"I thought if only I could get out, I'm going to get a whole new perspective on my life, because I've faced death square in the face."
* Dennis Workman, who was trapped in a mine for 56 hours
This January, a young Utah man plunged 600 feet down a mine shaft on the same day a man exploring an abandoned Colorado mine died from gas poisoning. The accidents have spurred a rush to teach Westerners about the dangers of old mines. The Utah State Division of Oil, Gas and Mining's brochure and video, Abandoned Mines, Stay Out and Stay Alive!, warn that old mines often contain surprises such as pockets of deadly gases, unstable mine ceilings and leftover explosives. Old uranium mines can give unwary explorers a fatal dose of radiation, the agency adds, and deep dropoffs may lie hidden beneath pools of water. Both states say vandalism to abandoned mine sites threatens their efforts to close old mines. The West's mining legacy has left behind tens of thousands of abandoned mines - Utah alone has 20,000 - which will cost roughly $44 million to reclaim, according to the Salt Lake Tribune. The process has only recently begun, since federal mine reclamation laws weren't enacted until 1981.
For more information, contact the Utah State Division of Oil, Gas and Mining, Abandoned Mine Reclamation Program, 355 West North Temple, 3 Triad Center, Suite #350, Salt Lake City, UT 84180, (801/538-5340). To report an abandoned mine call your local BLM office.
- Dustin Solberg