Thursday, March 26, 2009

Theme Thursday...Mineral (Legend of Iron Mountain)

The Legend of Iron Mountain

The Iron Mountain Mine sits several miles to the west above my home. Iron Mountain is a mass of sulfide deposits located in Shasta County in the southern corner of the Klamath Mountains, about 9 miles north of Redding, California. I grew up seeing her rusty, scarred mountain side. The blood orange rock swipes a slash of roguish beauty across the greens, browns and blues of the vegetation, earth and sky. I take her for granted. Always have. She has been there for as long as I can remember. Little did I realize how little I knew about this mine I have lived beneath all of my life. What I did know was that the mining caused vegetation kills for many miles in all directions. The manzanita bushes that are so prolific, and that many believe to be indigenous to this area, were imported and planted in the 1940s and 1950s on the bare hills to stop erosion.

This mining area formed nearly 400 million years ago in a marine environment. Sulfur-rich hydrothermal fluids were released from geothermal hot springs on the sea floor. In the mid 1800s, a settler and a surveyor, after noticing the brilliant red color of the rock face of Iron Mountain, perceived "an immense iron deposit."

Sulphuric acid fumes kills trees on top of Iron Mountain Mine.

Photos courtesy of National Oceanic and Atmospheric
Administration/Department of Commerce

In addition to the iron, it contained silver. Mining of the silver began. Sulfide deposits were found inside the mountain in the mid 1890s and copper mining followed. The mountain was also found to be rich in gold, iron, zinc, and pyrite (iron sulfide). The pyrite, a sulfur source, was used for manufacture of fertilizers, munitions, and in refining petroleum. The mountain is the largest hard rock mine in California, and was one on the largest copper mines in the world. It is estimated that more than half of the original ore remains. Vast fortunes were evacuated from her bowels.

People labored in unimaginable tasks, pulling world changing copper ore from the earth, allowing for the modern age revolution. At the turn of the century, in gold alone, she made her owners over a million dollars a day. In 1896, after just three years, stockholders received over half of their investments in dividends. The mountain was a benevolent mistress, proffering not only wealth, but livelihood to as many as 2000 workers.

A small mining community, known as Minnesota, formed near the mine. Just last summer, a massive forest fire devoured what was left of the old town. Only the 80 year old school house remains. In the early 1970s, as a young adult, we used to party up there. We would pull off the road and hike into a series of beautiful water falls. At the beginning of the hike, we would stop at this one-room school house and explore. There was not much left even then. Some old books. A worn, chipped blackboard. One or two dilapidated oak, flip-top desks. And an eerie feeling of life existing just beneath the surface, like fish under the surface of a lake. Memories of another time were choked out by the vines pushing through the cracks in the foundation. We would linger for a while here, in another world, and then hike down to the lower falls, skinny dip and tan under the blasting Redding sun, burn some Mexican blunt, and drink Ripple.

Shortly after 1896, they began operating a copper cementation plant. A large basin of water filled with the water that drains from the mine was allowed to flow over a lot of scrap iron The resulting reaction precipitates the copper out. This is known as Acid Mine Drainage, AMD. Acid Mine Drainage was naturally occurring in the bodies of ore long before the mining began. By the 1920s, Sacramento River fish kills were blamed on Iron Mountain. The completion of Shasta Dam in the 1950s stopped the natural dilution of the acids by stemming back the heavy rains. The mine closed after the price of copper dropped to the bottom. The property was sold twice after that.

Iron Mountain is viewed as "a worst-case scenario" in the formation of AMD. The contamination was equal, in breadth and scope, to Love Canal, one of the largest environmental disasters on record. Money from the Superfund was appropriated for the clean up of the site. Superfund is the generic name for the environmental policy, Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA). The purpose of the law was to protect communities, people, families, and others from abandoned sites of toxic waste. The $950 million settlement was one of the largest settlements with a single private pay.

Acid mine drainage, Slickrock Creek

Photos courtesy of National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration/Department of Commerce

The owners of the mine, Iron Mountain Mining, Inc., IMMI, hung on despite the adversity. Throught the years, they have attempted bio-mining techniques that are believed to be harmless to the surface environment. Any attempts to tap the mines resources have consistently been stymied by the Environmental Protection Agency, EPA. IMMI insists that solution mining is the only viable remedy for the AMD, and the 25 year battle of Iron Mountain Mines continue in the Courts. Today 40% of all copper mining worldwide is solution mining. The company exists financially by selling what has already been mined, hobbled by the EPA at every step.

Interest in the sizable ore deposits of Iron Mountain have been rekindled by emerging technologies. Technologies like zinc/air batteries, solar cells based in cadmium that have the potential to liberate our dependence on foreign oil, and iron and copper catalysts. But these will have to wait until the courts settle the battle between IMMI and the EPA.

Until then, IMMI is planning to erect a huge statue of Christ and create an area for spiritual retreat, complete with gondola ride from the parking area to the summit. Also, they are offering sweet relief from our brutally hot summers in the cool mountain air. Some how, out of all of this destruction, life prevails. The University of California at Berkeley sent biologists to study the microbes that allow Acid Mine Drainage to occur. Among them, new life forms were discovered. The new organism, ferroplasma acidarmanus, is being studied with hopes of understanding how far back in the tree of life this life form originated. IMMI also has plans to erect a campus and laboratory at the old Minnesota town site. Additionally in the works, is a reforestation project. They hope to make Redding the heart of a technological revolution creating dependence from foreign oil. They hope to offer employment to the community in the making of finished products. They plan to protect the wild life and natural state of the area. Hmmm...Holy guano Batman! We need the Toxic Avenger!


Mrsupole said...

I hope everything works out for the protection of the environment and also to give us freedom from foreign oil. So sad the town perished in the fire. I sure hope that this summer we do not have the large fires of the past few years. I am still praying for rain.

Doing mental rain dance here.

God bless.

Baino said...

Wow that's an ambitious task good luck to them. We just open cut and rarely give a dam! Most of our resource mines are in the desert so nobody cares about the ecosystem which is sad. What a shame the town was destroyed.

Anonymous said...

How 'bout the Toxic Revenger ( friend of the environment )? This is indeed a huge under-taking. I'm glad you brought this to our attention, Ronda :)

Candie Bracci said...

Another great post ;)

Brian Miller said...

great post. sad that we have sucked out of the earth so much and left gaping holes in the environment and communities surrounding them.

Marianna said...

Very interesting story and I love the pictures!
Thank you for sharing it with us lol

Take care
peace and love

Jaime said...

great pictures and post

Wings said...

Wow, that was informative and interesting! And I loved your memories of your past, too. Great post.

Ronda Laveen said...

Sherry: Yes, it is sad the town perished but really, the only thing left worth keeping was the old school house. The God(dess)knows what she is doing. Keep doing that rain dance, we need it.

Baino: I love that you teach me about how life works in your part of the world.

Subtrop: The Toxic Revenger: friend of the environment is a fantastic idea!!!!

Hi Candie: Thanks.

Brian: Yes, it is sad that we are such parasites. It is time to make use of resources with mindful purpose.

Marianna and Jaime: Thanks. I found the most wonerful photo library that allows use.

Wings: I have a lot of great memories of Iron Mountain there is still much beauty in the ruins.

willow said...

Interesting to read about Iron Mountain!

Squirrel said...

thank you for this interesting post I also posted about iron mines today, but this was fascinating!

Anonymous said...

Well it's a damn shame that such pleasant memories of more carefree times have to be tainted with such harsh, present day realities. Maybe if the EPA stays on 'em, somebody will come up with truly safer ways, 'cause with that big a pile of goodies just sittin' there, no way it'll be left alone.
Still sounds like a cool(coloquially speakin' ;-) place to hang out, too.

Meanwhile, I'll try to time my meditation on April 4 to coincide with Shakti Day. Could be interesting. :-) You?

Dakota Bear said...

Thank you for the information about Iron Mountain. I always had a bad feeling about mining. While in Arizona six years ago I had an opportunity to go on a tour of the Queen Copper Mine in Bisbee. It was frightful to learn the conditions in which the miners worked.

Megan said...

Yoiks, that mountain sounds like it's got a bit of everything in it.

I hope they can come to some kind of solution.

Ronda Laveen said...

Squirrel: Sounds like we were on the same wavelength.

A. Decker: You are right. No one is going to forget that super stash of goodies. Isn't it amazing that after 100 years, she's not even close to being mined out? Ah, Mother Nature.

Dakota: I think it takes a special kind of person to do that kind of underground work. You sure couldn't be claustrophobic.

Megan: Yoiks is right! She's a veritable smorgasboard of minerals.

Evening Light Writer said...

My step father is an old coal miner from West Virginia. He claims that mining doesn't hurt the environment..this causes a bit of tensions between he and I. I hope things do work out for Iron Mountain, this is so devastating what they've done to this place..basically stripped it of everything.

Oh dear.

mouse (aka kimy) said...


Ronda Laveen said...

Mindy: I know, a lot of people, like your step father, believe that it doesn't hurt the evironment. I would like to hear why he feels that way. It seems hard to justify when and entire area has been bared of ALL vegetation. With the imported bushes it looks pretty good on the surface now.

Mouse: Hi. Happy TT.

Michael Rawluk said...

That is a huge pile of information.
I have seen the scars that mining has left 1oo years after the fact.

reyjr said...

Green is in! :D (and hopefully for good!)

runmotman said...

sounds like they have great plans to revitalize the will be a wonderful place to hike, visit and work at some time...hopefully.

Kris said...

Don't forget the union busting hi-jinks!

Auntie, aka cagny said...

Thank you for shedding light on Iron Mountain.
It's terrible how we rape the environment.

Ronda Laveen said...

Michael: Yes, it is a huge amount of info and scar. But sometimes I think scars serve us by being visual reminders of mistakes to come.

Kris: I TOTALLY forgot about union busting!! So true.

Hi Auntie: Yes, some day the Mother is going to get tired of being raped and blast us off the planet with a giant geological fart.

tony said...

its such a fine balance when we mess with the & danger below our feet.

Diana said...

Rhonda, thank you for your kind and insightful words. I have been struggling, I thought, with finding time to create, but your message to me helped me realized I was blocked also...this morning I got up very early and just plowed through a project I'd been thinking of, and finished it!

I hope you enjoy the is sentimental to me because it was made for me by a friend right after my daughter was born...I think I would love it anyway, but especially so because of the memories in invokes.

Happy Saturday!

BooksandacupofCoffee.... said...

Hi! Ronda Laveen,
What very informative, information about The Legend of Iron Mountain, but due to my schedule, I now take the time on Saturday(s) or Sunday(s) in order to read the Thursday Theme members, themes.
I must admit it do allows me time to sit and
read at a slower pace and to response accordingly, but I wonder if the beautiful Turquoise stone was ever discovered at Iron Mountain? The reason that I ask is
because I collect Native American Jewelry.

Once again, Ronda Laveen, Thank-you!
for sharing this very interesting, but very alarming story about The Legend of Iron Mountain
Take care!
Deedee ;-D

Ronda Laveen said...

Tony: That is a beautiful way to put it: beauty and danger below our feet.

Diana: Oh, so glad it helped. That is just what popped up as I read your post.

Ronda Laveen said...

DeeDee: I haven't heard of any turquoise found at that particular spot. I don't think we have too much of that stone here. But we are very much in the heart of Indian country and have many tribal sites and artifacts.

Brian Miller said...

I thought I saw a cookie post around here somewhere?

Ronda Laveen said...

Brian: Cookies not ready yet. They have to cool first!

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