Before I got to Quartzsite for the Rubber Tramps Rendezvous (RTR), my new friend Iggy told me about the hikes he’d taken the year before near the site of the RTR and the abandoned (and not so abandoned) mines he’d discovered out on that BLM land. It sounded cool and interesting, and I said I wanted to see an abandoned mine too. Iggy and I went on a hike the day after we both arrived, but we had to turn around to beat the sunset before we ever got to a mine. After that, I was always too tired or too busy to go hiking with Iggy, and then the RTR ended and we went our separate ways.
I went to Ajo, AZ next and spent a few days boondocking on the BLM land adjacent to the Ajo Scenic Loop. One morning, as I was driving down the loop, headed into town, I saw a sign that said Abandoned Mine. What? I thought about Iggy of course, so that afternoon after parking the van in my spot, I walked down the road to see the mine. I didn’t have to hike or climb or avoid cacti to get to the mine. It was right next to the road. I took a couple of photos, and that was that.
The most interesting thing I learned was that Arizona has a state mine inspector. Who knew?
Before I wrote this post, I decided to do a quick Google search on abandoned mines on BLM land. I learned a few things on a couple of BLM webpages too.
According to a Bureau of Land Management webpage (http://www.blm.gov/wo/st/en/prog/more/Abandoned_Mine_Lands.html),
BLM maintains an inventory of known abandoned mine lands on public lands. Most of the sites are abandoned hardrock mines. As of April 18, 2014, the inventory contained nearly 46,000 sites and 85,000 features. Approximately 23% of the sites have either been remediated, have reclamation actions planned or underway, or do not require further action. The remaining 80% require further investigation and/or remediation. [Emphasis theirs]
Here are some pertinent questions and answers from http://www.blm.gov/wo/st/en/prog/more/Abandoned_Mine_Lands/frequently_asked_questions.html:
What is an abandoned mine?
The AML [Abandoned Mine Lands] program addresses hardrock mines on or affecting public lands administered by BLM, at which exploration, development, mining, reclamation, maintenance, and inspection of facilities and equipment, and other operations ceased as of January 1, 1981…with no intention of resuming active operation.
For many abandoned mines, no current claimant of record or viable potentially responsible party exists.
What are examples of AML hazards?
- Physical hazards: Unsecured AML sites pose a risk of death or serious injury by falling down open mine shafts.
- Human health hazards: Exposure to toxic gases and chemicals, cave-ins, explosives, and water hazards endanger human health.
- Environmental hazards: Water contaminated by mine tailings threatens nearby communities and destroys habitats.
Which types of sites become cleanup priorities?
The decision is made on a site-by-site basis, but typically the following factors are taken into consideration when determining priorities.
For physical safety sites:
- Safety: Death or injury has occurred;
- Public use: Have high public visitation;
- Accessibility: Are easily accessible;
- Population: Are located nearby populated areas;
- Cost: Have cost-effective partnerships available.
What are some of the ways BLM addresses hazards at abandoned mine sites?
BLM addresses physical safety hazards associated with abandoned mine sites by:
- Posting warning signs and fencing off access to dangerous areas;
- Closing horizontal opening (adits) to keep people out. Where bats are present, BLM uses bat gates that allow them to use the adit for habitat;
- Closing vertical openings (shafts) either by filling them, or by covering them with little roofs (cupolas); and/or
- Removing and properly disposing hazards such as mining and milling equipment, oil and chemical drums, and other debris.
This aforementioned webpage also says that as of January 2, 2015, the number of known abandoned mine sites in Arizona was 6,229.