is nothing quite like finding an abandoned mine site for the rock and
treasure hunter. These areas, needless to say, are loaded with
dangers, but when you go to a mine site with an awareness of the
dangers, a clear head, and with common sense in full function, you can
count on many hours of entertaining and, often, rewarding search.
Tailings and site areas can contain a wide variety of mineral and gem
material. Because miners were basically interested in what they were
mining for in particular, other materials were often overlooked and
discarded in the tailings. Some of the nicest crystals I have ever
found have come from mine tailings. I have also found tourmaline,
garnet, sapphire and many other minerals.
What you can find will
vary by area, but you can often pick up some of the mined materials as
well. A caution about tailings is that they may contain the residue of
mining chemicals, radiation, and sometimes, especially in gold mining
areas, arsenic (arsenic is actually a metal found in rocks and can be very
concentrated in gold mining areas).
Tailings are not the only
areas you want to hunt when looking for gem materials. Any small ravines
under the mines will catch materials that roll downhill and are often
ignored by hunters.
Any railroad track areas
leading from mining areas are great places to hunt for the mineral mined
in that area as rocks would tumble from trains in transport. If you can
find a spot that a train has derailed and hunt downhill, you are bound to
turn up quantities of mineral bearing rock on the mountainside. Library
news archives are great places to find old news articles about such
events, so you may want to do some research if you are planning your trip
out in advance. It is a good idea to check with local Chamber of Commerce
before heading out to the area. They can tell you about restricted hunting
areas or sometimes will know of good areas not listed on maps.
They can also tell you if
the rocks in that area contain any radioactivity before hunting in that
area or use scanning devices when you get there if you have one. Uranium
might be valuable but you really don't want to unwittingly wallow in it.
Artifacts are another great attraction in
mining areas. It is not at all uncommon to find old coins, tools, and
weapons in tailings and around the mining site. Sometimes you will get
lucky and find mine camps with the remains of old buildings or miners
cabins. Searching these areas can turn up all kinds of articles left or
lost my miners. When hunting artifacts you want to check building walls
and floors, fireplace walls, and to the right and left of outside of doors
as many times these people buried or hid their belongings and caches in
such spots. In cases of the owners unexpected death, these items sometimes
remain where they were hidden.
Old buildings on or around mine sites can
contain their own dangers, however. Many old miners cabins and buildings
have mine shafts in the buildings. Stepping on old boards that cover the
shaft can be a rude and final awakening for the careless hunter. Any time
you enter an old cabin, be very careful about where you step. Make sure
the boards are solid and that you have footing that will allow you not
fall through if a board should give out.
Some of these shafts can run hundreds of
feet straight down and don't allow much hope of survival if you should
fall into them. If you see that a piece of flooring is noticeably
different from the rest, or noticeably removable, do not step on it
for any reason unless you can actually see that there is solid ground
right underneath you. Never guess about this one as a wrong guess may
be the last one you ever get.
Old mining areas will
invariably contain one or more mining shafts or a tunnel. These need to be
avoided at all costs. Never step on a board over a mining hole. Even if a
hole is filled in and looks solid, it can't safely be assumed to be safe.
Sometimes enough debris will collect to make the hole look solid, but you
may get a very rude surprise if you step down onto it. Tunnels hold many
dangers and should not be explored no matter how safe they appear.