Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Off Roading in Nevada - The Tungsten Workings of the Nightingale Mining District, Nevada

This off road adventure up Coyote Canyon allowed us to step back in time and visit our native and mining pasts.  It started out as just a way to get out with the boys and see some country you can only access with a worthy off road rig and a good map.  The trip far exceeded our expectations and won't soon be forgot.  Forgive the picture-rich post which has nothing to do with fly fishing, but this winter's fly fishing has been a drought (pun intended) and I couldn't help myself.

The trek began early one Sunday morning in Reno, then east towards Wadsworth, north through the Pyramid Paiute Reservation and the budding metropolis of Nixon, then northeast through old mining roads and canyon washes until you reach the eastern slopes of the Nightingale Range near the intersection of Washoe, Pershing and Churchill Counties.  

As you leave Nixon bearing north east, you'll parallel a ravine which appears to have held a substantial water supply at one point.  This ravine (pictured below) would be the pre-Derby Dam terminal arm of the Truckee River which supplied Winnemucca Lake with its life blood....water.  Before Derby Dam diverted water from Pyramid Lake, it was approximately 100 feet higher and overflowed its banks creating another 6.5 mile section of the Truckee River which fed Lake Winnemucca.  Derby Dam was built in 1903, the aforementioned arm of the Truckee stopped flowing soon thereafter and the lake was dry by 1939.  Its hard to believe that only 120 years ago, Paiutes used to stand on the river banks and harpoon fish as they migrated between the two lakes.  Additionally, the Paiutes hunted migratory water fowl that used the former lake for food and refuge.  Following the lake's demise, the migratory path of the waterfowl shifted to the north.  

 Would you ever know gazing upon this expansive desert playa (below) that less than 90 years ago it was a 100-foot deep terminal lake teaming with wildlife and supporting Indians along its shoreline?
 There are extensive Tufa rock formations which border both Pyramid Lake and Lake Winnemucca's shorelines.  Tufa is a porous variety of limestone that generally forms along lake shores.  You'll find Tufa throughout the Great Basin in the footprint of Ancient Lake Lahontan.  Paiutes inhabited many of the caves which abut its peripheries.  Below we found a set of caves which appeared likely to have been used as shelters thousands of years ago.
Below, soot from fires appears to have coated the Tufa pillows in this particular cave which adjoined the shoreline of former Lake Winnemucca less than a century ago.
Perched high on the mountain, an smaller cave sits above the first which also appeared to bear the signs of ancient fires.  Though we were on its eastern shores, the petroglyphs on the western reaches of Lake Winnemucca date back from between nearly 11,000 and nearly 15,000 years ago and are widely considered the oldest petroglyphs in North America.

Coyote Canyon trail often takes the form a seasonal wash.
Below are the lower workings of the Jaybird Tungsten Mine.  This adit was through pretty solid granite which was not fragile like shale or limestone workings.  A floor void of debris and an adit w/o the need for cribbings for support gave me confidence to take a quick peek inside.  Watch for the black damp, generally not a concern near a portal (I don't have a death wish and I didn't go that deep).
A stope braced with large juniper logs...where did those come from, the Nightingale Range is devoid of timber.
Good to see some guzzlers full of water in a dry year like this.

An old mining cabin at the Nightingale Mine, partially buried...I suppose for insulation?

The Nightingale Mine was the biggest tungsten producer in the district.  Its massive workings and tunnels follow a vein of limestone and shale which abut a layer of granite.
Below is a winch frame atop a deep shaft.

I believe this mill was built by the Gold-Silver-Tungsten Co, Inc. and was designed to handle 100 tons of ore/day but saw very little use.  Mining companies often times got ahead of themselves and built infrastructure that wouldn't always be supported by the minerals in the area.
A flat bed of sorts, looked like it was part of a wagon but who knows.
Here you can appreciate the size the the limestone vein which was mined as far as 128 feet down.  These open stopes continue for approximately 1,600 feet (north to south).
Portals like this dot the hills.

A road less traveled.
Either the beginnings of a shaft near High Grade Mine or one which outlived its usefulness and collapsed
High Grade Mine Cabin
Needs a little TLC
Smoke shack?  Storage/cellar?  Can't figure it out, it had a stove flue in it, but was too small to house people...anyone know what it is?
Finally something they can check out.
Below is the upper MGL Mine Canyon, I don't know its real name but it hides a "secret" mine on the upper western slope (the road to the right).
I wouldn't have stumbled across this mine were it not for Google Earth.  You wouldn't expect a mine to be wouldn't expect anything to be here.
TNT was stored here years ago.
Away from anything which could set it off.
Not sure what this cabin was use for, it was on the same grade as the ore bin seen toppled to the right.
Another shot of the ore bin.
16" pipe?  Where did they get the water to necessitate such a massive diameter pipe?  What did they do with the water?  Was this used to power a monitor to strip the hillside?  There are a couple meager springs nearby....that's it.
Okay, this is the type of mine that doesn't give you a good vibe.  Fractured limestone, unstable everything and collapsed cribbings to the right. 
A quick picture of this crazy timber framing that goes up 3 levels and down as far as light will let you see.  Time to get the "@#$%" out and view from a safe distance above.
Even outside of the mine you need to be mindful of where you step.  most dangers lurk above the main portals where stopes and air shafts inconspicuously protrude through the surface.  
Here you can appreciate the magnitude of the workings and just how hopelessly screwed you'd be should you fall into them.  You also have to ponder the skill, labor and dedication required to mine this back in the 1920's and 1930's.
This ladder is probably 15 or 16 feet long, compare that close up to the picture above.
60 or 70 feet of sheer vert.
An unmarked hole atop the upper workings....the ground you see below is a good 70 feet down.
6 foot human as scale (well, 5'10, but don't tell him that).
If you look close, you can see a winze and what appears to be a head frame for the main vertical lift.
Stay back, stay far back!
Ah, my keys, so close yet so far away.  Got to love the auto-lock technology on these new vehicles.
Hurts a truck.
The deed is done.
The Arch....We Found It!!!  Was a complete accident on a wild goose chase for a mine that wasn't even a mine.
Goofy picts never get old.
One last Indian Cave on the way out, the backdrop is amazing.


mandie said...

Love the photos! Sorry about the truck window... When were you up there? My friends and I love to explore old mines and ghost towns.

Ryan said...

This was two weeks ago, it was a really fun trip and the trail to these mines wasn't too difficult, I have another post of another trail with other mines coming soon, however, it was hairy getting in to them.

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