There is a thread on one of our sub-forums where the topic of government surveillance on sites like UER was broached. Common sense would certainly say "yes". We've all heard a story from "a reliable source" that some member on some forum was contacted by the police or other government agency for content or photos that they posted online.
Ok, but where is the actual proof? Reliable sources aren't always reliable. A good story can always be made a little better with some embellishment. So let me provide some rock-solid proof. It's their own report.
The following paper was written about the mine exploring community and was presented back in 2009. The paper is a bit long, but it's worth taking time to read. It's a bit scary to see how deeply that have researched our mine exploring community, including website statistics. I can attest that they were reading our posts since two that I wrote are directly quoted in the paper.
The original document was in PDF format, so when I extracted the content some of the original formatting and pagination was lost. The content however was not changed. Abby
Taking on the White Hats: Interest Group Opposition to Reclamation
J. Chris Rohrer
Senior Reclamation Specialist
Abandoned Mine Reclamation Program
Utah Division of Oil, Gas & Mining
1594 West North Temple, Suite 1210
P.O. Box 145801
Salt Lake City, UT 84114-5801
SMCRA-based abandoned mine land programs have generally enjoyed a
positive image and public support. The programs are nonregulatory and
reclamation projects are public works that improve public safety, benefit the
environment, and provide jobs and an economic boost to communities. In Utah,
recreational user groups originally founded to promote exploration of abandoned
mines have begun targeting reclamation projects in recent years. Their grassroots
activist campaigns have adopted a political stance in opposition to reclamation,
citing concerns for historic preservation and loss of recreational access to mines.
The campaigns use a variety of tools, largely web-based, to solicit support and
influence project planning. This paper examines this phenomenon. It profiles the
interest groups and their methods and the Utah Abandoned Mine Reclamation
Program’s response to a new challenge to its mission.
Presented at the 31 annual National Association of Abandoned Mine Land Programs
Conference, September 27 – 30, 2009; Rogers, Arkansas.
Taking on the White Hats: Interest Group Opposition to Reclamation
J. Chris Rohrer
Senior Reclamation Specialist
Abandoned Mine Reclamation Program
Utah Division of Oil, Gas & Mining
1594 West North Temple, Suite 1210
P.O. Box 145801
Salt Lake City, UT 84114-5801
Abandoned mine land (AML) reclamation projects have generally enjoyed
good reputations and favorable public opinion. AML projects are beneficial
public works that mitigate hazards and restore degraded environments. They
cycle money through local economies by employing engineers, archeologists,
hydrologists, heavy equipment operators, and laborers. For the AML
professionals attending this conference, the benefits of reclamation are self-
evident. The benefits are generally readily apparent to the communities affected
by mining. AML projects do not tend to generate controversy. We like to see
ourselves as the good guys in white hats. That is why it is news when there is
public pushback against an AML project proposal. That is what has happened in
Utah, where AML projects have recently been targets of organized public
For the Utah Abandoned Mine Reclamation Program (UAMRP),
organized political opposition is unfamiliar territory. I canvassed several other
AML programs in the West to see how their experiences compared. Five state
programs responded and reported situations mirroring Utah’s. Public comments
and input during project planning and environmental assessment preparation for
noncoal mine closure projects are infrequent. Comments generally come from
constituencies and stakeholders directly affected by a project (landowners,
agricultural users, mining industry, local governments, law enforcement, historic
preservation) and tend to be supportive or neutral. Organized opposition is rare.
Several of the programs surveyed never hear at all from some interest groups,
such as traditional environmental groups, hunters and fishers, nongame wildlife
fans, offroad vehicle groups, nonmotorized outdoor recreationists, and spelunkers.
In the 1980s, the UAMRP had two situations that prompted notable public
criticism. In 1985, plans to raze a picturesque historic coal mine bathhouse were
opposed by a local newspaper editor, who used his forum to air his complaints
(see, for example, Zehnder, 1985). The following year a contractor severely
damaged a beloved National Register-eligible headframe while installing a shaft
closure. (Rohrer, 1990) A local resident described the event as, “comparable to
swinging the wrecking ball at the angel Moroni atop the Salt Lake temple.”
(Peterson, 1987) He began a campaign of letters to the editors and to the UAMRP
criticizing the program. In both of these cases, the opposition to the UAMRP was
conducted by individuals and was focused on a specific reclamation action.
Neither critic gained much traction in public opinion. Both eventually were
mollified when the UAMRP responded to their concerns.
Since the 1980s, the public relations landscape of the UAMRP has mostly
been smooth, with no major hitches. That has changed in the past few years with
the formation of two groups in Utah that have taken an active stance opposed to
mine reclamation. They have attacked specific project proposals as well as the
overall program mission. The opposition is grounded in concerns about loss of
recreational access to underground mines and about historic preservation. These
groups formed to promote exploration of abandoned mines. Unlike ghost town
enthusiasts and other history buffs, who can be satisfied with preservation of
surface features, the activities of these groups are directly threatened by the
UAMRP’s mine closure projects and they have pushed back. This is a new
phenomenon. The other western AML programs surveyed do not report similar
organizations activism in their states. (Rohrer, 2009) The closest are mineral
collectors and ghost towners who may write the occasional complaint letter.
Underground Mine Exploration Groups
People have been exploring abandoned mines for years as individuals or in
loosely knit groups. The advent of the Internet has facilitated people of like
interests coming together and publicizing what they do. Mine explorers, like
woodworkers and knitters, have taken advantage of the Web to share their hobby
with the world. Underground mine exploration got a significant publicity boost
last year with an article (Farnham and Greenburg, 2008) in Forbes, the glossy
international business magazine. This lifestyle feature gave a glowing account of
the thrills and wonders to be found underground. It gave prominent coverage to
two organizations, AbandonedMines.net in the East and Mojave Underground in
A number of abandoned mine exploration groups in the United States are
listed in the Appendix (the United Kingdom also has several groups). They tend
to be regional; the mid-Atlantic (Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York),
California, the Pacific Northwest, and the Southwest are well represented. It is
difficult to infer group structure from the websites, but they range from formally
organized, incorporated groups to loose affiliations of friends to individuals.
Motivations vary; many of the groups formed out of a passion for and
appreciation of mining history while others seem primarily interested in the
recreation and sport of exploring. Both themes run through some groups. Most
of the groups explicitly acknowledge the hazards in abandoned mines. Many
adopt a “do as I say, not as I do” attitude regarding safety, admonishing visitors to
their websites to stay out of the mines that they themselves visit and portray
The boundaries around abandoned mine exploration groups can be fuzzy.
Mine enthusiasts share interests with ghost towners, offroad vehicle riders,
mineral collectors, and others. Websites and discussion forums for these other
interests may occasionally touch on mine exploration. There is a substantial
overlap with cavers; both groups have a passion for underground adventure and
use similar equipment. But cavers can be ardent environmental preservationists,
which can put them at odds with some mine explorers (see “Political Philosophy”
below), making for a sometimes uneasy relationship. One Utah mine exploration
group is, at this writing, embroiled in a heated debate with cavers over its attempt
to sell an unpatented mining claim containing a natural cave with significant
geological and paleontological resources.
Utah Mine Exploration Groups
There are two organized groups in Utah that engage in abandoned mine
exploration. Like the other groups listed in the Appendix, they have an online
presence and have websites with photo galleries, trip reports, and discussion
forums. However, they stand apart in three ways from the similar groups
elsewhere in the country. First, they have formal legal structure, being
incorporated. They are more than just some guy posting his vacation photos on a
blog. Second, they actively encourage the public to explore mines. Most of the
other groups have prominent disclaimers discouraging mine exploration, even if
presented with a wink and a nudge. The Utah groups actively recruit new
participants in the sport. Safety hazards are acknowledged, but an attitude that
common sense and preparedness are sufficient prevails. Third, the Utah groups
have an overt point of view and a clear advocacy position regarding reclamation.
Most of the non-Utah groups have no clear point of view and are relatively silent
when it comes to reclamation, except perhaps for a passing reference to the losses
of mine ruins to time. The Utah groups leave no question where they stand and
are vocally against reclamation. It might be added that the Utah groups are
arguably more successful in branding themselves than groups elsewhere, with
logos, merchandise, and a broad range of outreach activities.
The two leading Utah mine exploration groups are Gold Rush Expeditions
(GRE) and Mojave Underground (MU). Both are incorporated as nonprofit
organizations. Because of their shared interests, they cooperate with each other
on some ventures and have overlapping membership. However, they each have
distinct identities and organizational cultures.
Any self-selected organization, while united by common ideals and
purposes, will consist of a variety of individuals with an array of motivations,
opinions, enthusiasm, and agendas. It is foolish to make categorical statements
about the character any organization. My observations and conclusions are
qualified by this fact. My conclusions about GRE and MU are generalizations
that may not apply to any particular individual member of the groups, but should
be representative of the core leadership. They are based on public statements,
personal meetings, correspondence by members of the groups with the UAMRP
and other agencies, and information provided on their websites. I have not
registered as a member of either group and thus am not privy to “members only”
information that may exist.
Gold Rush Expeditions
GRE was established in 1999 as a for-profit commercial venture and
incorporated in 2004 as Gold Rush Expeditions, Inc. It outfitted and guided trips
to ghost towns and abandoned mines, with underground mine tours part of the
services provided. It reconfigured in 2006 and incorporated as a non-profit entity
under the name GRE, Inc. GRE has considered qualifying for 501(c)3 status, but
has not done so. GRE is “dedicated to the documentation and preservation of
Utah Ghost towns and Mining Heritage.” (GRE 7/6/05) It claims to have over
1,000 members, up substantially from “over 60” two years ago. (GRE 3/14/07,
GRE formerly organized and led tours of abandoned mines, but more
recently has shifted focus and reduced its public outings to two events per year. It
cites annual expenditures of around $50,000 for the past four years for travel,
repairs, collection of documents and other memorabilia, and research. (GRE
7/6/09) Some of the funding has come from the practice of staking and selling
unpatented mining claims. This practice also gives the group, as claimholder,
legal access to the mines for exploration and creates a situation where GRE (or
the sympathetic parties it sells the claims to) can deny consent for reclamation.
While it has explored abandoned mines in the past and continues to do so,
GRE prefers to identify primarily as a historic preservation organization. It
dismisses other exploration groups as dilettantes in history, boasting, “when it
comes down to historical interest and historic knowledge the other groups are not
even on the same hemisphere as GRE.” (GRE 7/6/09)
GRE has actively opposed UAMRP reclamation projects through various
means. It uses mass media well and has garnered favorable newspaper and
television coverage. Not shy about generating controversy or publicity, its style
can be brash and combative at times. Correspondence with the UAMRP and
other agencies occasionally carries threats of lawsuits. (GRE 3/14/07, 6/8/09,
6/10/09) GRE correspondence is often cc’ed to media outlets (e.g. GRE 3/23/09).
An offshoot of GRE is the Utah Ghost Town and Mine Preservation
Group, an organization that existed online through Google Groups but also held
meetings in the real world. The description at its Google Groups website
) reads, “This group is dedicated
to preserving the remaining mines and ghost towns that are located around the
state. Rallies and important information will be posted here. All interested
parties are invited.” The group has 40 members. It is currently seeing a sustained
lull in activity. Its peak activity occurred in 2004-2006 with 148 postings; it has
only had 12 postings in 2007-2009 (as of 8/4/09). The drop in activity
corresponds to the change of GRE to non-profit status, so presumably the political
functions of the Utah Ghost Town and Mine Preservation Group were shifted to
the GRE website, rendering the UGTMPG redundant.
Billing itself as the “Abandoned Mine Explorers of the American West,”
MU is a young organization. It was established and incorporated as a non-profit
on August 8, 2008. (MU 7/2/09) The website dates back to September, 2007.
The first part of the group’s name is something of a misnomer, as most of its
activities occur in the Great Basin, Rocky Mountains, and Colorado Plateau and
not the Mojave Desert. The latter part is a double entendre, referring not just to
subterranean exploration of mines, but also to what they call “urban speleology”
(basically, sneaking into abandoned industrial facilities and similar locations),
with connotations of rogue activities under the legal radar. However, the majority
of the group’s attention is now focused on mines.
The group claims 364 members, 208 registered members at their online
discussion forum and 156 members at their Meetup.com site. (MU 7/2/09) They
do not say how much overlap there is between the two membership categories,
but it is likely to be substantial. MU has three main areas of activity: exploration,
preservation, and documentation. (Capps & Burgess, 2009) They have logged
over 2500 hours of exploration at over 400 mines. MU promotes mine
exploration through a series of public events. They sponsor underground mine
tours and give presentations. Several members are talented photographers who
produce remarkable photographs; they teach classes in underground photography
techniques. Most MU sponsored groups activities take place in a single mine, the
Ophir Hill mine in the town of Ophir. They have developed a relationship with
the private landowner, who consents to their activities. In return, they have
performed service projects for the owner such as retrieving machinery from the
mine. MU was once consulted as a technical advisor for scenes of a feature film
shot in the mine.
If GRE is feisty, MU is more reserved in its public face. Its activism
against reclamation has mostly been confined to letter writing and meetings to
influence UAMRP project plans.
Adopt a Mine
Adopt a Mine is an independent entity collaboratively founded and
sponsored by GRE and MU, along with an attorney and a website catering to
four-wheel-drive vehicle enthusiasts. The Adopt a Mine website debuted on June
25, 2009. It has not yet been incorporated, but the long term objective of the
founders is to incorporate as a 501(c)3 non-profit. (MU 7/2/09) The name is a
subtle jab at the U.S. Bureau of Land Management’s “Fix a Shaft Today!”
(FAST!) campaign to promote mine closures. (MU 3/2/09) The Adopt a Mine
initiative encourages the public to take moral and emotional (if not legal)
ownership of a mine, to research and document its history, and defend it from
Both GRE and MU identify themselves as dedicated to mine exploration
and historic preservation, with documentation of mine sites a major part of their
missions. Many GRE and MU members are avocational historians with a keen
interest in mining history. Several appear to be avid collectors of historical
documents, maps, and other mining memorabilia; copies of some of these are
posted online. While some members say they are working on books, the public
output of documentary materials to date is limited, consisting primarily of
extensive galleries of photos with minimal commentary or metadata. Narrative
histories produced by members are cursory, general interest items culled from
secondary sources (e.g. MU 11/9/07). The three notable exceptions are
Vredenburgh, et al. (1981) and Wray (2006a, 2006b), scholarly original research
works by GRE or MU members, although these were all written for other
organizations and predate the authors’ involvement with GRE or MU. MU
members have presented to a history conference (Burgess & Capps, 2009, B.
Hartill, 2009, R. Hartill, 2009), but the presentations had little historical content
and were primarily criticisms of the UAMRP and promotions of mine exploration.
GRE and MU are both technologically savvy and have embraced the
Internet to a high degree to get their message out. Besides using e-mail
extensively and having their own websites, they have used social networking
sites, online auctions, and other online resources to their advantage. For people
enamored of the technology of the nineteenth century, they are fluent in the
technology of the twenty-first.
GRE has provided annual statistics for its website (Table 1).
MU cites 275,584 webpage hits with 7,046 unique new visitors for the
month of May, 2009 and describes this as “a fairly average month.” This is a
roughly double the 153,000 hits and 2,500 unique visitors reported a year earlier.
(MU 7/18/08, 7/2/09)
Year Page Unique First Time Returning
Loads Visitors Visitors Visitors
2004 13,398 2,304 1,939 365
2005 46,601 9,841 8,233 1,608
2006 106,227 22,266 17,944 4,322
2007 62,687 16,354 13,701 2,653
2008 91,333 17,993 15,996 3,277
2009 21,449 9,901 11,706 3,195
Table 1. Website Statistics for www.goldrushexpeditions.com
(data from GRE 7/6/09)
Both GRE and MU have PayPal buttons on their websites to collect credit
As noted above, GRE has used the Google Groups discussion forum to
disseminate news, share opinions, and plan activities. GRE mine site
documentation has evolved from galleries of static photographs to animated
slideshows posted on YouTube. The GRE website has an “Action Items” page
where visitors can send a canned protest letter via e-mail to a number of elected
officials and agency heads with a mouse click. GRE uses the eBay online auction
site to raise funds to run its operations by marketing unpatented mining claims it
has staked. GRE is also on Facebook (57 fans on 9/1/09).
MU posts information about abandoned mines (locations, descriptions,
etc.) on a wiki site it maintains. It uses Meetup.com to schedule group events.
They have designed a set of screensaver images so members can promote the
group at their offices. Sometimes MU Internet ventures pop up in odd places.
MU has written an entry for “mine exploration” at Google knol (unit of
Someone (presumably MU) edited the Wikipedia entry for the historic mining
town of Eureka, Utah by adding this poke at the Division of Oil, Gas and Mining
(DOGM), the agency in which the UAMRP is located:
The town of Eureka hold heavy amounts of lead in its top soil. Under the close
direction of the EPA, Shaw, a construction company, has been contracted out to
cover the mining tailings. The EPA has been careful to leave mining history
Projected now by the DOGM is to have all mines backfilled and shut forever. A
few historical organizations, such as Mojave Underground and Gold Rush
Expeditions, have been actively against the closing of these sites for some time
now. (sic, Wikipedia, 2009)
The statement stood for ten months before being removed by a subsequent
Wikipedia editor as an “advocacy bit.”
Keeping in mind the caveat that the groups consist of a variety of
individuals of all stripes, there are some consistent themes running through
statements by the Utah mine exploration community that allow some general, if
The membership of the Utah groups tends to be politically conservative.
This is not surprising, as Utah is one of the reddest states in the country, with a
Republican supermajority in the legislature and most statewide and local elected
offices (outside of Salt Lake City) held by Republicans. The Democratic
candidate placed third in the 1996 presidential election. Consistent with this, they
tend to be aligned with the modern descendants of the Sagebrush Rebellion of the
1970s-80s: anti-environmentalist, opposed to federal wilderness designation, in
favor of opening up federal lands to development and motor vehicle access. They
are allied with off-road vehicle activists on land use issues and are solidly pro-
Second Amendment. In this regard they are fairly representative of the Utah
populace at large.
Running through the general conservatism is a strong libertarian streak
that values personal freedom and responsibility and distrusts government
intervention. Writing on the MU forum, one member explained her reasoning
regarding installation of mine closures to protect public safety:
Our society is inexorably moving towards a Nanny State where the government
assumes responsibility for protecting the citizens in all aspects of their lives. No
activity is immune from the rules and regulations that are implemented by the
various agencies that that hold authority over public property and our personal
activities. Laws and regulations are enacted to restrict our activities to those that
faceless bureaucrats feel are acceptable to participate in. No law or regulation is
too draconian if it can “save even one life”. There seems to be no understanding
of the concepts of freedom, personal responsibility, and assumption of risk.
The current obsession of various government agencies to permanently seal old
mines is a prime example of the zeal that these agencies show in protecting
every person from their own poor judgment. Certainly I understand the
argument made for putting a fence around an open shaft so someone doesn’t
accidentally fall in. But closing every entrance into the earth in the name of
“safety” is an intellectually lazy argument. (MU 7/27/09)
Members and supporters of GRE and MU have argued that the fatalities
that have occurred at abandoned mines are the fault of the victim’s own
carelessness, bad choices, and bad parenting. The ATV rider who died falling
into a shaft “[.s]hould have watched the road,” the teen who fell to his death down
a winze was a “kid whose mother hung out in all the bars and did who knows
what,” and “[.u]se common sense and you will be fine.” (online comments at
Miley, 2008) In response to a comparison of legal liability for abandoned mine
hazards to a homeowner’s liability for more familiar residential hazards, a Utah
proponent of mine exploration retorted, “I leave my trunk open and freezers in my
yard just to bait little kids whose parents havent educated them and expect the
public to police them.” (sic, online comment at Dana, 2008) They seem to favor a
Darwinian laissez faire world where the proper role of government is not to
protect people from themselves.
This attitude extends to mine explorers beyond Utah. It may even be a
requisite, or at least a common, personality trait for anyone who finds adventure
in high risk activity. Following a double fatality in a California mine, one veteran
explorer there had this to say, “America is about freedom. If you want to take
your chances, you should be able to do it. I don’t believe in over-regulation.”
(quoted in Anton & McKibben, 2002)
With this worldview prevalent among the mine exploration groups, there
will undoubtedly be a philosophical gulf between mine explorers and the
government agency with a statutory mission to protect public safety. Some level
of conflict in purpose is inevitable.
The methods used by GRE and MU in opposition to reclamation have
been relatively tame. They are largely the same methods used by small grassroots
activists nationwide to effect change—write persuasive letters to the parties in
charge and harness mass media to spread your message to gain public support.
They are simply citizens exercising their right to express their opinion to achieve
an end, and their expressions so far have been relatively quiet. There have been
no pickets or sit-ins or civil disobedience. Were it not for the fact that the
opposition is organized and directed at an agency that rarely sees any public
controversy, it would barely merit discussion at all. Certainly, a few dozen letters
protesting mine closures pale in comparison to the battles fought over wars, health
care reform, the environment, abortion, or a host of other hot button issues. But
for the UAMRP, the headline reads “Man Bites Dog.” The opposition got our
attention. When the governor’s office wants to know what that complaint letter is
about, you snap to it.
GRE first became known to the UAMRP as an interested organization
during National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) analysis for its Vernon
Sheeprocks and Gold Hill projects in 2005 and 2006. Representatives of GRE
attended a public meeting for the former project and, when they could not attend
the Gold Hill public meeting, the UAMRP scheduled a second meeting especially
for them. At this time, they were new to the NEPA process. They voiced general
concerns about the projects, but did not submit formal comments during the
NEPA comment period.
By the following year, GRE was better versed in NEPA and UAMRP
procedures. It contributed to several of the “learning opportunities” encountered
by the UAMRP in planning and executing its Star District project in Beaver
County. (Gallegos, 2008) GRE appeared before the city council in Milford, the
nearest city to the project, and objected to the project. The city passed a
resolution opposing the project, citing economic impacts to the mining industry
(loss of potential ore when mine dumps are used for backfill, loss of opportunity
for mineral exploration) and tourism, damage to historic resources, construction
disturbance, etc. Beaver County also objected on similar grounds. How much
influence GRE had with the locals is hard to assess, as there were already local
concerns about the project before their involvement, but they certainly helped to
keep the concerns alive. They garnered a quote in a wire service news story
(Anonymous, 2007) as spokespeople for the opposition. GRE submitted the first
comment letter on an environmental assessment ever received by the UAMRP not
from another government agency on this project.
In 2008, GRE again worked local opinion to oppose a UAMRP project. In
this case the project was in Kane County in far southern Utah and the flash point
was the so-called Montezuma’s Tunnels. These were rumored to contain gold
treasure hidden by the Aztecs fleeing Montezuma. In the 1920s, Kane County
residents went into a flurry of digging searching for the gold. The tunnels were
legendary and local landmarks. It did not help that the tunnels were located inside
the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument managed by the U.S. Bureau
of Land Management (BLM) and that the BLM was the impetus behind the tunnel
closure proposal. The monument has engendered strong local resentment since it
was designated in 1996. Kane County has engaged in a long running feud with
the BLM over public lands access and road closures.
It was in this context that GRE entered the picture. The tunnel closures
were one small part of a larger project proposal encompassing more than twenty
mines in two counties. County officials had been notified of the project through
routine channels, but apparently had not grasped the import of the proposal until
GRE brought it to their attention. The issue tapped into the ongoing antagonism
between the county and the BLM. The county commission, in its NEPA
comments, formally objected to many of the proposed mine closures on historic
preservation and tourism grounds (it wanted to develop some mines as heritage
tourist destinations). In response, the UAMRP dropped the Montezuma’s Tunnels
from the project (pending resolution of legal and engineering questions) and went
through a long series of meetings to work out closure designs acceptable to the
county. The project eventually proceeded as redesigned, but was delayed by a
number of months.
Previous GRE efforts used letters and leverage with local officials to
oppose reclamation projects. In 2009 they tried a different tack, one bordering on
direct intervention. The Lakeside project on the southwest shore of the Great Salt
Lake in Tooele County consisted of 36 hardrock metal mine openings. The area
has its own harsh beauty, but would not generally be considered a scenic
destination. The mines are small and have few structures or artifacts remaining.
They are more likely to inspire public indifference than passion. GRE staked five
unpatented claims taking in five of the mine openings scheduled for closure. As
claimants, they can deny the UAMRP consent for closure. They are also testing
their legal theory regarding the definition of “abandoned” as applied by the BLM
and the UAMRP. The BLM requires active mining operations to file a notice of
operations and file a reclamation bond. GRE maintains that owners of valid
unpatented claims subjected to casual use do not require such notices or
reclamation by the claimant and that reclamation by the BLM or its agents
(UAMRP, in this case) would constitute an unlawful taking. (GRE 6/8/09) The
UAMRP went ahead with the other closures in the project and is waiting for the
legal questions to be resolved before returning to finish the remaining work on the
In February of 2009, GRE revamped its website. The redesigned site had
the activist features described previously: PayPal buttons for easy online
donations and the “Action Items” page with alerts and canned letters to a broad
assortment of public officials. In 2009, GRE also continued its customary
strategy of letters and engagement with local officials in its opposition to
reclamation projects in Emery County. (GRE 3/23/09)
MU is a younger organization and does not have the same opposition track
record as GRE. They started making their presence known in early 2008
reporting on the Montezuma’s Tunnels issue. Members began submitting
comments to departmental and state level online feedback forms and writing
letters to the division director in the summer of 2008, shortly before MU was
incorporated. The UAMRP Mammoth project in the historic mining town of
Eureka drew early MU attention. Members attended the contractor’s prebid site
meeting on July 1. The group was identified by name and was quoted in
opposition to the project in a newspaper story on August 10. (Dana, 2008)
Since then, MU members have attended public scoping meetings for three
other projects. They have corresponded and met with the upper management of
the Division of Oil, Gas and Mining. They visited and documented several of the
Emery County mines proposed for closure and submitted comments in a report
(Capps, 2009) with their own recommendations.
Surprisingly, for groups opposing reclamation for historic preservation
reasons, there has not been much visible engagement of the groups within the
traditional historic preservation establishment. They have been rebuffed by the
Utah State Historic Preservation Office, which has repeatedly determined that the
UAMRP properly complies with Section 106 of the National Historic
Preservation Act. They have met with some local historical societies (e.g.
Fruhwirth 2005) and presented papers to the Mining History Association (Burgess
& Capps, 2009; B. Hartill, 2009, R. Hartill, 2009), but there have been few
apparent overtures to professional archeologists, academic historians, historic land
trusts, or similar potential allies on preservation issues. Action alert messages are
typically posted on offroad vehicle online discussion boards (e.g. GRE 4/5/08,
2/16/09), not to historic preservation websites.
The UAMRP understands and values highly the public involvement
requirements of NEPA and other laws. Soliciting public input has long been part
of the UAMRP organizational culture. In fact, the current UAMRP administrator
co-authored a guide (Harris & Malin, 1981) for public involvement in the NEPA
process decades ago. For the UAMRP, a long absence of controversy may have
fostered complacency. Years of lackluster attendance at public meetings and the
absence of comments contributed to a sense that the public was apathetic and
indifferent, which led to an over-reliance on routine notification channels and
consultation with other government agencies, shortchanging the general public.
The criticism, when it arrived, while unaccustomed, came in small enough
doses that it was easy to engage constructively with the critics. From the outset,
the UAMRP maintained an open door policy and tried to respond individually to
comments as they were received, as much as possible. In comparison, the federal
land management agencies the UAMRP often partners with routinely receive
criticism, protests, and appeals of their actions from all sides, from
environmentalists for timber sales, oil and gas leases, mine permits, etc. and from
anti-environmentalists for road closures, lease withdrawals, land use restrictions,
etc. If they responded individually to every complaint letter, their offices would
grind to a halt. They understandably put up the Teflon shields. The response by
our federal counterparts to GRE or MU criticism during these projects was often
perfunctory and strictly procedural.
Because of the small scale of the criticism, the UAMRP could choose
engagement over retrenchment. Many comments were received in context of
NEPA planning. This was appropriate and a sign that the system worked as
intended. Public comment during the NEPA process is what we desire and what
we want to encourage. The input was welcome, although the content was not
The initial responses by the UAMRP were reactive and consisted of
damage control for specific projects that were under attack. The UAMRP held
additional meetings with local officials and ran op-eds in newspapers to present
its side and counteract factually erroneous claims that were being made. Support
and involvement by upper management (division director) lent added authority.
The UAMRP administrator submitted an invited column to the GRE newsletter.
An effort was made to educate the groups about UAMRP operations and effective
Later responses became more proactive and took a longer perspective. As
it became apparent the local government notification through routine procedures
was not enough, the UAMRP improved its efforts by contacting county
commissions earlier in the project calendar and getting on meeting agendas to
present project proposals. The UAMRP has taken measures to step up its
educational outreach on abandoned mine safety. In addition to the ongoing
annual distribution of educational workbooks for the Utah public school fourth
grade curriculum, the UAMRP has distributed calendars and temporary tattoos to
advance the “Stay Out, Stay Alive” message. We have passed out literature at
fairs and other public events, particularly those for the off-road vehicle
community. This year, the UAMRP entered a contingent in Salt Lake City’s
annual St. Patrick’s Day parade. All of these have had the side effect of
increasing its public visibility and awareness.
It is wearisome emotionally for UAMRP staff as individuals to have their
careers attacked, their motives questioned, and be accused of misconduct. It is
easy to dismiss the critics as a fringe minority, especially when they make
demonstrably false claims. However annoying and off-putting the criticism can
be at times, it has also stimulated a self-examination within the program, a
reflective re-evaluation of the program’s mission, procedures, and how to serve
public interest best. The UAMRP believes that the opponents need to be taken
seriously. They deserve to be treated with respect and empathy. By doing so, the
UAMRP can improve its benefits to society. As John Kretzman, New Mexico’s
AML program manager put it, in reference to mine exploration interest group
criticism, “My point of view is that the states and tribes need to engage in a
dialogue with these people – often our worst critics have the most to teach us.”
(Rohrer, 2009) The UAMRP is trying to take this to heart, to respect differences
and find common ground.
In response to a policy of engagement, there has been a noticeable change
in the tone of the discussion, particularly from MU. There will always be some
snark and sarcasm hiding in the anonymity of online comments, but
communications from the group leadership has been more measured, civil, and
cooperative. The groups act less like gadflies attacking from outside and seem
more willing to work within the system. While they will always be opposed to
reclamation, the comments received are becoming more constructive and specific
and less emotional. Instead of blanket condemnations like “you are destroying
our cultural heritage,” comments are now more like, “the Murphy adit is driven in
competent rock and does not constitute a hazard and should not be closed.” The
MU report on the San Rafael Project (Capps, 2009) is an example of the more
useful kind of comments that are starting to be submitted.
This progress suggests that the groups may unwittingly be following the
advice of Harris and Malin (1981). Harris and Malin recommended that
constituencies interested in effectively influencing agency actions through the
NEPA process do six things: join or form a group (i.e. organize), make contacts
within the relevant agencies, learn about the process, be aware of the time frame
for participation, get on the right mailing lists, and attend public meetings. They
also recommended how to craft comment letters with usable comments rather
than emotional rants that an agency cannot work with. They are common sense
guidelines, but could be the playbook MU is following, based on their actions.
What does the future hold? There are positive signs. The tenor some of
the opposition rhetoric has toned down and some have shown a willingness to
work with the UAMRP. Some of the polarized fervor early on has mellowed
through experience and better understanding of administrative process to become
more realistic. The antagonism and conflict in organizational missions remain,
but the conflict is more restrained. It may be that some particular reclamation
proposal in the future will become a flashpoint that reignites a more
confrontational style, but for now there is detente.
It will be interesting to see if the groups can sustain themselves over time.
Volunteer grassroots organizations face burnout, mission fatigue, frustration, and
membership turnover in addition to budget worries. The key leadership of both
GRE and MU is relatively young and may have their activist energies competing
with demands of careers and family obligations as they age.
In an introspective essay posted on the MU forum, one member saw a
parallel in another risky sport, scuba diving, and recounted how the dive industry,
striving for mainstream respectability, pushed for safety and condemned the more
extreme elements. Yet over time, the industry gradually adopted the technical
advancements the early risk takers had pioneered and what had been “extreme”
The current reputation of mine explorers is quite similar to that of the early
technical divers. Those on the outside see us as being reckless daredevils that
are taking our lives in our hands every time that we get near a mine. Of course
it doesn’t help that any Bubba with a flashlight (or worse, a candle) can go get
himself killed and generate a lot of negative press in the process.
In the mean time, what does responsible participation in mine exploration look
like? Should there be any guidelines or best practices that help new participants
avoid a tragic learning curve? Would it make sense to take a basic course in
caving, canyoneering, or climbing before heading underground? Are there
lessons to be learned from the technical diving community?
So where does this leave the mine exploration community? Are we at the
forefront of gaining legitimacy for mine exploration? Or are we just a renegade
band of explorers who will remain “underground”? Do we simply go about our
sport under the pressure of increasing mine closures? Do we try to have a voice
with the decision makers in government? (MU 7/27/09)
It is a small sign, but it may be indicative of a trend towards respectability: the
avatars used by the members posting on the MU forum have gotten tamer. In the
early days many of them had a cultivated outlaw, even paramilitary, image, with
anonymous faces shrouded in hoods and gas masks or hidden behind assault
rifles. More recently, the avatars have been replaced with pictures showing faces
(sometimes cleverly PhotoShopped as heroic figures) and mining images.
The UAMRP considers underground abandoned mine exploration an
inherently dangerous activity that should not be encouraged. The problem is that
there are few, if any, legitimate outlets to channel the exploration urge into a safe
and controlled setting. There are several mining museums in Utah, but no
operating tourist mines where people can go underground (there was one in Park
City in the 1990s, but it proved unprofitable). As it is, “any Bubba with a
flashlight” will scratch the itch to explore by going to the nearest mine without
regard to safety. The existence of mine exploration groups shows a need and
potential market for a tourist mine; whether one could be economically viable is
As the groups mature, the mine explorers could follow the example of
spelunking grottoes in establishing codes of ethics for their activity, policing
participants in the sport, and working with land managers to develop management
plans for specific mines. Management plans could regulate the required skill
level of visitors, specify required equipment, limit party size and frequency of
visits, control access with locked gates, etc. to manage risk and protect the
cultural and natural resources in the mine. The MU activities at the privately
owned Ophir Hill mine could evolve into a managed situation and possibly even
into a tourist mine. The groups could follow the example of the land trusts and
take a free market approach to historic preservation by acquiring title or rights to
mine properties. Then they could have complete legal control of (and
responsibility for) the mine. The effort by GRE to stake unpatented claims is a
conscious step in this direction. If such actions are done responsibly, the UAMRP
could support them.
The UAMRP is bound by statute to a particular mission of protecting the
public and enhancing the environment by reclaiming abandoned mines. As a
public service agency, we must be responsive to the public to keep our white hats
white, even if a small subset of the public has a contrary mission. The UAMRP
cannot capitulate to its opponents and abandon its core mission of reclamation; it
has an obligation to the public trust to keep. But it must, and will, listen to its
critics—that is another obligation to the public trust. There may be room to
accommodate responsible exploration in reclamation planning and design without
abandoning its commitment to public safety.
I would like to thank the leadership of GRE and MU, who graciously
responded to my requests for information and consented to the use of their
copyrighted images for the conference presentation.
For the sake of brevity in the text, unpublished information obtained from
UAMRP files is not cited. Personal communications (printed or electronic
correspondence) from GRE or MU members and MU forum postings are cited as
the organization and the date in mm/dd/yy format. Full citations for these are
available on request from the author. I have chosen not to name individual
members in personal communications to protect their privacy. Information on the
other mine exploration groups listed in the Appendix was obtained from their
websites (accessed August 2009).
Anonymous. 2007. Utah Town Wants Local Abandoned Mines Accessible.
Associated Press report, May 1, 2007. Available online at: http://kutv.com/so...ory_121190228.html
. Accessed July 10,
Anton, Mike and Dave McKibben. 2002. Heeding the call to mine the unknown.
Los Angeles Times. June 30, 2002, page B-2. Available online at: http://www.etogen.com/ue/lat-mine.pdf
. Accessed August 27, 2009.
Capps, K. Michael. 2009. San Rafael Swell AMRP Inventory Abandoned Mine
Safety Report. Unpublished report prepared by Mojave Underground and
submitted to the Utah Abandoned Mine Reclamation Program. March 23,
2009. 8 pp.
Capps, Mike and Stuart Burgess. 2009. Opening the Books: Exploring the
History and Underground Passages of Ophir Hill Mine. Presented at the 2009
Annual Conference of the Mining History Association, Creede Colorado, June
3-7, 2009. Microsoft PowerPoint file “MU_Slideshow.pptx” downloaded and
extracted from the file “MU_Presentation_DVD.iso” available online for
download at: http://www.mojaveu...esentation_DVD.iso
Accessed June 8, 2009.
Dana, Jens. 2008. Groups oppose plans to close abandoned mines. Deseret
News (Salt Lake City, UT), August 10, 2008, page B1. Available online at: http://deseretnews...e/content/mobile/1
August 19, 2008.
Farnham, Alan and Zack O'Malley Greenburg. 2008. Forbes Life: Abandoned
Mines. Forbes Magazine, Nov. 10, 2008. pp. 156-160. Available online at:
. Accessed http://www.forbes....2008/1110/156.html
October 23, 2008.
Fruhwirth , Jesse . 2005. Mine enthusiast critical of plans to ‘bury history’.
Tooele Transcript (Tooele, UT), Thursday, December 15, 2005. Available
online at: http://www2.tooele...tent&task=view&id=
. Accessed December 20, 2005.
Gallegos, Anthony A. 2008. How Much Experience Can You Get From One
Project? Presented at the 30 annual National Association of Abandoned
Mine Land Programs Conference, October 26 – 29, 2008, Durango Colorado
Harris, Tiffin D. and Luci Malin. 1981. Citizens’ Guide to Environmental
Impact Statements. Oregon State University Extension Service, Special
Report 624. July 1981. 19 pp.
Hartill, Brannan. 2009. The Future of Mining Books. Presented at the 2009
Annual Conference of the Mining History Association, Creede Colorado, June
3-7, 2009. Microsoft PowerPoint file “BRH_MHA_2009.ppt” downloaded
and extracted from the file “MU_Presentation_DVD.iso” available online for
download at: http://www.mojaveu...esentation_DVD.iso
Accessed June 8, 2009.
Hartill, Russell. 2009. Backfilling the Books: A Look at Utah's Abandoned
Mine Reclamation Program and Its Impact on Mine Heritage. Presented at the
2009 Annual Conference of the Mining History Association, Creede
Colorado, June 3-7, 2009. Microsoft PowerPoint file “RDH_MHA_2009.ppt”
downloaded and extracted from the file “MU_Presentation_DVD.iso”
available online for download at: http://www.mojaveu...esentation_DVD.iso
Accessed June 8, 2009.
Miley, Sarah. 2008. Dangerous mines remain in county. Tooele Transcript
(Tooele, UT). August 15, 2008. Available online at:
. Accessed August 8, 2008. http://tooeletrans...er_friendly/180122
Peterson, Gary B. 1987. Down The Shaft, Or Up?: Silver and Heritage in the
Tintic Mining District. In: Making Money Out Of Dirt, Proceedings of the
Utah Mining Symposium, sponsored by the Utah Centennial Foundation, Utah
State Historical Society, Utah Mining Association, and Utah Endowment For
The Humanities. pp. 1-8.
Rohrer, J. Chris. 2009. Personal communications. Exchange of e-mail and fax
communications (survey and responses) with western AML program
administrators (AK, CO, MT, NM, NV, WY). July, 2009.
Rohrer, J. Chris. 1990. Bullion Beck Headframe Fire Damage Mitigation. pp.
85-87 in Barker, Leo R. and Ann E. Huston, ed. 1990. Death Valley to
Deadwood; Kennecott to Cripple Creek: Proceedings of the Historic Mining
Conference, January 23-27, 1989, Death Valley National Monument. National
Park Service Western Regional Office, San Francisco. 219 pp.
Wikipedia. 2009. Entry for Eureka, Utah. See the 7/24/08 and 5/12/09 edits on
the History tab. Available online at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eureka
Vredenburgh, Larry M., Gary L Shumway, and Russell D. Hartill. 1981. Desert
Fever. The Living West Press.
Wray, William B. 2006a. Mines and Geology of the Rocky and Beaver Lake
Districts, Beaver County, Utah. In: Bon, R.L., Gloyn, R.W., and Park, G.M.,
editors. Mining Districts of Utah. Utah Geological Association Publication
32, pp. 183-285.
Wray, William B. 2006b. Mines and Geology of the San Francisco District,
Beaver County, Utah. In: Bon, R.L., Gloyn, R.W., and Park, G.M., editors.
Mining Districts of Utah. Utah Geological Association Publication 32, pp.
Zehnder, Chuck. 1985. Chuck’s Waggin’: Don’t need reclamation bureau.
Price Sun Advocate (Price, UT), Sept. 4, 1985.
Abandoned Mine Exploration Groups/Websites
2DrX Explorations http://www.2drx.com/
This group focuses on mines in the Pacific Northwest, the Cascades, and
Washington state. It has been online since 2001. The website has trip reports
with photos. The emphasis is on mine exploration as recreation; there is not much
history on the site. There is a page discussing mine safety. A disclaimer
statement on the website cautions others against visiting mines because of the
hazards (“Disclaimer: Exploring old mines. . . could kill you, or worse. We do
not recommend that you follow our examples. Individuals attempting some of the
activities found on this website must accept and assume all risk of damage, injury
and death which probably will result. . . This website is intended for entertainment
Abandoned Mine Research, Inc. http://www.undergroundminers.com/
This group is affiliated with IronMiners.com (see below). It bills itself as
“Specializing In Mine Equipment Restoration and Underground Photography.” It
focuses on the anthracite fields of Pennsylvania with a strong interest in mining
history and equipment restoration. The website has photo galleries with brief
historical notes on the mines. Nine people, some of whom have active coal
mining experience, are listed as the core of the organization, which was founded
in 2002. The website has a strong safety disclaimer and supports “Stay Out, Stay
Alive” campaigns. Members will lead aboveground public tours, but will not lead
underground tours out of concerns for liability and safety.
This group was profiled in the Forbes article. It focuses on abandoned
mines in New York and New Jersey. The website has photo galleries with brief
historical notes on the mines. A disclaimer statement posted on each page
cautions others against visiting mines because of the hazards. The group has
pages at Myspace and Facebook (146 friends on 8/26/09) and an online discussion
forum (129 registered users on 8/4/09).
Adopt a Mine http://www.adoptamine.org/
See main text.
Arizona Mine Exploration http://minexplorat...pod.com/index.html
This group focuses on mines in Arizona. The website has photo galleries
with mine locations and brief descriptions of the mine workings. The emphasis is
on mine exploration as recreation; there is no historical information on the site.
There is no safety information. A disclaimer statement on the website cautions
others against visiting mines because of the hazards.
ATV Explorers http://www.atvexplorers.com
This group covers a broad range of ATV-based exploration activities in
the West. The website has 399 registered members. The website has a discussion
forum with a section for “Ghost Towns and Mines” which includes two subtopic
forums, “Mines” and “Mine Exploration and Safety.” However, activity in this
forum is limited; there have only been a total of 18 discussion threads in these
topics and the most recent posting was in 2004.
California Association of Mine and Cave Exploring http://www.camce.org/CAMCE/
This group focuses on mines in California. It is incorporated and has
bylaws and membership dues. The website features mining-related news, trip
reports, photo galleries, videos, and a forum for members. There is an emphasis
on safety, with specified gear required for trip participants. Mine site location
information held by the group is kept private to prevent vandalism.
California Mine Explorers http://mineexplore...rniamineexplorers/
This group focuses on mines in California. The website has trip reports
with photos. It appears to be the work of a single individual. It has a brief
mention of safety extolling common sense.
This group is self-described as “Dedicated to Preserving California’s
Mining History Through Research and Exploration.” The website consists of a
single home page plus a Legal Notice page. It has not been updated since 2006
and appears to be defunct.
Gold Rush Expeditions http://www.goldrushexpeditions.com/
See main text.
Intrepid Explorers http://intrepidexplorers.org/
This is a general interest group with focus on the backcountry of the
western U.S., including ghost towns, offroad vehicles, petroglyphs, canyon
exploration, antiquing, and mines. The website has a discussion forum with
sections for mines and mining camps. Photo galleries have pictures of
underground mine exploration.
This group focuses on abandoned mines of New York, New Jersey,
Pennsylvania, and Arizona. The website has photo galleries with brief historical
notes on the mines. Ten people are listed as the core of the organization. A
disclaimer statement posted on each page cautions others against visiting mines
because of the hazards. The group has an online discussion forum (482 registered
users on 8/4/09).
Mojave Underground http://www.mojaveunderground.com/
See main text.
Nevada Mine Explorers http://www.nevadamineexplorers.com/
Northwest Underground Explorations http://www.nwue.org/
This group focuses on mines in Washington state and the Pacific
Northwest. It describes itself as “a very loosely organized, practically
disconnected, group of individuals who really like crawling around in holes in the
ground.” The website has trip reports with photos and also “mine reports,” more
thorough versions of trip reports that are researched and footnoted. The emphasis
is on history and geology; it is one of the more scholarly of the sites reviewed.
There is a safety statement. The group has a discussion forum at Yahoo Groups
(NWUNDERGROUND), that was founded 11/21/03 (262 members on 8/27/09).
The Yahoo Groups page also has a safety disclaimer.
Starbuck’s Exploring http://starbuck.org/exploring/
This is a general interest website with a focus on mining and prehistoric
Native American sites in the western U.S. (California, Nevada, Utah, and
Colorado). It appears to be the work of a single individual, despite the “.org”
domain. The site has photo galleries, including photos of underground mine
Tri-State Mine Explorers http://tri-statemineexplorers.org
This group focuses on mines in California, Nevada, and Arizona. The
website has photo galleries with trip reports. Two people are identified as
constituting the group. The website has a page on safety with the disclaimer,
“This type of activity is inherently dangerous and should not
be done by anyone.
If it was safe, why would there be a ‘Stay Out, Stay Alive’ program?”
Underground Explorers http://www.undergroundexplorers.com
This group focuses on mines in California. The website has photo
galleries. Five people are identified as constituting the group. The website has a
safety disclaimer and a page on mine safety.
Unseen California Adventures http://www.socalfu...m/topic_desert.htm
This group focuses on mines in southern California. The website has trip
reports with photos. It appears to be work of a single individual. The emphasis is
on mine exploration as recreation. There is a brief safety disclaimer.
Utah Ghost Town and Mine Preservation Group http://groups-beta...e.com/group/UGTMPG
See main text.
Sizing Up the Mine Exploration Community
How many people engage in abandoned mine exploration? The question
is relevant because GRE and MU have both pointed to the relatively few fatalities
in abandoned mines compared to other forms of outdoor recreation such as skiing
and rock climbing as evidence that the hazards of abandoned mines are vastly
overstated. (GRE 2/8/06, MU 7/18/08, online comments at Miley, 2008) It is also
relevant as a measure of the potency of what may be an emerging political force.
There are no reliable figures on numbers of mine explorers or rates of visitation.
No entity tracks them or publishes statistics. Any estimates must necessarily rely
on self-reporting and be qualified as anecdotal and speculative.
In defense of a making a high estimate, a founding member of MU has
cited “an adit on my property that I know sees well over a thousand visitors a
year” and claimed that “[o]ther large mines see over 10,000 visitors a year.” (MU
7/18/08) GRE has suggested that the entire offroad vehicle community be
considered as mine explorers, because “I have NEVER come across a hunter or
4wd driver who have not seen or explored a mine, its part of the allure that this
state holds for those who venture out.” (sic, online comment at Miley, 2008) A
distinction needs to be made here between surface visitation and underground
exploration. A great many (uncounted) people visit mines to admire structures
and old machinery, appreciate history, take pictures, or rockhound on the mine
dumps. Far fewer actually venture underground.
Membership figures for the groups give some idea of the size of the mine
exploration community. Several of the websites listed above are clearly the work
of small (fewer than ten), defined groups of individuals without a larger
membership (e.g. 2DrX Explorations, California Mine Explorers, Starbuck’s
Exploring, Tri-State Mine Explorers, and Underground Explorers). Other online
groups have memberships numbering in the low hundreds, based on posted
figures of registered users for online discussion forums and Facebook or Myspace
friends (IronMiners.com is highest with 482). GRE claims over a thousand
registered members, but registration is required to access portions of their
website, so some of these can be discounted as casual websurfers. Adding all of
these groups together gives a few thousand people nationwide who are serious
enough about mine exploration to actively participate in online groups.
Participation numbers from their own events suggest that actual mine
exploration numbers may be lower than stated. According to figures at their
Meetup.com site, MU averages about one organized underground tour event per
month and about 17 people per event. Their most popular events (Introduction to
Abandoned Mine Exploration, Underground Photography) have drawn 28-37
participants; all other events had fewer than 20 attendees. GRE’s annual Spring
Safari, its premier public event, draws a few dozen people; other trips shown in its
photo galleries usually show only a handful of people.
A perusal of trip reports and photo galleries for groups outside of Utah
shows similar results. Trips are infrequent and groups tend to be small, usually in
the 3-12 person range. Northwest Underground Explorations lists only 25 mine
trips in five years, Underground Explorers lists nine trips in just over a year (with
some repeat trips to the same mines), and 2DrX Explorations lists 50 trips over
ten years. This admittedly crude analysis is biased towards websites that present
trip reports in dated lists, and misses trip reports buried in discussion forums or in
“members only” areas of a site, but it does not support claims of thousands of
visitors per year for a mine.
For another crude gauge of the level of organized interest and participation
in abandoned mine exploration relative to other recreational activities, I tabulated
hits on the Google search engine for various terms (Table 2). This is tenuous, as
Google is sensitive to search term word choice, but it gives a rough sense of
comparative interest in different outdoor recreational activities, at least as
reflected by online activity.
Subjective field evidence suggests that some skepticism of claims of high
numbers of participants in mine exploration is warranted. While it is common to
find vehicle tracks, fire rings, and litter indicating occasional visitation at mines
statewide, the UAMRP rarely encounters the type of wear and tear at mines
consistent with the sustained regular visitation needed to amass hundreds or
thousands of visits per year. Unsubstantiated reports of extremely high visitation
to a mine, at least in Utah, do not hold up under scrutiny.
Search Term Number of Hits
"abandoned mine exploration" organizations 191
"mine exploring" organizations 388
"mine exploring" groups 2,960
"mine exploration" organizations 22,800
"abandoned mine exploration" groups 35,600
"cave exploration" groups 38,800
"mine exploration" groups 38,900
"spelunking" groups 66,700
"model rocketry" groups 72,500
"gold panning" groups 94,300
"four wheeling" groups 102,000
"abandoned mine" organizations * 109,000
"skeet shooting" groups 115,000
"tree climbing" groups 122,000
"alpine skiing" groups 155,000
"abandoned mine" groups * 179,000
"whitewater rafting" organizations 273,000
"hang gliding" groups 355,000
"off road vehicles" groups 463,000
"sky diving" groups 474,000
"trout fishing" groups 491,000
"caving" groups 508,000
"ghost towns" groups 578,000
"cross-country skiing" groups 662,000
"bass fishing" groups 818,000
"whitewater rafting" groups 956,000
"bird watching" groups 2,400,000
"mountain biking" groups 4,030,000
"rock climbing" groups 4,910,000
Table 2. Results Of Google Searches For Various Search Terms.
Searches performed on August 4, 2009.
* These two “abandoned mine” searches without the word “exploration” returned
numerous sites for AML reclamation organizations, including many attendees at this