in the other mines. Later after reviewing the pictures taken on this day Bert Smith would identify the name ‘James O Black’ etched on the metal door laying in front of this mine. As I made my way back out of what was most likely the Black – Roseaur mine I stood in the opening a minute looking out over the fields and pastures of Electric City and Delano thinking about the rugged men who could and would risk life and limb dynamiting granite boulders, attacking them with picks and shovels, hammering at them with sledges and wedges, just for a handful of rocks and trace minerals. So much hard work for so little payoff. Maybe the miners of the granite hills behind Electric Citie’s legacy wasn’t the gold or silver retrieved from their hard work and lofty aspirations, but the holes filled with nothing left behind that mark their claim in the history of the Grand Coulee.

pictures from 2018




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