Warning: Abandoned Mines

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Abandoned Mine near Columbus, NV

As I continue my journey about the Great State of Nevada, I am quickly reminded of the hidden dangers that surround these ghost towns and old mining camps.

The State of Nevada Department of Mine Safety estimates there are approximately 50,000 abandoned mining locations in the state of Nevada alone. Only 18,000 abandoned sites have been discovered, inventoried, and fenced with the help of Bureau of Land Management (BLM) summer internships and Boy Scout Eagle Projects.

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Abandoned Mine near Keystone, NV

In 2003, 22 fatalities were attributed to people entering abandoned mines… the majority of those fatalities were persons under 18 years of age. According to the 2015 Nevada Abandoned Mine Lands Report there were NO reported abandoned mine accidents or fatalities during the year.

Please be attentive of both yourself and people you are with while  exploring the local areas. Mines are not always marked or fenced and ALL should be considered dangerous.

Below is a list of some of the dangers and “pitfalls” of abandoned mines as cited by the University of Nevada Geohazards  and Minerals County Dangers in and Around webpage:

Bad Air
“Bad air” contains poisonous gases or insufficient oxygen. Poisonous gases can accumulate in low areas or along the floor. A person may enter such areas breathing the good air above the gases but the motion caused by walking will mix the gases with the good air, producing a possibly lethal mixture for him to breathe on the return trip. Because little effort is required to go down a ladder, the effects of “bad air” may not be noticed, but when climbing out of a shaft, a person requires more oxygen and breathes more deeply. The result is dizziness, followed by unconsciousness. If the gas doesn’t kill, the fall will.

Cave-ins
Cave-ins are an obvious danger. Areas that are likely to cave often are hard to detect. Minor disturbances, such as vibrations caused by walking or speaking, may cause a cave-in. If a person is caught, he can be crushed to death. A less cheerful possibility is to be trapped behind a cave-in without anyone knowing you are there. Death may come through starvation, thirst, or gradual suffocation.

Explosives
Many abandoned mines contain old explosives left by previous workers. This is extremely dangerous. Explosives should never be handled by anyone not thoroughly familiar with them. Even experienced miners hesitate to handle old explosives. Old dynamite sticks and caps can explode if stopped on or just touched.

Ladders
Ladders in most abandoned mines are unsafe. Ladder rungs are missing or broken. Some will fail under the weight of a child because of dry rot. Vertical ladders are particularly dangerous.

Rattlesnakes
Old mine tunnels and shafts are among their favorite haunts-to cool off in summer, or to search for rodents and other small animals. Any hole or ledge, especially near the mouth of the tunnel or shaft, can conceal a snake.

Shafts
The collar or top of a mineshaft is especially dangerous. The fall down a deep shaft is just as lethal as the fall from a tall building-with the added disadvantage of bouncing from wall to wall in a shaft and the likelihood of having failing rocks and timbers for company. Even if a person survived such a fall, it may be impossible to climb back out. The rock at the surface is often decomposed. Timbers may be rotten or missing. It is dangerous to walk anywhere near a shaft opening-the whole area is often ready and waiting to slide into the shaft, along with the curious. A shaft sunk inside a tunnel is called a winze. In many old mines, winzes have been boarded over. If these boards have decayed, a perfect trap is waiting.

Timber
The timber in abandoned mines can be weak from decay. Other timber, although apparently in good condition, may become loose and fall at the slightest touch. A well-timbered mine opening can look very solid when in fact the timber can barely support its own weight. There is the constant danger of inadvertently touching a timber and causing the tunnel to collapse.

Water
Many tunnels have standing pools of water, which could conceal holes in the floor. Pools of water also are common at the bottom of shafts. It is usually impossible to estimate the depth of the water, and a false step could lead to drowning.

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Photo Credit: US Department of the Interior BLM

Remember that no one should attempt to explore an abandoned mine as there are many possible dangers. The county sheriff should be notified immediately if an accident should occur. It is ill advised to attempt to rescue a person from a mine accident without the proper training or equipment plus its usually difficult and dangerous for both the victim and rescuer. Remember if you ever come across a sign shown to the left: Stay Out – Stay Alive.