Another Hole in the Ground

Kennecott’s Bingham Canyon Mine is thirty-one miles southwest of Salt Lake City. On our way, we passed through rolling prairies and distant mountains, and then came upon great hills of ochre, brown and yellow, which were the tailings from the mine. Eventually they will be pushed down, covered with clay and topsoil, and returned to a more natural state. After getting a ticket at the mine’s gate, we drove the long narrow road around and over these, and arrived at  the breath-taking view of the open pit mine, called ‘The Richest Hole on Earth’. It’s now 2-½ miles wide, ¾ mile deep, has been operating since 1906, and can be seen from outer space!

Primarily a copper mine, it also produces gold, silver, and molybdenum. It’s the second highest producing copper mine in the world, and it’s open to the public via a visitor center on the rim of the pit.

Readers may recall our visit to the Meteor Crater in Arizona. We thought that was big, but it’s only 4,000 feet wide and 550 feet deep – puny compared to this man-made hole in the ground. Right below us were those massive shovels and dump trucks we’ve see so many times on the Discovery Channel. The movie in the visitors’ center said that one scoop can accommodate the weight of forty pick-up trucks, each dump truck carries 300 tons, (it’s driver cannot even reach the hub of it’s massive tires), and all are utterly dwarfed by the size of the pit.

Operations are 365 days, round the clock: never stopping for snow and ice in the winter or heat (98 yesterday) and dust in the summer. Only 1% of the material that’s removed is of value, the remainder is discarded. The trucks dump their loads at a crusher in the center of the pit where the rock is reduced to basketball-size chunks and dumped on a conveyor belt which runs through a five-mile long tunnel to a concentrator outside the mine.

There, it’s crushed into a fine powder, mixed with water and piped 17 miles to the smelter. The operation claims to be the cleanest and most efficient of its kind in the world and it certainly looked that way.

The visitors’ center, recently moved because of the ever-expanding pit, was very well done, with superb videos and well-crafted displays. While we were there, a Brownie troop happily filled out answer sheets toward a badge on mining and minerals. As we were leaving, a busload of Japanese tourists arrived to gaze in wonder at the mining operation. Watching the diggers and dump trucks coming and going is hypnotic – like watching them playing in the world’s largest sandbox. Now, if they’d just let me drive one of those trucks…

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