In my travels, I have been in mines that took me down shafts deep below the earth. These were unplanned but very interesting experiences. One mine I visited in South Dakota was in full operation. I had never been in a mine, but I was asked if I wanted to go down. The company was mining primarily for silver and nickel. I went down with several people including a crew manager. The shaft went down hundreds of feet to one of the big tunnels where heavy equipment was operating. One of the drills with a diamond bit was brought up to our level for us to see the contents. The miners were searching for more veins of ore below them. I was given a hard piece of rock in the shape of a prism from that bit.
A few years after that I was traveling and sightseeing in Ontario, Canada, when my car broke down in a rural area. During the several days it took to get parts and have the car repaired, I stayed in a hotel. Someone invited me to see the nickel mines. It was an impressive operation on a grand scale. Geologists there had found valuable ore where a meteorite had made a huge, volcanic-shaped hole in the earth, miles in diameter. A few weeks ago, I was in Northern Quebec, near Labrador, and we stayed in a mining complex. The great mines there were mainly iron ore.
While climbing Mt Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, Africa, my expedition leader spent time talking with me about minerals being found all around and on this massive mountain. On the day of our summit, he spent time on the very peak looking for a new discovery, while I barely had enough breath to find one rock to bring down as my souvenir. After my successful climb, Clive, my leader & guide, took me to his friend’s wholesale office, and I brought home a Tanzanite from a mine near the base of the mountain. A while after I had been back in the United States, I learned from the news that the mines from where my Tanzanite was found had caved in, killing over 100 workers, and the mine had been closed.
But now I am thinking about mining on a local level for Maine gemstones. Where there are mountains there will be gems, like the saying, “There’s gold in dem hills.” Many years ago, although I had never gone mining to seek gems, I thought it would be a great teaching experience and a fun activity for my Cub Scouts. I researched nearby places, checked one out, and made preparations to go. It was a fun adventure and the boys each found a little treasure: a rose quartz, a sliver of tourmaline, or crystallized quartz.
My college roommate had read that there were mines in the area where I lived, and she asked if we could go mining together. We didn’t have great tools, but we brought along a couple of hammers, a sieve, and a small pick or two, and we spent the day hoping to find the perfect gem and get rich. A few years ago, I took my grandchildren for a teaching experience about minerals: they were great sports and eager beavers, digging into a few rock piles, but after a few hours it was time to hit the beach on that hot day.
The Maine gemstone is tourmaline. When mining was big many years ago, Maine was one of the only places in the United States where tourmaline was heavily mined. During that time, granite and marble were quarried for large buildings in Boston, New York, and Washington, D.C. Jewelers are still buying amethysts, tourmaline, garnet, and blue beryl from Maine miners. While hiking, I have come upon abandoned mines that have not been active for a century. Most are abandoned quarries, some filled with water, which teens would seek as swimming holes, and outlaws would ditch stolen cars there. On the Appalachian Trail, I hiked through mining country where coal and iron ore pits had caused great damage—grass and trees would not grow. For miles, it was like walking on the moon.
For me, hiking is always an adventure, and finding an old mine is exciting. It is one more reason to get out in nature and get a little exercise, have fun, and do something a little different. It is an experience to see a mine in operation and to learn what is produced from ore and minerals. Mining is just a little touch on my life with fun memories.
(posted December 15, 2015)