Last week, we strolled through a few of the real places that either appear in ASHES or serve as models. Today, we move onto SHADOWS and—more specifically—the mines that collectively served as models for the old Rule mine that plays such a central role in how my characters’ stories play out. So let’s put on those hard hats and get cracking.
As you’ll remember, I mentioned that the Upper Peninsula used to be quite the mining mecca: principally, iron and copper. Visit Iron Mountain, as I suggested last week, and you’ll get a fine sense of an old drift mine: essentially, a mine developed by tunneling into a mountain rather than sinking a shaft and then working out in horizontal levels to follow the ore body. (Think those ant hills from grade school science class, and you’ll get the idea.) Not that all mines have to be either/or; some start out as drift mines and then principally operate around shafts. Others, like Minnesota’s Soudan Iron Mine (the oldest and largest iron mine in the state), started life as open pits and then became shaft mines when the ore dove too deep and at an angle that made working a pit mine unprofitable.
If you’re into the visual, North Country is a pretty decent film that revolves around a Minnesota taconite (low grade iron ore) mine.
Rule’s mine began as a drift that eventually evolved into shafts, and that’s the type most of us are familiar with or have seen in movies, like October Sky.
Rule’s mine also started life as an iron mine that I modeled after two real locations: the U.P.’s Hancock Quincy (Copper) Mine and Hoist
and the Soudan Mine in Tower, MN that I’ve already mentioned. Both are very fun places to visit. Of the two, I’m most partial to the Soudan for a variety of reasons (and not all of them related to mining). For one, notice that the shaft isn’t straight up and down.
Rather, it parallels the ore body, descending at a 78-degree angle to Level 27, about a half mile below the earth.
You don’t feel that you’re traveling on a slant, of course, but it’s kind of trippy nonetheless. From this video someone else made of their visit, you can also hear that it’s very loud
and see that it’s pitch-black, both in the cage and, later on, in the mine itself.
The illumination you see there is all the miners had to work by, even as late as 1962, when the mine closed. This video, put out by Minnesota’s DNR, gives a nice encapsulated history with a bit more videography deeper into the mine.
And, yeah, did you get that bit about an underground physics lab on the same level that sports a gigantic neutrino collector? Yup, it’s true; the lab’s an extension of Fermilab, outside of Chicago. In brief, the lab shoots a neutrino stream through over five hundred miles of rock to this collector to see what makes it through. The reasons are various and outside the scope of this particular blog–not that we won’t be revisiting this at a later date, though. So, stay tuned!
It’s also a great place to visit if you don’t mind sharing tunnel space with brown bats. They’ve got quite the population down there, too, and the guides brief you on not making any sudden movements when the bats fly right at you. See, the bats know where your head is and if you jerk it out of the way, the bat might just crash into you because it’s already executed a course correction. None of our group got hit, but there was one bat that followed us the entire time and then flew circles whenever we stopped moving. Although this video shows bats coming out of the mine at night, you get the idea of just how many there are down there.
From Soudan, you can also see a defunct fire lookout tower that’s waaay out there (and becomes Rule’s lookout tower in the third book . . . but I’m getting ahead of myself).
A really intriguing part of Michigan’s mining history has to do with its very own gold rush; Daniel Fountain’s Michigan Gold Mining in the Upper Peninsula is a fabulous resource.
All of Michigan’s gold is placer gold: that is, gold that has been separated or weathered away from its host rock and “placed” in its current location by things like streams or, as is the case with Michigan, glaciers.
The Ropes Gold Mine in Ishpeming was both the first (opening in 1881)
and the most famous, producing about a half million in gold (quite a tidy sum in those days) until a series of accidents and fatalities forced Julius Ropes to cease operations in 1897. (Although when new technology using cyanide to extract gold from bedrock was developed–nasty stuff that, unfortunately, continues to be used with potentially devastating environmental consequences–the mine reopened again and continued in operation, off and on, until finally closing for good in 1991.) This mine—its layout and history, particularly a pretty spectacular cave-in back in 1987
served as the template for the Rule Mine (which, as you’ll recall, got into the gold business, too). Unfortunately, copyright considerations prevent me from showing you the cross-sectional maps of the mine Fountain includes in his book and which I used as the basis for Rule’s, including this incline access (no longer extant) through which Alex enters.
You also can’t go into this mine; there’s nothing left but tailings.
That doesn’t mean you won’t find gold, though; the gold in this mine was mixed with pyrite and quartz, so if you’re in the mood and patient, you can probably find a couple flecks. Or try your luck at panning in one of the nearby streams. Or maybe just have a picnic.
Next week, MONSTERS.