Today, I traveled nearly a mile into the earth. The Henderson molybdenum mine, only about twenty miles from where I grew up, offered a tour to my Natural Resource class, a group of eight twenty-something women from Boulder. When I realized this mine existed beneath a mountain I had always affectionately called “Red” I had to take the opportunity to descend. As I step into the appropriately termed “Cage” elevator, which will take me and the rest of my curious classmates into the unknown of this mountain, I hesitate. In that moment of hesitation there is no fear, but a burgeoning excitement. Seeing the recesses of this mountain is something I never imagined doing, a remarkable feat in many ways. But this mountain is one I love, so it is even more remarkable to see the glut of resources people want to take from it. When are we going to cease our quest to use what is there simply because it doesn’t defend itself?
The four minute ride down rattles me: it rattles me physically and spiritually. Quiet beneath my borrowed hard-hat and reflective vest, I think of the childhood ‘what-ifs’ that were calculated about digging a hole through the earth, coming out on the other side. Do we know the extent of our impact?
But my preconceptions are shattered, like my nerves, the moment I start exploring beneath the surface. One of the miners tells me there are over 150 miles of tunnel systems beneath this mountain. 150 miles is a greater distance than the journey between where I grew up and where I now live. Driving in vehicles designed for underground travel, we make our way through several miles and levels of the mine—observing different aspects of the process as we speed along—and it feels like an amusement park ride. I catch myself smiling almost wildly as we pass through a series of automatic doors into the Blasting Area. All of this is so visceral. Juxtaposed to these rugged and rocky tunnels is an arsenal of advanced machinery that works not only efficiently but almost neatly. My excitement becomes furtive, I cannot help imagining this mountain as its own being, deserving of something more than this kind of industrialization.
At one point our tour guide, an ex-rock-n-roll drummer and Vietnam veteran who has worked in the mine since returning from service, stops to pick through a pile of rubble for a piece of ore. We want to see it, touch it, smell it. Turning my head lamp toward the ground, the pile at first seems to be chalk, but when I pick up a lump and dust it off I see a streak of metallic gray—the molybdenum. Hidden in these rocks are these veins of shiny mineral deposits that are results of volcanic activity millions of years ago.
I slide it in my pocket after he tells me I can take it home, as a souvenir. Maybe it is contradictory but I want to remember this experience.
When we ascend, again in the shaky elevator, we have to place little medallions with our guest numbers etched in them in their respective places, assurances that we have all made it back to the surface safely. And as we drive away, back toward our lives in the light, I look at that mountain that I’ve always loved and cannot help but consider it hollow.