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 The Trek: The Journals

•
Michael Murphy
Thursday, September 19
Mines

Dear America:
Field Report, Day 51

Imagine taking an 85-story elevator from the ground floor and pressing the down button. That’s just what happened when we visited OCI of Wyoming’s Big Island Mine between Green River and Kemmerer. We dropped almost 850 feet deep into the ground where we were put on benches in the back of diesel pick-ups. We were driven almost five miles, nearly in a straight line, to the end of the level six tunnel where we watched a crew of three (including one woman) mine for trona. They use diesel trucks because the fuel is non-explosive. If you are claustrophobic a deep, dark mine is not the place to be.

Trona is a mineral with a hardness of three, on a scale where a diamond is rated ten and talc is one. The trona is almost 90% pure and is turned into baking soda and soda ash (calcium carbonate). Soda ash is used mostly in making soap and glass. A very large percentage of the world’s supply of trona is located in the Green River Basin.

Jeff Clawson, BLM mining engineer, organized the tour. Terry Leigh, Pat McGarvey and Gary Reese of OCI showed us the safety equipment we had to wear and then took us into the mine. We had to wear hardhats, plastic toe covers, and a carry an oxygen canister. The trona beds were found by accident in 1938 when an oil company drilled to find oil. They have been mining here for 40 years and have enough to mine for another 100 plus years.

In the afternoon we paddled another dozen miles on the Green River, going over the tunnel we saw that morning. We saw more of the same kinds of birds, plus some blue herons.

At our camp along the river we heard more stories of the old west from Mike Brown. Later that night, long after the sun went down, we found three sets of eyes staring out at us. The eyes belonged to three small raccoons. I hope the pictures turn out.

for Thursday, September 19
North South Both




Biographical
•
Team: North
Michael Murphy
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