Soooo… My last trip for a while took me – and Son – to the Far Far Far North. To get to the Far Far North you have to cross the BIG MAC – the Mackinaw Bridge, a wonder of engineering. The five-mile long bridge that connects the two parts of the state of Michigan.
To get to the Far Far Far North, we had even more traveling to do, and only four days to do it.
We squeezed a lot in those four days. First day was travel; a full day of travel, stopping in to see my Friend-With-The-Camera – briefly – (he lives near the Big Mac) – then on to the smoked fish store, then on to the pasty store, then on to a family visit, of sorts, then on to our motel, with more northward driving waiting for us in the morning!
The next two days were stuffed full with our intended northern activities. We actually went as far north as a person can go in our country, east of the Mississippi River: 47.2+ degrees latitude. This is looking northward into chilly Lake Superior, with the rocks standing out in the fog bank.
One of our “intended activities” was foremost on Son’s mind: to explore an actual copper mine. The area up there is very hilly, with ancient mountains that used to be higher than the Rockies. They are now covered by thick forest. It’s populated by the usual denizens of a northern forest…bear, moose, wolves…some people.
This is known as Copper Country because of the many millions of tons of copper taken out of the ground over the last two or three thousand years – perhaps fueling the development of the Bronze Age in Europe and the Middle East. Eventually along the edge of the narrow road we found the sign we were looking for: “Delaware” ! The Delaware Mine.
We turned in, followed the even narrower road, and parked the car on the edge of a giant slag heap. This is what was thrown out by the mining operations…not enough copper in the “slag.”
One very friendly older man worked there. Only one man, with a pet skunk. I held out my fingers toward him. He was a very shy little skunk who cuddled deeper into the man’s arms after one sniff of me. (hmmmph)
The man told us that we would first have to listen to a short video (so we knew how to act in a mine) and then we’d have to choose a hardhat that fit us.
He told us the “tour” of the mine was self-directed, there would be rough, uneven ground to walk on, a long stairway down and then up when we’re done, stay inside the barriers, don’t run or make sudden moves so you don’t wake up the bats…that’s about it. We could hardly wait!
We were directed to a little shed “way down there.” That would be our entrance into the mine. With a deep breath, we made our way downward….
It seemed like so much fun we didn’t even think of the rickety wooden stairs as a challenge….just…they were slippery and wet and a little rotten in places. We were going to descend 100 feet on them. (This was the good part while I could still take pictures.)
And then, at the bottom. . . .
And the walkway:
And. . .
You probably get the idea. But there was so much to do – and to see – and to experience – and to imagine! There was a variety of colors and textures and things left behind by the actual miners from several generations ago. There were holes in the walls through which you could peer down into deep chasms, and there were “collapsed” areas that led into deep debris-filled channels. There were signs of blasting holes and rock faces cut just so, to allow the broken rock wall portions to fall in just the right place, widening the walls rather than creating obstructions.
I had brought my radiation detector (like a Geiger counter) and son and I frequently checked the CPM’s, the Counts Per Minute. Somewhere around “30” is normal background radiation. We were finding over 200!
There were seams of white quartz, maybe, or Chalcedon, and white fuzzy moldy stuff here and there, and what I thought was whitish bat guano. Then we found a little moth that was overcome by a white something.
Son used his cell phone flashlight app so I could get a picture of it. The moth was almost fossilized with a white crystalline substance. It was the only other living thing . . . .formerly living thing.
We walked a lot down there. I don’t know how much time we spent. Time seemed irrelevant to us, but I’m sure it was very important to the many men who worked down here. It would have been stuffy and damp, cramped and very noisy, dangerous and dark.
How happy they must have been at the end of each shift to see the sky at the top of the stairway:
It was worth that long climb just to see the light of day – even though it was a misty, foggy day.
Once outdoors we walked a trail that took us to the old ruins of stone mining buildings and left-behind, rusting machines. This one reminded me how very noisy it must have been around there a hundred years ago:
There were giant pistons and giant pipes. . . .
But we really came to look for copper. We went back to another part of that huge slag heap. You can’t be afraid of heights around there!
It’s a long, long way down!
Son looked around for a long time, picking up and examining the rocks. And then – he actually found some copper! He knew just what to look for, a thin, flat, slightly curved small rock of just the right color.
He showed me how the piece could bend slightly, and inside was the shiny copper-colored copper.
Another trail led to an ancient mining site. All kinds of digging artifacts have been found, as well as the crevice the ancient people had made by pouring boiling water into the cold rocks, and then banging and banging until pieces of the rock fell off. Much of it contained usable copper.
This is a “banging” tool. (My name for it.) You held it in your hand and your fingers fit into that light-colored groove that was carved all around the rock. Then you just smashed it into the side of the cleft that was made in the rock crevices. Or something. Brute force.
The whole day hit very close to ‘home.” My dear father worked in a mine up there when he was 21 and 22 years old – my father, using his sensitive guitar-playing fingers to work in a mine. . . .until an accident crushed his chest, and he didn’t have to work there anymore.
My grandfather worked in a mine for 40 years. I hadn’t known anything about his life underground.