October 05, 2014

the ghost town of Bodie, part 2 of 2


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photo by Donald Kinney

Fortune seekers who rushed west in 1849 expected to find gold quickly. Employing methods known as “placer mining,” they dug nuggets and gold dust from the banks of California’s rivers. While placer miners washed gravel on the surface, other miners blasted through solid rock deep underground, drove tunnels and sunk mineshafts deep into the earth to reach gold-bearing minerals. Quartz is usually found with gold, hence the term "quartz mining", the type of mining done here at Bodie.



click photo for full-size image
photo by Donald Kinney

Driving tunnels and sinking shafts were expensive endeavors that could not be sustained financially for very long by individuals. Most prospectors sold their claims to big-city capitalists with the ability to organize companies and finance mining by selling stock. Although the odds were astronomical against striking it rich, people eagerly invested.

Reaching the ore, however, involved considerable effort and expense. Surrounding Bodie’s quartz deposits was a yellowish volcanic rock that mining men called “porphyry”, known to geologists as “andesite.” Using drills and dynamite, miners burrowed through it, blasting away tons of worthless rock that they removed and dumped at mine entrances.

Bodie is famed for gold, which represented most of the value in its bullion. But, along with the gold came silver. For every dollar produced from Bodie’s ore during the early 1880s, about 70 cents was gold, 30 cents silver.



click photo for full-size image
photo by Donald Kinney

Most of the silver in Bodie’s ore came from two sources. First was the gold itself. Gold is rarely pure in nature and is almost always mixed, or alloyed, with silver and sometimes other metals, such as lead, iron, or copper. Gold sometimes contains enough silver to significantly reduce its value.



click photo for full-size image
photo by Donald Kinney

The second major source of silver at Bodie was rock that surrounded the particles of gold. Discoloring the normally white quartz were chemical compounds of silver combined with other elements, notably sulfur. These minerals were known as “sulphurets”; including argentite, chalcopyrite, galena, pyrargyrite (a crimson mineral called “ruby silver”), pyrite (a brassy colored mineral), stephanite, and tetrahedrite.

Over the years, Bodie's mines produced gold valued at nearly $34 million, which may not sound like a lot but in those days the price of gold was only about $20 an ounce. That equates to 1,700,000 ounces.



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2 comments:

John @ Sinbad and I on the Loose said...

These scenes...you have walked in my footsteps, or I yours.

AphotoAday said...

Yeah, JOHN (SINBAD'S DAD) -- That feeling of walking in someone else's footsteps--I've done it many times, such as following those of Edward or Brett Weston, or some old worn out miner, suffering just as much as I was from the high altitude and hot sun. Fortunately I was carrying a camera and not a pick or shovel.

 
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