Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Finding a Thesis: Up to the Millsite and Back Again

We paused our expedition in the Silver Peak area, after passing through a rusty, out-of-service gate in Eagle Canyon and arriving at a locked gate farther up the northern road to the top of Mineral Ridge.

My goal in trying to gain access to Mineral Ridge was to check out the Mary Mine: It was one of several old mines on my list of possible thesis areas. In order to see what I was trying to do, let's look once again at the maps. And remember from my previous three posts about the Silver Peak area, there were no mines shown on the old 2° map, so I won’t show that map again: The 2° sheet was useless to me.
Here again is the SW portion of the Silver Peak 15' map, courtesy USGS.
On the Silver Peak 15’ map, the Mary Mine is shown as an adit just below the main road to the Mary-Drinkwater complex in the NW 1/4 of section 6.
Here I've zoomed in to our area of interest on the Silver Peak 15' quad, and I've added Spurr's locations for the Drinkwater, Mary, and Last Chance Mines.
Which mine was I aiming for? I was shooting for the Mary Mine, the only mine named on this part of the 15' map. As for other mine names and locations, I would have gone with the names Spurr used in his 1906 report: Spurr was there when the mines were first active and had just been named, so surely his locations were correct. My other options for accurately identifying which mine was which would have been to return to Silver Peak to locate an oldtimer or two to see what they might say—and some of the oldtimers would have been extant back then, but they are now mostly long gone—or to go to the Esmeralda County courthouse in Goldfield in order to research the names of the old claims and patents.

As we can see above, Spurr had the Drinkwater located up the old road, the one that is still hand-rocked in a couple places. Spurr put the Mary Mine at the site of an old mill complex, and he placed the Last Chance Mine in Custer Gulch, which is south to southeast of Eagle Canyon. The old mill isn't shown on the 15' map, and Custer Gulch isn't named.

The Drinkwater, probably a single operating mine or even a single claim when Spurr visited in 1906, was shown on the 1963 map above—and on the 1987 map below—as a complex of shafts, adits, and prospects near the head of Eagle Canyon (and now it's covered in part by a more recent open pit). It was the Drinkwater complex that I could see from below, and it was what I headed for when I left my Opel.

As for the Mary Mine itself, for this narrative I'll take it as the adit located not far above Spurr's location. And I’ll take the Last Chance Mine as the set of shafts, adits, and prospects in Custer Gulch (see below).
A portion of the Silver Peak 7.5' quad, courtesy USGS. The arrow shows the probable location of the Opel in 1976. This map was published in 1987, long after my thesis quest had ended.
I love the names on some of these maps! And, gosh, the Mary Mine isn’t even shown on this more detailed, more recent 7.5' quad. Spurr’s Mary Mine location is the same as what's shown above as “WT – Ruins” in the north-central part of Section 6.

I parked the Opel—as near as I can tell from my 1976 memory and from the memory I have of going up and down that road several, I mean innumerable, times in the 1980s and 1990s (mostly down, because that was the most impressive direction to travel, last attempted in 2000 when the road didn’t go through due to locked gates)—on the "road" (remember, the road was washed out) just below the red/blue arrow.

As for the old road, maybe you can see it here on this enlarged Google Earth view, up near the pass to the other side of the hill near the Oromonte and Wedge Mines, where I used to work back in the 1980s. A good portion of the hand-rocked road has been destroyed since I last drove it sometime in the 1990s.
The old road is the upper one, shaded on its lower side because of the hand-built rock wall that holds it up.

The view driving down the old road was truly spectacular, and the drive was breathtaking, even hair-raising if you had never seen a road like that. The road was incredibly narrow, wide enough to drive down but no wider, and it was quite rocky. The effect, for the driver, was one of intensified concentration: It was an exercise in dodging rocks and making sure the left tires never went over the edge. The edge, a seemingly endless drop off to the north, was ever present, right there where a driver might usually prefer to place the left-front tire (once the left-front or right-front tire is placed, according to one’s best judgement hopefully based on past experience, the position of the rest of the vehicle, in this case a mid-80s Ford half-ton pickup, naturally follows). I thought of it as the scenic route: a route not taken daily because it took longer to get back to Silver Peak, a route that took even longer as a side trip on the way back to Reno from the south. It was also a fun route, fun because I could navigate the road with aplomb: I could dodge this rock to the left or right by careful placement of the front tires; I could make sure the front differential missed some critically high or pointed rock near the center of the road; I could place the left tire as close to the nearly overhung edge as needed, providing that the berm, if present, wasn't too soft to drive on.
Google Earth view from the old road, looking off to the north, down Echo Canyon toward the Monte Cristo Range.
It was also fun to take a passenger down that road, especially if they had never seen so precipitous a road or so expansive an overview. This historic, hand-built road, with a superbly constructed rock wall holding up the steep, north side, was not intrinsically dangerous, and it wasn’t the narrowest or sheerest road I had ever driven up by the mid-1980s, but with the extremely spacious view out the front windshield, it was impressive to anyone who had not been up or down a road quite like that. I remember unease and tension from some less experienced passengers (hopefully it wasn’t my driving!).
Google Earth view from the old road looking east. The cinder cone called "The Crater" is the dark blob left of center in the basin (Clayton Valley).

After hiking uphill a ways,  I come to the part of the road that curves around an unused core shack (which is there from my future memory, at least, and which may have been built by Freeport or some other mining company after my 1976 visit, although they may have used one of the old buildings, maybe this one).

Across from the shack stands the dark, often silhouetted skeleton of an old mill (see this photo), swaying and creaking and rumbling in the wind. I look at the rocks scattered around the rusty old mill and see a lot of chunks of weathered quartz vein, leftovers from the district’s historic mining. I ponder the strange batch of unfamiliar rocks. I’m completely baffled.

Looking away from the rocks around the mill, I look up toward the mountain, noticing how far it is to the main part of the Mary-Drinkwater complex, up a road I won’t be able to access in my Opel. The view of the stark, nearly treeless mountain—something I wasn't used to back then, having just arrived in the west from my forested, eastern previous life—conspires to make my goal recede away from me, up the oddly elongated road into terrain that looks more formidable than seems possible, even given the area’s legitimately barren countenance.

Remnants of the mill continue to make eerie, creaking sounds. The place is ghostly, almost haunted. I’m unreasonably spooked.

I make my way through the wreckage and the leaverite rocks. I marvel at the view—the broad reaches of the basin more than 2000 feet below, the ragged heights of the ridges more than 1100 feet above.
A view of Clayton Valley from Eagle Canyon, though not from the old millsite.
I survey the wide expanse of Clayton Valley to the east and the confusion of hills and mountains beyond. The red and black cone of The Crater, formed of steeply reposing cinders, rests below me at the junction of fan and basin. Behind me, the northeastern slopes of Mineral Ridge—cut by various canyons and gulches, scrabbly-looking and with loose and fragmented rocks just waiting to give way beneath an unsuspecting boot—are capped by a nearly horizontal surface and by two slanted, oval mounds of rock that rise above that surface, one to an elevation of nearly 8400 feet. After a while I hike back downhill to my car. The old mill, enduring weather, time, and passing-through geologists, is now behind me. I haven’t lost the creepy feeling; in fact, it has intensified. I stop to look over my shoulder a few times, feeling strongly like I’m being watched or followed. Surely a mountain lion is behind me, stalking, as they sometimes do when you’re out in the field walking around by yourself. They aren’t usually up to any mischief: They’re just curious. Back then, however, I wasn’t used to things like that, and I couldn’t shake the eerie feeling. Nevertheless, when I got back to my car, I made camp, albeit just a little farther down the road.

Will this be the spot? I have one more place to visit.

Related Posts:
Thesis: Finding an Area
Finding a Thesis: Battle Mountain to Austin to Gabbs
Finding a Thesis: Pole Line Road
Finding a Thesis: Pole Line to Belmont
Finding a Thesis: Klondyke District
Finding a Thesis: A Joshua Tree Aside
Finding a Thesis: Into the Palmetto Mountains
Finding a Thesis: Farther into the Palmetto Mountains
Finding a Thesis: A Bit O' Geology in the Palmetto Mountains
Finding a Thesis: Future Stories from the Palmetto Mountains
Lida Summit Roadcut
Finding a Thesis: Next Stop, Silver Peak!
Finding a Thesis: Coming into Clayton Valley
Finding a Thesis: On the Southern Route to Mineral Ridge
Finding a Thesis: The Northern Route onto Mineral Ridge and a Little Geology


Matthew von der Ahe said...

I really enjoy these posts. Makes me wanna go there. Makes me wanna try to convince my SO that Esmerelda County would be a perfectly rational vacation destination.

Thanks for sharing.

Silver Fox said...

Thanks! Probably spring and fall are best, and even winters when it hasn't been too rainy/snowy to create mud on roads across playas and over volcanic and shaly formations.