Old School Film Hack

Exploring Old Mines — Don’t Do It


In the comments from one of yesterday’s posts, there was discussion about exploring old abandoned mines and the risks that they entail.  I’ve taken photos of a number of abandoned mines over the years — or at least the entrances.  We don’t go into abandoned mines anymore due to the dangers they represent.

Among other things, the very signs that are posted to warn you of the dangers may be missing or mostly eaten by marmots and other critters, such as the sign at the opening of this mine shaft (below).

There may be widespread flooding, like in the top image and the bottom image. Or cave-ins, like in the rear of the top image.

Mines are very deadly places to go exploring and I can’t emphasize enough that they should be avoided at all costs.  Below are just some of the dangers they may contain, according to the US Department of the Interior / Bureau of Land Management website:

Open Shafts are vertical mine openings that can extend hundreds of feet to the lower level of a mine. Open shafts can be concealed by mine debris, dirt, rock, and even water.

Unstable Rock and Decayed Support includes once solid beams and frameworks that have decayed for more than a hundred years. In many cases, there may be no support beams at all and the fractured roof or walls of the mine tunnel eventually collapse in response to vibrations and/or the force of gravity.

Deadly Gases and Lack of Oxygen can be present in abandoned mines that are not ventilated. Pockets of methane, carbon dioxide, and other deadly gases can form or simply displace oxygen with no visible sign. When these gases enter the body, muscles stop responding normally, thinking becomes clouded, and unconsciousness and death can occur.

Explosives and Toxic Chemicals were often left when an active mining operation was abandoned. Explosives such as dynamite and blasting caps become very unstable over time, and can explode if disturbed. Storage containers, boxes, barrels, and drums deteriorate allowing toxic chemicals to leak or combine into highly dangerous mixtures.

Horizontal and Vertical Openings can be miles of openings that randomly follow the original ore veins. Within a short distance of the entrance there is no light, and these openings can be the cause of becoming lost and disoriented inside a mine.

Highwalls and Open Pits are located where large areas of the surface have been disturbed to get at minerals near the surface. Open pits can be filled with water that can be highly acidic or laden with harmful chemicals. Highwalls can be unstable at the top and the bottom and are prone to collapse. When approached from the top, the vertical edge of a highwall may not be seen in time or may crumble, leading to a fatal fall.

And if you find yourself in trouble, rescuers may not be able to help you — as in this tragic event:

So stay away from them. Most deaths associated with abandoned mines are due to people underestimating the dangers that they face and getting complacent. Admire them from a distance, but don’t go inside.

29 thoughts on “Exploring Old Mines — Don’t Do It

  1. Elisa

    I just don’t want to like this one. I thank you for putting up the images and the safety/danger notices and the sad and waking-up article. Sometimes there is nothing one can do to stop an adrenalin junkie.


    1. Mitch Zeissler Post author

      Understood. I’ve had my fair share of freakishly close calls over the years — and I don’t consider myself to be a big risk-taker.

      The most dangerous abandoned mine we ever set foot in was one that seemed to beckon us. The vast majority of mines that you stumble across these days have either been dynamited shut, barricaded with gates or bars, or sealed with doors or walls — but there are still a sizable number to be found that are fully accessible, and this was one of them. The mine was very safe looking — nice, solid looking walls and ceiling; car rails on the dry dirt floor that looked still usable; stout timbers in place for the bracing; etc. — except for the exterior grounds being overgrown and dilapidated, this mine looked like it could still be in use.

      So we went inside.

      And the further we walked, the more we felt beckoned by the depths.

      We had our flashlights with us; however, one of them failed after just a short distance — the batteries died. But there was the remaining flashlight, right? No problem — we’ll just continue exploring! And as we got deeper — and the light from the mine opening faded behind us — we began to notice that the timbers where we were didn’t look so stout… in fact, they looked downright rotten. Then we discovered that the nice dry floor of the shaft had turned to mud… there was even a evil-looking oily sheen in the places where there was standing water. The solid looking car rails? They had rusted into twisted spaghetti and lay strewn about the mine floor.

      In short, our safe-looking abandoned mine had turned into a death trap within two hundred feet of the entrance.

      In that moment — when it dawned upon us what a terrible danger we had placed ourselves in — it was like we were both struck with the same exact thought at the same instant. Get out.

      And that’s exactly what we did.

      We were both breathing a sigh of relief as we neared the mouth of the mine and could see the safety of our pickup truck outside. I still wanted a souvenir and looked about us for a suitable treasure while we were in the mine shaft. And I found it; a beautiful square-head nail in the dirt floor of the mine… near several other square-head nails and some wood dust.

      Something made me look up. And I noticed — directly above the two of us — that the square-head nails had all fallen out of the stout-looking wooden roof beams, which were in fact riddled with dry-rot.

      We hustled out of that mine and swore we’d never be that stupid again. It was only a day or two later, during that same trip, that we learned of all the hidden dangers that may have been present. Since then, we’ve been true to our word and have never entered into another abandoned mine shaft.


    2. ralph

      i just bought an old mine in arizona and will be going to have a look soon it has a 70 ft vertical shaft then a 212 foot 30 degree angle annex also there is supposed to be another annex above the main one…we have a good generator and a good portable winch chair and miles of lights one up top the other going in we want to take samples as rumor has it there are still good veins left in the original mine…any tips?


    3. Mitch Zeissler Post author

      Yes, here’s a tip that may save your life… Don’t go into the mine!

      However, since that tip appears to be out of the question, make out your will before attempting to go in there, and don’t take a spouse or any other family members with you, especially kids.


      Liked by 1 person

  2. allesistgut

    Although we have no mines in the area where I live, it’s very interesting to hear about the dangers they offer. The story about Devin is really heartbreaking and no one should risk the life only for the purpose of exploring those old mines. I totally agree. I like your first photo. The structures and the fresh green on the water surface are awesome. Have a happy day!


  3. kentishlol

    Absolutely, old mines are not to be taken lightly, despite the way some films make it seem like the warning signs can be safely ignored and if you do you’ll find some supervillain’s lair.
    I’ve been very lucky to have been taken down a coal mine – one of my uncles was a freeminer in the Forest of Dean so he took us down in the wagons. He was renovating part of it and much was flooded and unworkable, so we got a good sense of just how silly it would be to wander in, even if the shaft seems like a gentle slope underground.


  4. MamaMickTerry

    What a fantastic post. Every morning, I look through your pictures on the WP reader, but this one beckoned me to read more and am so glad I did. I take very few risks, but climbing into no trespassing areas tends to be a bad habit of mine. The latest was in and around an abandoned mental hospital. Thank you for posting–it was a great reminder to a novice me.
    (Love all your photos…when I hit “like” I really mean “love!”)


    1. Mitch Zeissler Post author

      One thing to keep in mind when exploring places that are posted with “no trespassing” signs — the signs will protect the owners in the event you are injured or killed on their property.

      “No trespassing” signs can be posted to simply protect the privacy of some property owners, but other times they can be there to protect people from wandering into dangerous areas; should you chose to ignore the posted signs, you have no legal leg to stand upon if things take a nasty turn south. Likewise, you may even become liable for damages or rescue fees if you can’t make it out on your own two feet.

      Rather than trespass, try reaching out to the property owners and getting permission. Many times they appreciate the effort you’re making in reaching out to them and will grant the permission you seek.


    2. MamaMickTerry

      Thank you so much for taking the time to reply back. You are so right…asking permission is always a good policy. Especially for a typical rule follower like myself. Don’t know what got into me last time 🙂


    3. Mitch Zeissler Post author

      No problem.

      When we owned property in Colorado, we debated about putting no trespassing signs on it, then decided — since the three mine shafts that came with it had already been dynamited shut and posed no threat — that it would be unneighborly and likely inflame vandalism by the many people that came through our plot in the winter time.

      However, had we owned open mine shafts, we definitely would have put signs up as protection to others and to protect ourselves from litigation.

      The top photograph on this post was from the Blackhawk mine that was right next to our property in this photograph: https://exploratorius.us/2014/02/17/what-where-3/ (the entrance to the shaft is the black object right in the middle of the frame) This particular shaft was considered extremely dangerous and was sealed shut with a very secure barricade. In the 7 years since that monochrome photo was taken, we’ve learned that the Blackhawk mine has been purchased by another entity and that active mining is now happening within it, so it would be even more dangerous now than it was 7 years ago.

      At any rate, my point is that abandoned places can be very much worth exploring and documenting with photographs — just be safe and smart about it, especially since you have little ones.

      Have fun!


    1. M. R.

      He bought it for our 2004 trip to France. And he died at the beginning of 2006. It works. Well, it’d work well for someone who knew how to use it. :-\


  5. Andrew Davis

    Hi: I’m a newcomer to this site and have been raised in an old mining community. We have about 173 abandoned mines and prospect sites, some dating back to the 1870’s. I have been to most of these sites to map and take pictures. I like to gather any information available on the site I’m to visit. Read it all and then go on sight and back up in time and live the moment. I do go into prospect drifts and tunnels. However, when I go I always go with a buddy who is a search and rescue technician. These people are used to the sights and sounds of these old places. He checks everything as we go along and if he feels its unsafe, well we stay away.
    I really like your blogs and will continue to follow them. For kids or people who don’t know what they’re doing, please stay out of these places. Sometimes they’ll kill you quickly and in other instances, you will die a slow and lonely death.
    Make plans ahead if you must go, never go alone and let people know where you are before going in. If you do not want to end up as Devin did in the article, if you cannot think of yourself, at least give a thought for your families.


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