In yesterday's post, https://hive.blog/hive-163521/@rt395/mineral-mondays-59-rutile-and-the-champion-spark-plug-mine-p1 I introduced you to the beautiful titanium crystal, rutile. Today I am going to take you to the mine the crystals came from, the Champion Mine aka Champion Spark Plug Mine.
The Champion Mine is located about 25 miles North East of Bishop, California in the White Mountains and sits on the side of a mountain at an elevation of 9000'.
The deposit was discovered in 1917 by Adolph Knoph. However it wasn't until Dr. Joseph Jeffrey, a dentist and founder of the Jeffery-Dewitt Insulator Company, came along in 1919 and began operations. Dr. Jeffrey bought a ranch at the base of the canyon that led to the deposit. He used the cattle from the ranch and the water that flowed in a nearby canyon to supply the mine with food & hydroelectric power.
Somewhere around 1921 the Champion Sillimanite Company of Detroit bought or became a partner in the mine and continued until 1942 when mining operations ceased. (a.)
Here is a movie made around 1940 that shows the mine and how it was worked. An awesome piece of history.
As I mentioned in yesterday's post, I tried to get up to the mine not realizing how treacherous it would be. I was over in Bishop for the weekend so I naively thought I'd give it a try.
About 1/2 mile after the turnoff from Highway 6 you begin on Forest Road 4S135 over the alluvial flow from the canyon. This road is full of large rocks and lots of tire killers. It is not maintained and even in my high clearance truck it was tough going. I ended up gouging one of my step bars over a large boulder I barely made it past.
Once you clear the alluvial portion it becomes a bit smoother as you enter the canyon.
Even so, after a ways the road really requires a 4WD so I parked and started off on foot. After about 10 minutes walking I found myself in some ruins from the mine operations.
At the time I had no idea what they were, but after researching for this post I realize this was the old mule station where the pack mules would drop off the ore to be transferred to trucks that would take it the rest of the route to the train cars in the valley. Here is an old picture of this location which can also be seen in the video above.
At this point I had to make a decision. I knew the mine lie hours above where I was. I was alone, it was July and had already started warming up at 9am. I wanted to visit another mine I had been to many times, The Reward Mine, and so I decided to head back down vowing to return. However, for this post we will continue!
From the mule station the climb up to the mine is 4.5 miles. It turns into a a narrow, cliff hugging trail full of switchbacks and dangerous drops which can be seen in the center of the G.E. image below.
The Champion Mine consists of two camps, the lower Black Eagle Camp at 7550' and the upper camp is where the actual mine is at, about 9000' up.
The Black Eagle Camp still has several buildings standing and all have been restored looking as they did when they were still being used. A kitchen, bunks and even a museum are all located here and kept up by local volunteers. Apparently the kitchen is fully stocked with food, cooking utensils and there is useable water.
From Black Eagle Camp it's another 1450' up to the upper camp up more steep terrain.
The mine was special because at the time it was found it was the only large scale deposit of andalusite in the world. Andalusite was used to make insulators for electricity, like spark plugs and power lines.
This is what the upper camp looked like in 1930 when it was still operating, you can also see this in the video posted above.
Unfortunately a fire in 1987 burned down all of the buildings at the upper camp except the one bunkhouse at the top of the photo in the image above.
And the deposit on the side of the mountain. The tunnels swiss cheese through the mountain as they followed the andalusite vein. Notice the "gobbing" wall built for the path into the mine. Our ancestors were very tough people.
The mules were tough too. All of the ore was packed on mules and hauled down to the mule station 4.5 miles down. An estimated 250,000 tons of ore was taken out and hauled down the mountain. Not only did the mules haul the ore down, but all supplies had to be hauled up by mules, including 40' long electrical poles and a 600lb air compressor. I read a story of how 1 mule hauled that 600lb piece of equipment up the mountain alone. The man who told the story was a worker and said they had to make a tripod to to load and off load the compressor from the mule.
The mine itself I mentioned was a unique deposit. The andalusite was almost pure hosted in a quartz matrix. Surrounding the andalusite is an aluminum bearing schist as well as a host of other minerals including corundum, diaspore, topaz and rutile to name a few.
These rutile crystals came from a specific tunnel called the Blackhawk Tunnel. This section produced specific specimens of rutile in a host matrix of pyrophyllite.
In closing, I am planning on trying to get back up to the Champion Mine as soon as possible. I need to get up to the mine itself next time and show the incredible history still up there as well as looking through the rocks still left. Until then for further reading I recommend these sites for their historical information and beautiful photos -
For specific mineralogy information this is the mindat.org link:
Thanks for reading!