Our tour started at the new water treatment center near the Cliff Lodge at Snowbird. This is the place that treats all the water that bubbles up out of the ground that Alta and Snowbird uses, and the water district used this site to create a new onsite office for the whole system. Part of the office is devoted to some fun local history:
|Eagle's Nest, after being denuded and then re-forested as it is today. Upper LCC was pretty much strip-logged for lumber for the tunnels and to build the town.|
|wow, I hope that someday I could be honored with my own memorial sewer system! A civil engineer's highest honor...|
|This was a huge plug that they had to put in to keep the water funneled into the pipes on the sides|
|In addition to silver, there's also iron in them thar hills.|
|a pretty big system to keep that water nice for Alta and Snowbird|
|and clearly well-controlled. Note that they got the "Silver Bullet" brand of gizmo; only appropriate for silver mines?|
|lemme see, "approved drinking water, Backwash Tank"? clearly good engineers, not as good at marketing. |
|Noah trying some of said backwash drinking water. Looks like it's going quickly to his head!|
|this is just the system under the Emma ridges|
but then Keith took us to The Goods.
|old ore carts|
|Noah checking out some various goods|
|Silver miner or Dork?|
The miners used tar/tallow headlamps, and used the resulting grease to create graffiti:
Nearby is also the impromptu grave of a miner who was killed in a collapse; he resides there still.
|they were still mining in the 20's|
|I think that's a canary?|
|Is that Emma? or Black Bess?|
We wandered down some corridors that were in pretty good shape:
And some that got a little tight:
This crawl was a bit of a test for us for Keith, as he wanted to make sure that no one in our crew would freak at the claustrophobic nature of being deep, dark, and tight, because he wanted to take us to his special spot, that was only accessed by a bit of a sketchy climb:
We apparently passed the test, because he led us high into a cool room that he said he figured only about 50 people had been in over the last 30 years.
|Powderwhore or Silverminer?|
|Using the fixed line to get down. I guess you don't have to worry about UV degradation of the ropes!|
|A portrait of the boss.|
One of my fundamental questions about the tunnels was relevant to what's happening to the Mountain Accord: could existing tunnels be used as conduits to what UTA is proposing as the LCC/BCc connecting tunnel? Very simply: no. The rock we were in was a mix of limestone and quartzite (hard to believe they were able to blast through that in the 1800's; we saw a lot of old fuses and such) but the granite that is so obvious down at the mouth of Little Cottonwood is the layer that's tunnelable by today's standards, and that was a couple/few hundred feet up from where we were. So the tunnel would somehow have to get up the hill a ways in order to go through.
I asked Keith about the proposed trans tunnel, and he was mixed; there was no doubt that it could be done, but was it really worth all the effort, and who would benefit? (a question we share!)
I asked him about the train up LCC, and he was cautiously in favor of it; he thinks that it "could" be done so that the precious LCC water was not compromised, and he said that the worst thing for that creek are the 2.3 gazillion tons of salt poured on the road all winter, so if a train could help alleviate that, then that's a good thing. But at what cost?
I went into this tour thinking that I'd need about an hour to get the gist of what went on under the Little Cottonwood ridgeline, but when we popped back out into the sunlight almost 4 hours had flown by! It was intended to be a fact-finding mission to learn more about the potential interconnection the canyons, but the truth is that it was just a rare opportunity to go deep into the running historical narrative by our great guide Keith and the minor thrill of stepping back into a pretty hardscrabble time.
Thanks to Todd for the (actually good, as opposed to my very mediocre) pics, to Newell Jensen of SLC for setting up the tour, and to Keith, who is probably not that far from retirement and definitely needs to figure out how to privatize his little chunk of underground paradise and guide other folks through his beloved maze!