The Knitting Nurse

Rambles and Travels

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Independence Mine at Hatcher Pass – Mining in the Sky

I have  a thing for poking around old mines. Visit some HERE and HERE and HERE.

At the southwest end of the Talkeetna Mountains (which also house Denali) Hatcher Pass is under two hours from Anchorage.  There, one can hike, ski, bike, kayak, rock climb and more amongst granite, creeks, and rivers.   The pass is closed until July.  Sighting past the locked gates it looks like a little slice of heaven up there.

Independence Mine sits below the pass in what’s called the Willow Creek Mining District.

1906 marked the first efforts at Placer Mining. Flakes of gold eroded from veins of quartz, washing down into streams. If men were lucky, they found their way into their pans.

The search for the “Mother Lode” inevitably followed,  AKA “Hardrock” mining.  Necessitating tunnels, heavy equipment and lots of labor, companies formed. The Alaska Free Gold (Martin) Mine on Skyscraper Mountain and Independence Mine on Granite Mountain merged, becoming Alaska-Pacific Consolidated Mining Company (APC).  With a block of 83 claims spanning 1,350 acres plus and home to 27 structures the men blasted out 12+ miles of tunnels.

Note the terrain.  What an accomplishment that was.

Here’s a pic looking down onto the mine and another above it from a steep hike to a pleasant perch.  All the silver-colored buildings far below comprise the Independence Mine.  I forgot the name of the plain-colored mine in the foreground:



In its peak year, 1941, APC employed 204 men and produced 34,416 ounces of gold worth $1,204,560 at the time.  These days that’s translates to $17,208,000.  Whoa.

Looking up from below the buildings using binoculars, I spied tram stations, tunnel portions, buildings on the very tippy-top skyline and talus piles.  Those miners must have been part mountain goat to work at such heights.



From what I read while checking out the buildings, it seemed a pretty mellow place (unlike Bodie, CA.) The men lived in bunkhouses. Women were not allowed in camp.  “Boomtown,” a collection of 22 families, lived just up the road.  A male teacher was brought in (per the people’s request)  to deal with surly children.  One woman wrote she left Boomtown maybe once a year and ordered most of her supplies via the Montgomery Ward Catalog.  Imagine the isolation?  I wonder if she felt lonely?

There isn’t much of the mill left but one can see how the building flowed downhill, using water and gravity to complete the process of sifting apart the ore.  


A wee closer in:




Hoofed it up past the upper mine to the top of a hill (right behind the top of the brown structure in the photo below.) 



 Behind me, a horseshoe of granite wrapped around, housing a hidden lake another abandoned mine (with newer buildings). and a tiny chalet-like structure that had ski tracks leading to it.  A Forest Service hut perhaps?  A private building?  


Check out the chalk on this boulder:



Saw some really short bolted routes on the walk back down.  The Anchorage area is not know for rock climbing.  Sure miss CO for that fix.

This is a beautiful area!

I plan to return and take this route when I head to Denali in a month or so.  Updates on future travels later.



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East Side of the Sierras Part 2 of ? – Masonic, CA, More Relics of the Gold Rush

A docent at Bodie recommended a side trip to the ruins of former mining town MASONIC.  It was a great side-trip.

One leaves Bodie (below) and heads out a dirt road for 16+ miles.  At first I thought is was 2WD but in time it proved 4WD.  Rain would make it miserable.


It was a gorgeous day.  Though only in the 70’s, at 8,000′ the sun was strong.  More like the high desert climate I’m used to I was in paradise.   Though I love my perch by the ocean, I really miss dry heat, having a little less air over my head and sweeping vistas of both nothing-ness and topographical relief.

That drive, though short in miles, took some time.  I poked along, at times needing 4WD.  There were plenty of “rest stops” to just sit, snack, and take it all in.

Less than 2 miles from the NV border and less than, oh, 15 miles from the feet of the Sierras the views didn’t stop:

Some background on MASONIC:

A 16-year-old young man from nearby Bodie found gold in the Masonic gulch in 1900. He named his claim Jump Up Joe Mine.  Small claims followed.

1907 brought the Pittsburg-Libery 10 stamp mill. This grew into a mining district some 6×12 miles in area with >40 claims.  Pittsburg grew to include a mill and a cyanide plant with a cable-bucket tram system enabling them to process their  own ore, eliminating the costly shipment of it to outside mills.  It was considered one of the best producing mines on the CA/NV border at that time.

MASONIC boomed, like most of these mining towns.  Unlike most, though, it was considered a ‘clean’ town with no (unbelievably) churches and (more unbelievably) no brothels.  At most, 1,000 resided there with the population plummeting to 12 registered voters in 1924.

Some remains:

A lone inhabitant:

Leaving the mine, on top of New York Hill (don’t you just wonder who and why named it that?) Dark rain clouds moved in along with gusts of wind and I was the tallest thing around.  I didn’t dawdle as I wished to.  The view was spectacular. I wonder if they appreciated it?  Masonic sits in the gulch below the trees in the bottom of the photo.

A few roads leading to unknown places caught my eye.

Pointed west down hill where the road terminates at Bridgeport.  Found more.

The CHEMUNG MINE is 3 miles west of Masonic.  Rapidly decaying, it functioned from 1909-38 with a brief occupancy (by what sounds like an eccentric and unhealthy but friendly old man) in the 50’s.

I was wary to enter. Being solo, I don’t enter structures.  Though judging from the online postings many have stepped into this rickety skeleton. It’s reputed as haunted.  The story is, a nasty owner was thrown into a mine shaft.

I’d like to share a fascinating book I picked up in Bodie.  The Mining Camp Speaks, by Beth and Bill Sagstetter.  From Denver, this couple’s compiled the ultimate reference book to understand the flotsam and jetsam of mine ruins.  Everything you ever wanted to know about machinery, types of structures, down to items in trash piles are spelled out here.  Nibbling at the book since the trip, I’m learning bunches.

It will come with on my next foray.  Perhaps I’ll better be able to ID a rusted generator, an assayer’s crucible, or gain a clue of the date of the  camp from the type of can I spot.

Beth and Bill Sagstetter, The Mining Camp Speaks

They’ve also written a similar book about Cliff Dwellings and have many published papers and research out there.  I hope to catch a talk by them when back in  CO.

Until then, dreaming of the next  out…

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East Side of the Sierras Part One of ? – This is Bodie, CA

A couple months ago (I’m really late posting this trip) I spent 6 days on the east side of the Sierras.  I love it out there.

Death Valley in all its stark splendor shares the same stretch of road as saphire-blue lakes tucked below mountains topping out at 14,000+ feet.  Stands of gnarly, ancient pine perch above dusty hills peppered with volcanic rock.  Secret and not-so-secret hot springs  beckon.  Small towns that thrive on catering to the people who recreate host family run cafes, hotels, coffee-shops.  The entrance to the east end of Tuolumne/Yosemite also beckons.

Would be an isolated place to live. Work would be scarce. But I guess that’s what’s kept is as beautiful and quiet as it is.


Bodie is a ghost-mining town. Located about 75 miles southeast of Lake Tahoe it’s tucked into the Bodie hills at 8300 some feet with views looking into both Nevada and the Sierra Mountains.   On my radar for years, each time passing the road’s been closed to snow.  This time all systems go.

Bodie’s in an ARRESTED STATE OF DECAY. This means people left.  Belongings and artifacts stayed behind.  Suffering much vandalism the area was made a park in 1962.  Full-time staff live there using snowmobiles in the winter to procure necessities.  The park was threatened to be closed in 2009 but made it through the budget scare.  CA’s parks are threatened. Hope  it continues to stay open.

A superb resource for more photos, stories and info on the mining process can be found HERE.  It’s well worth the click.

The largest mill is silver on the left. Tailings piles sit behind.  There were numerous mines, at one time only 2 of some 30 were profitable.  This is what led to the  collapse of the town. The 1940 War Production Board order forced the closure.

170 buildings remain of the 2,000 that once stood.  Fires, vandalism and time took their toll.

The brick bldg is the Dechambeau Hotel with the I.O.O.F bldg (stands for International Order Of Odd Fellows, a Union I believe) leaning into it.

Check out Cecile Vargo’s blog. She shares a wealth of Bodie history.

Used as a Park Ranger residence this is the J.S. Caine home. He owned most of the town.  It’s gotta be creepy living up there mid-winter with just a few around.

Inside the museum.  Now that’s a hearse with a view!  Modeled after the Abraham Lincoln hearse, there’s a coffin in it. Did they temper glass back then? According to one of the park aides, people dressed well treating parties and social events as grand affairs involving formal dress.

Inside the Boone store.

Looks like they practiced safe sex.  There was a sizable Red Light District and some 65 saloons.

Took the tour of the Standard Stamp Mill. Best 45 minutes there.  I believe our Park Aide’s name was John.  He lives up there.  He eats, sleeps and breathes the history of this town.  In his own gruff way he took us through the mine explaining the stamp process of crushing the ore, the chemicals used for extracting the minerals and much more.  So much, my head overflowed with it all.  I’d love to go back for a second round.

After using mules to transport ore from the hills in the background to the mill they devised a tram-like system.  It’s baffling what it took to get that gold out.

Stamps. Each weighing a ton, they moved rhythmically up and down, crushing the ore, which flowed over mercury coated plates releasing gold.  “Mad as a hatter?”  You bet. Many died from the poisonous mercury though there were no mercury-related deaths listed in official records, only “pneumonia” deaths which they contracted but from the weakened immune system mercury causes.

The noise inside that mill must’ve been deafening. Bees’ wax was used in their ears but still…

Yikes!  No OSHA back then.

Electricity came in eventually, allowing a generator to power the mill. No more coal. It was expensive. Needless to say, the wiring wasn’t up to code.

This place fascinated me and I can only hope I’ll have another trip out there before snow flies.  A “behind-the-scenes” tour’s offered of the closed area behind the Standard Mill.  Must take it.  I know the US’s archeological artifacts are a pittance to other countries.  But…it’s reassuring to see places such as Bodie preserved, studied and loved by many.