Death Valley is one of the first National Parks I ever went to, and almost immediately I fell in love — it’s vast, beautiful, and eerily silent — filled with history and natural wonder. But also, apparently, thousands of death traps.

According to an LA Times article (with some pretty great pics, too), the Park has anywhere between 10,000 to 50,000 dangerous mines and mining areas, ranging from sinkholes to crumbling support beams in tunnels to giant vertical shafts, covered in sand and rusty wire. And while most accessible mines have giant danger signs warning anyone who comes near them, those same mines are often marked on maps and have clear trails leading to them.

Why aren’t they all closed up and safe? Well, there is some historical value to keeping them around, but the main reason, of course, is money.

The financially strapped National Park Service estimates the total cost of making mines safe at about $233 million, with an immediate need for $60 million. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) has introduced legislation to establish a cleanup fund by requiring all hard-rock mining firms operating on public land to pay a 4% royalty on existing operations and 8% on new ones.

The inspector general recommended that parks request enough money to mitigate the worst sites and share resources to shore up their programs for abandoned mines.

There are also a ton of mines, shafts, and tunnels in the Angeles National Forest – from its pre-Federal Land history. Dozens are visible on the East Fork Trail, as well as the fairly accessible Dawn Mine near the Echo Mountain trail. I never go in ’em, mainly because I’m a stickler for safety and kind of terrified of them — but does anyone out there have any good mine stories?

Preferably ones that don’t involve someone getting killed.

Also — man, I have to get back to Death Valley soon …


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