Well, Rockwatching has been up and running for a number of years now (5 to be exact) and I believe it has contributed significantly to the interest of people like myself who like caving, rocks, the outdoors, gems and minerals in Ontario.
We are just a few short days from 2011 and I believe it’s high time we made some resolutions -all of us (you my loyal fellow bloggers as well).
So in the interests of all involved a few ground rules to follow on Rockwatching from now on
1) Lets not carry a personal vendetta onto this site which is meant to be a forum where like minded enthusiasts can interact in a positive way.
2) Lets respect each other and try not to get personal when we are frustrated.
3) Lets respect the basics of conservation and eco-minded thought.
4) Lets not assume stuff we don’t know for sure (hence the survey at the bottom of the post).
5) Lets keep in mind that this is all about enjoyment.
6) Lets keep in mind that just because the topic is on the table, every single aspect that pertains to it is not an open book.
7) Lets respect people who are not on the site, private property, reputations etc. Just because there is discussion of a site or feature does not mean permission has been granted to go there.
8) Lets not get petty, self righteous or important. Stop correcting my grammar, spelling or use of terms. I am a writer at heart and so I believe I can use the language as I please (providing it’s in good taste, or if I choose, not in good taste).
9) Lets not waste my time by having to re-direct you to one of the above rules.
Here is my dad in the Cobalt mining museum. Sitting on top of a safe they have a chunk of silver that they dug out of the earth nearby worth around $14,000. I doubt that must be the value by weight – maybe there is some kind of value added for collector appeal. If you are big on silver this is the place to go. I would imagine that there is more you can learn about silver in this museum than any place else.
I just got back from Cobalt last night, it was a long drive – 6 hours.
While in Cobalt I took an abandoned mine tour. Its a service offered by the local museum – well worth doing if you like that kind of thing. This here is one of the tunnels in the old Colonial Mine. There are over 27 kilometers of passage – stretching as far as Lake Temiskaming I am told. Beneath the level we were at the tunnels are all flooded. Shafts lead up and down – but not anywhere near where we were – it was quite sanitized and safe for the average visitor.
Tunnels spidered along through dense black rock following the calcite veins that had led to silver. Outside every mine there were big piles of scree, it suggested something of the extent of the tunnels within.
If you want it you can find it at the Bancroft Gemboree.
Yeah – they look like fletched arrow spines, barbs on fish hooks or just poorly made hooks but as the vendor explained, they are naturally occuring pieces of silver wire.
I am especially interested in what can be found up in cobalt. There was a massive silver strike up there in the early 1900s. According to the fellow that I was speaking to he said he had no luck in Cobalt – shook his head like it had been a really distasteful experience. “Got these from California”. I suspect he was keeping me clear of a rich hunting ground.
These pieces of silver wire are sometimes found in tangled balls and at other times in thick strands like the branches of a dead tree.
Though Doug Shier tells me that all roads in the area lead back to Cobalt, I am warned by an older gent in the Silver Load Hotel’s restaurant to be careful out there if I am exploring the ore piles. It was a little cryptic; you might say kind of creepy. I thanked him for the advice, finished pouring my coffee and headed out. I wondered what he might be alluding to. Maybe he was talking about getting lost or falling down a shaft like the Chinese laundering family-hmmmm (They all disappeared one night leaving the food still cooking on the stove – never to be seen again – see one of my earlier posts on Cobalt).
Once out there it really began to play on my mind. I had followed an old tramline down a narrow valley between towering white pines. I was in a hidden valley that for some reason had escaped the miners axe. There was supposedly an abandoned mill a few kilometres up the path. My source told me that it was on the left hand side just before the tailings swamp.
From the impressive “Little silver Vein Mine” I had followed a short incline up to the tramline. I soon found myself pushing along a tree-lined tunnel of soft, feathery-limbed tamarack and cedar. It was a wonderfully “organic experience” that started off in a relatively wholesome way but eventually began to feel quite creepy.
The further I went the more subdued the forest became. Eventually there was only deathly silence. I found myself dwelling on the oddly disturbing feeling of being watched. I thought back to something that I had recently read of. It was the appearance of “Old Yellow Mane”. He is Ontario’s northern Sasquatch. Yellow Mane had first been seen in 1906 by miners at the nearby Violet Mine. He was seen again in 1923 by two prospectors who surprised him while he was picking blueberries. They supposedly threw rocks at the poor fellow and he ran away. As was reported in the North Bay Nugget, Yellow Mane was seen for a third time in 1946. A woman and her son saw him ambling along beside some rail tracks. I never found the mill or “Old Yellow Mane” but the walk was quite surreal.
At the edge of Cobalt there is a deep open pit that is said to drop down 250 feet. The bottom is filled with cold, black water. A cable cuts across the top right of the picture. At one time there was a spider web of these strands that supported a tin roof to protect the miners below.
The tunnels cut inwards along the silver seams. At night the “High grader” was said to make his own private excavations using stolen dynamite. Doug Shearer, a knowledgeable local historian said, why bother digging to steal the stuff?It was lined up in wagons beside the station, solid slabs of pure, raw silver. “What a waste of time! There was nobody to stop them from hijacking a wagon load”.
In Cobalt all the locals have an “abandoned mine story”. Down along the shores of Long Lake I met a guy who was walking his dog early in the morning. He reminisced about a candle-lit journey that he had made as a teenager from a tunnel far out in the forest. They walked along in the dark, their light flickering with an unpredictable breeze that blew from within. Eventually they were reduced to crawling, the hot wax raising blisters on their skin. Through a tight squeeze they emerged into sunlight window way up the inside of the “Glory Hole” I am not sure how much the water has risen since his youth but it would seem to me that one of these exposed entrances might be the one.
Miro, a former Polish Mine worker got quite excited when he saw my photo. “We used to call those “gornicza tadowarka” (mine dumpers)”. They were powered from compressed air that fed from the surface. Apparently the pressure could vary quite considerably depending on how far you were from the main line and how many other people were using dumpers at the same time as you. Midnight shift was the best time for optimum power.
Gently rotating his wrist Miro demonstrated how to operate the controls. The operator stood on a platform to the side of the engine and the scooper would lift rocks into the ore carts behind. “Dont turn your hand like this, (a jerking twist to which he howls with laughter)too much air, the machine jumps like a horse. The rock falls out of the spoon and everyone breaks their leg”.
This photo is of one of the mine dumpers used in Cobalt. The air power came from a condenser at the nearby Ragged Chutes. This kind of equipment is scattered all over the town of Cobalt. It is on the surface above, hidden in the bush and moonscape of the mine dumps. A great many old relics are also said to lie untended in the tunnels beneath the town.
About two years ago I went up to the town of Cobalt in Northern Ontario – what a fantastic place, I keep meaning to return – it has a kind of time warp quality – a bit eerie – plenty of character – as a rockhound, the kind of place I would like to visit more often. You can read more about Cobalt in an article I did for the magazine “Rock and Gem”. But for now here is a little taste of the old relics that lie scattered through the woods – what is it you ask?
Those of you who are long of tooth might remember Dr. Who’s Tardis (his Time and Relative Dimention In Space machine T-A-R-D-I-S). It was supposedly far larger inside than it was on the outside and in the common vernacular has come to indicate those exact properties. A person would be correct in refering to a small car as “Quite tardis-like if he considered it to be deceptively roomy inside.
In the 1970’s shows the premise was that the tardis had the chamelon ability to camoflague itself to its surroundings. Unfortunatly, as the Doctor was piloting an obsolete “Type 40″ it was stuck in the shape of a 1950’s “London police box”. (The truth was that once its appearance was stabilized it was a monetary saving for the film crew.)
You might wonder why the doctor eventually vanished from the TV screen. Well here’s your answer. Damn thing got marooned out in the bush. The poor doctor is still wandering around looking for replacement parts.
On a serious note, this is an old elevator from one of Cobalt’s many silver mines. The shaft sits behind capped with a slab of concrete. From beneath the polished lake surface over twenty million ounces of silver had been extracted. The tunnels dropped down 1600 feet. Several miners would crowd into the tiny enclosure and perched upon an ore skip that shared the space they would plummet down into the darkness. Over half of the accidents that occured in 1906 were a result of miners falling from the elevators.
Howard pointed out that one of my previous posts had popped up on the internet indicating that it contained a photo of raw silver – it appears that the photo had gone so .. here it is – the post again with the picture.
“This is a lump of high grade silver ore found on the mine dumps around Cobalt. The silver here is invariably mixed to a greater or lesser extent with the element cobalt. It is the paucity of this material that dictates the silver yield. The “low Grade” ore is rich in cobalt. It is dull and of an aluminum like lustre. As you can see by the attached photo, the “High Grade ore is pretty lusterous.
In combing through the mine dumps the rocks look pretty similar but a few hints can help you locate the greatly prized high-grade ore. The silver occurs in veins of varying thickness. At the silver sidewalk the exposure was a pure streak of silver over five feet wide. Usually the silver is found as flat sided slabs from thinner veins that are rich in calcite.
Andy Christe of the Princess Sodalite Mine (Bancroft) showed me how to feel for silver. By closing my eyes and dragging my finger tips over the rock I was immediately able to feel a rock that contains raw silver. It is as though my skin is catching on tiny barbs of tinfoil. Push to hard and they flatten out. The magic of the touch is lost”.
Following the release some time ago of my book "Rockwatching; Adventures above and below Ontario", I am pleased to announce the release of my new book "Tamarindo; Crooked Times in Costa Rica". It is a story of opportunity. Edgehill Press is the publisher. (www.edgehillpress.com)