What lured the early settlers and adventure seekers to the vast territory of the American West? In a word: Gold. Early exploitation of minerals and ores were greatly hampered by the lack of economical milling and transportation resources. Unprocessed ore was frequently transported overland in pack trains to seaport locations like San Francisco. From there, the ore might have been shipped around the horn to a mill on the east coast. As the railroad system expanded in the 1870’s and beyond, the extraction of less valuable metals, such as silver, copper and manganese became more viable endeavors. Eastern industrialists and speculators became more willing to invest in prospects – often without proper due diligence. Mining activity exploded and, as a result, there are many thousands of abandoned mines in the West and Southwest today.
How could that bit of history factor into your planning and preparation if you have to deal with a SHTF scenario? Let’s say you made the decision to shelter in place, but now your regional or area security has deteriorated, and you need to move yourself or family to a safer location; if only for a few days or weeks? What if you don’t have that ideal piece of land in the mountains with a lake or trout stream to retreat to? You have an exigent need to abandon your preferred location because it is about to be compromised.
The answer could be a specific type of mine structure known as an adit.
Within a one hour driving radius of my home there are more than four hundred abandoned hard rock mines. That may seem like a startling statistic, but historical records indicate that my state has more than 100,000 mines dating from the 1850’s through the depression era of the 1930’s. Some of these were good producers of ore and have extensive underground workings. Others never got beyond the ‘prospect’ stage of development, yet still managed to establish one or more tunnels, adits, shafts, drifts and/or stopes. Some of them have been destructively collapsed by the BLM in recent time, others are unsafe or possess unsuitable characteristics; but many surviving mines can be used for temporary occupation if you know where they are and have the means to get to them.
A cursory examination of geological survey maps in any western state will give you an appreciation for the number of hard rock mines (named or otherwise) that were developed in the west. Map symbols that denote the location of shafts, adits and tunnels provide only a partial census of mining activity. In other words, the number of mine workings greatly exceeds what you will find on any map or reference site. I should add that older geological survey maps tend to provide better information than ‘newer’ editions.
I would be completely remiss if I did not warn you that abandoned mines should be treated with utmost caution, at all times. If you are like the vast majority of people, you will have no working knowledge of underground mines. Frankly, the act of reckless exploration makes you the primary source of risk to yourself and others. People die in abandoned mines because they were uninformed, ignored indicators that would have been obvious to an experienced individual, or they were reckless thrill seekers.
This article is emphatically not about exploring deep subterranean passages or rappelling down vertical shafts; those are activities that, at best, should be left to experts or avoided entirely. Rather, this article attempts to provide you with an option for the use of a specific mine feature; one that bears no practical risk to the safety of you or your family if you use good judgment.
Stay clear of mines with vertical or incline/decline shaft entrances. Aside from the fact that they are not practical selections for shelter, many shafts are flooded at some depth. Moreover, shafts that have no protective collar at the opening may have loose, slippery material. Mine tunnels and adits frequently have vertical passages in the interior that connect to lower workings. Some of these may be hundreds of feet deep. Some adits may have been purposely collapsed, or the entrance may have been rendered unsafe by the passage of time.
Determining whether a mine is ‘safe’ requires preparatory research, on site investigation and a thoughtful evaluation of its construction and current state, as well as an assessment of the resources that may be locally available. There are mines that I will have no qualms about using because I’ve studied them; but there are many that I would not enter for any conceivable reason. In the final analysis, you must determine whether a mine is safe to use and whether it would meet your temporary security needs. Importantly, you cannot wait until SHTF to begin thinking about the selection of an adit.
Listed below are a few important terms used to properly identify pertinent aspects of a mine. These are taken from the American Geological Institute.
There are many other terms that describe various characteristics of a hard rock mine, but these provide a basic description of features that are relevant to the assessment of a mine.
We’ve already established that your primary safe site is in jeopardy of being compromised. We can assume that you have no other quickly accessible and secure fall back location. So, what makes certain types of hard rock mines a suitable place of retreat?
A short list of benefits includes:
There are a lot of serious reasons to reject a mine site that you might be considering as a potential fall-back location. Here are a few:
Generally speaking, abandoned mines are located in terrain that is not favorable to the use of towed trailers or motor homes, and many of the mines I have studied are not accessible to passenger cars (including some with all wheel drive) because of low clearance. In other words, you will need high clearance four wheel drive trucks to reach most mines. There are even a few that are best reached by OHV type vehicles, at least within the last mile or so. If you are a “flat-lander”, some of these trails may be intimidating. Heavy storms may lead to rock fall, wash-outs or minor land slides that weren’t there last time you used the trail. When in doubt, it is best to walk the road and clear any debris that might damage your vehicle. Take your time. Be safe.
Roads leading into mining areas may not be maintained by federal or state agencies. In some cases, 2-track roads are only maintained by local ranchers on an as needed basis, even though they are on ‘federal’ land.
Some mines will be located on patented, private land, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that the owner is present. While you are in the scouting and research phase you may want to determine whether the location that you favor is sitting on someone’s private (but otherwise unoccupied) property. In my own research I have located several abandoned mines that are on patented parcels in remote locations. I’ve corresponded with or spoken to some of these land owners and they are all good people. If you establish a fallback site that happens to be on private land, respect their property rights. Do no harm or damage.
Primary all weather roads on National Forests are pretty reliable; however, there is no guarantee that the Forest Service will allow access to forests during a SHTF incident – particularly if martial law has been declared. When you consider that the Forest Service is bent on preventing citizen access to our forests during ‘normal’ times, you would be wise to anticipate complete closure when SHTF. If the intended fall back site requires use of a Forest Service road, I would recommend that you find a ‘back door’ alternate route. If no such route exists, find another mine site.
If you are compelled to use a remote abandoned mine then you are beyond the stage of worrying about brush marks on your vehicle. A lot of mine trails have become overgrown with brush over the decades, which reduces the width of the trail. It will result in some scratches. My advice: Get over it. While we’re on that subject, I would also suggest that you resist the urge to clear the trail. Freshly cut brush and tree limbs are a dead giveaway that someone is using the road. It would be counter productive to leave your calling card where the trail branches off from a frequently traveled 2-track road. At minimum, leave the initial portion of the trail in its native state. You should also consider brushing out any tire tracks that indicate where you turned off.
You may want to consider creating some type of temporary roadblock on the trail leading to the mine site. Vehicles that are already constrained by narrow trails, thick brush or trees will have a more difficult time getting around an obstacle that you have placed on the trail. Anything that impedes or slows down approaching traffic will give you a tactical advantage. Just remember – you will have to clear the roadblock on your way out.
The term “accessibility” can be stretched to include your ability to depart from the fall back site once it is no longer needed. In this context, accessibility implies that you have enough fuel to go both directions. These sites do not come with convenience markets or gas stations, so you will need to bring or pre-position the fuel and supplies needed when you are ready to exfil.
It should go without saying that once you have established your site you should remain in place and limit movement as much as possible. Vehicular movement can be spotted from a distance of several miles when an observer has favorable elevation. The glint from your windshield will alert others to your presence. Button up your site and stay put.
Google Earth can be an invaluable research tool to help you locate and assess the terrain and resources near a mine site.
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