Topaz Mountain & Bell Hill Mine

Last weekend we loaded up the 4 Runner and headed out to Topaz Mountain. If you haven’t ever been there, it’s out in the desert in Western Utah. It’s north-ish of Delta. The place is amazing! It had been in the 40’s here at home for most of the week and we were wanting something fun outside where it would be warm. Scott rounded up all of the hammers and things we needed, built a sifter box with an old screen and some 2 x 4’s, and remembered the metal detector. We read up on the mountain as much as we could, since the last time we went out it was kind of spur of the moment thing and we didn’t know much about the area. We felt pretty good about it, and prepared as much as we could before leaving.

**Side Note: If you want to see any of these images larger just click on them and it will take you to the photobucket album. From there you can zoom in to see them full size. ūüôā **

On the way out we drove through Leamington, which is a tiny farming town. There are some old Pioneer era charcoal kilns there (from 1882 according to the plaque). They are super neat! The plaque at the location reads:

“These charcoal ovens are evidence of a historic man using the natural resources. Reminders, which once upon a time formed the basis of a man’s industrial enterprise. In 1882, that man, George Morrison hired Nicholas Paul to build four charcoal ovens. Records indicate he was aided by Ole Hans Jacobson and Herman Lundahl. Records also indicate that Christian Overson at one time was in charge of operations.¬†

Wood in mountain canyons to the East was cut into four lengths, put on mules and horses and hauled to the mouth of the canyon (one of which still has the name of Wood Canyon). Each mule carried approximately one-fourth cord of wood. Young 18-year-old Mathias Caleb Dutson made three such trips each day. Total for the day, three cords. The wood was then brought to the ovens by wagon or cart. Records indicate that John Carson and Louis Nielson and other men from the area helped cut and haul the wood and fire the charcoal ovens. 

The wood was put through the charge door (the higher window), stacked on end, around and above a wooden fire-place which had been built in the center of the oven, filled with chips and wood shavings to provide tinder for the fire later. The wood continued to be stacked until the oven was full, (about 25 cords.) A long torch was pushed through to the tinder box to light a fire. The burning fires oxygen supply was controlled by placing or removing rocks in the rows of holes, which can be seen around the base of the ovens. Control of the burning wood was  determined by the color of the smoke. After six to eight days the air was shut off, smothering the fire. The ovens and wood were then let cool. The charcoal was removed from the ovens and sold. 

The charcoal was used by smelters in making steel. It was also used as insulation to keep foods an even temperature. As charcoal burns with hot, smokeless flame it was used on trains and other places as fuel for cooking. It was also used by blacksmiths in their forges. 

Exactly how long the ovens were used, the record is not clear. It seems their use overlapped one year the establishment of the Ibex Smelter (1895) two miles to the northwest. The smelter closed after one year of operation, because of the lack of ore. This probably ended the use of the charcoal ovens. Standing inside or outside looking to top of Wood Canyon, one can almost hear the sound of axes, of men and mules, wagons and trains. The sounds of history are silently heard in our minds as we look back to once upon a time. 

Thanks to: Utah State Historical Society – Utah Dept of Transportation – Union Pacific Railroad – Descendants of these specific pioneers and individual contributions.”

Here are some photos of the place.

The plaque at the Charcoal Kilns

Inside of the first kiln looking at the higher window where the cords of lumber were loaded into the kiln.

Outside of the first kiln.

Inside of the second kiln, it's darker because the top on this one is still intact.

From there you turn on to Brush Wellman road/highway. Once you pass the sorting facility and the power plant it’s a long drive of nothingness. Seriously, there isn’t much for about 30 miles just vast, open desert. About half way between the turnoff to the highway and the mountain you will see a sort of nodule sticking out of the ground to the North. This would be Fumarole Butte. According to the wikipedia article on it¬†“Fumarole Butte formed during the¬†Jaramillo normal event, approximately one million years ago. It is a¬†shield volcano¬†with a¬†volcanic neck¬†protruding from the center. On the edges of the volcano,¬†lacustrine¬†deposits can be found where the volcano was once covered by¬†Lake Bonneville.” ¬†It’s pretty cool to see it, you really can’t miss it. There are a few trails going out to it, definitely don’t go out if you don’t have 4 wheel drive and good tires. The trails are largely dominated by basalt rocks, and it would be a horrible place to get stranded. Here are some photos of it sort of close (we took a drive on one trail, but decided to turn around because the road got a little scary).

Fumarole Butte

Basalt - Lava rock that cools down quickly and is left with lots of air pockets so it kind of looks like a big black sponge. Pretty cool stuff, and not as heavy as you would think because of the air pockets.

When you get past the Butte there are some roads going off to the north and south. Most of the roads going south will take you into Delta. Along the mountains there are several ghost towns, but we decided to save those for another adventure. When you get to the turn off for Topaz Mountain there is a sign, you really can’t miss it. Once you turn off there are roads going all over the place. We decided on going up into the part that people call the¬†Amphitheater. It’s a great big bowl and has several good roads going right up the middle of it. You will know that you are in the right place because the mountain is made up of rhyolite. Its a whitish color, and as you drive the roads going into it are scattered with tiny topaz crystals. It looks like glitter all over the road, and it’s pretty cool. We got there at about 9 AM and the temperature was just right for T-shirts and hoodies. We took our hunting backpack full of hammers, chisels, a couple of crowbars, the home-made screen, and some skewers used for BBQ (as well as the essentials like toilet paper and rope). Scott and the kids walked up the rock like champs, and then had to wait for me… like normal. I don’t know what it is but I just always get that “oh crap, where do I put my hands/feet” feeling anytime I get climbing up rocks. When we finally reached the top of where we wanted to dig we got out the tools and got to breaking the rocks apart!

A mini crystal

A very tiny crystal found in the road

Looking east from inside the Amphitheater

Looking Northeast from the Amphitheater, for perspective I kept the 4runner in the pic.

Scott digging away at the loose rhyolite in hopes of finding an amber-colored crystal.

Our little bug friend that Scott found. It was literally about a millimeter high and wide. TINY!

After our adventures at Topaz Mountain we decided to go for a quick ride around the West side of it. The highway takes you right around, and there are several signs that point to Gold Hill, Brush Wellman Mine, and a few other places. We could see what looked like mine tailings, and naturally we took the dirt road that lead to it. What an awesome sight! One of the coolest things I have ever personally seen! I didn’t know what mine it was, or what they had mined there, but as we pulled up we could see the opening to the mine shaft as well as purple streaks of dirt. Purple! It was amazing! When we got home we found that it was Bell Hill Mine, and had been in operation in the 1950’s. They mined Fluorite, Bertrandite, Carnotite, and Uranium. The purple soil is the Fluorite, and sometimes the Bertrandite (which is pretty neat stuff, though the dust is toxic). Here are the photos of what we found there.

Bell Hill Mine

Inside the Mineshaft

An alternate entrance to the mine shaft. This is located just up the hill to the west from the original entry.

I think this may be a blast hole from dynamite, but I don't know for sure other than that the hole is MASSIVE! And VERY deep.

Could these lines on the rock be pickaxe marks?

At the other side of the hill you can find this intact structure. It's pretty cool, and from what I read online the cable snapped from here one day during a lunch break (no injuries/fatalities reported) and that is what shut the mine down.

Another view of the mining structure.

Another alternate view

A rusty old oil can lid

Close up of the mechanism used to wind the cable.

Some broken cables and old hoses.

Fluorite - The Purple soil

As we were on our way home I started to feel like my eyes were burning, turns out that is from the fluorite. If you go out there, be sure to take water to wash your hands. Don’t wipe your face until you have, or you will be feeling the same thing I did… Not so much fun. But the rest of the trip was amazing. The kids had a blast, and there were really some amazing sights out there. We are thinking of making it an annual trip, I hope so because there is something for everyone in the family. We are planning another trip out there this summer, and we will be taking my mother in law with this time… as well as whoever wants to tag along. Hopefully it will be a whole family kind of thing. ūüôā

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