The Mining Roadtrip - Part 1!

Posted by Jessica Scanlan on

Part 1 of the Mining Road Trip!This has been a long time in planning (just under 3 months) and putting 2 weeks of mining awesome-ness into one article is going to be difficult! So in advance I apologize for the length of this article, I'm going to try to separate it into sections so you can easily scroll down to the parts that interest you the most! I have also made all of the road trip stops & a printable itinerary (as well as location photos) available on Roadtrippers.Com! For more in depth information on the trip, behind the scenes, and to keep up with other adventures, check out the MineLife.MT instagram!

The Original Route & Stops

So if you have been keeping up on LinkedIn Articles or my @MineLife.MT Instagram, you have probably seen my Original Route map! The goal was to see the Top 10 mining towns in the United States in one trip. If you remember right, that was over 6000 miles to accomplish in just 13 days! So we narrowed down the list into 4 different parts, and this 13 days was Part 1 of 4. This Part 1 route was still almost 4,000 miles and included a wide variety of mining history and cool geology! *Note- this is just the general route with major stops and descriptions. If I typed out everything this would be a never ending article! Check out the downloadable route/map/itinerary HERE!

  1. Butte, America- Butte is one of my favorite cities in the whole world, but I may be biased since I went to school there! It was also #1 on the Original List, so it was a must stop! Butte is home to many beautiful headframes from the historic mining, the ever so famous Berkeley Pit, the World Museum of Mining, and many other fun historic museums and unique photo ops!
  2. Anaconda Smoke Stack- this old Anaconda Copper Company smelter stack, completed in 1919, is one of the tallest free-standing brick structures in the world at 585 feet. The inside diameter is 75 feet at the bottom, tapering to 60 feet at the top. In comparison, the Washington Monument is 555 feet tall. The stack dominates the landscape like the company once dominated the area's economic life. Since the smelter closed in 1980, the stack has become a symbol of the challenges that face communities dependent on finite resources.
  3. Wallace, ID- I have driven past Wallace so many times, especially when I was living in Seattle. I never thought to stop, and now I am so bummed I didn't! Not only is it a great town full of charm and mining history, but it is also the "center of the universe", and where Dante's Peak was filmed!
  4. Sunshine Miner Memorial & Sunshine Mine
  5. Crystal Gold Mine
  6. Silver City- Although it was closed! I made it almost all the way there only to be stopped by a ranger and turned around because the road was washed out!
  7. Elko, NV
  8. Malkoff Diggins State Historical Park- This route was also closed! Spring time weather can be a bummer.
  9. Empire Mine State Historic Park- This museum is spectacular, a must see! You can visit the mine yard and all of it's buildings, which are in great shape. See the hoists, air compressors, and even a blacksmith shop that has volunteers making items you can buy! From there enter the inclined shaft, which has lights down several hundred feet! Unfortunately the headframe was torn down due to safety reasons. You can also walk over to the housing that was there, which includes a beautiful MANSION, a rose garden, and reflecting pools!
  10. Nevada City, CA- This was for sure one of my favorite stops. It's a beautiful old town with mining history, fun stores, and good food! It's also in a really beautiful area!
  11. Folsom Dam
  12. Marshall Gold Discovery SHP- This was another one of my favorite stops! The museum and grounds are really well kept, and the people that work there are really friendly and helpful! See a replica of Sutters Mill, and even try your hand at gold panning!
  13. Black Chasm Cavern
  14. Cave Rock, Lake Tahoe
  15. Virginia City, NV- This was where the Mining Competition was held, and it's also another great mining town!
  16. Bodie Historic Park- This one came highly recommended, but unfortunately this route was also closed!
  17. Tonopah Mining Park- Are you getting tired of me saying "this was one of my favorite stops" yet? This was for sure another favorite! I got there 3 hours before it closed, and I could have stayed 3 hours more! 2 of the headframes are being worked on currently.
  18. Goldfield Historic District
  19. Rhyolite, NV
  20. Silver Reef, UT
  21. Antelope Canyon, AZ

Like I said, these were all the major stops I had planned on my route! Luckily I managed to make it to most of them, as well as plenty more fun stops along the route!

The Actual Route & Stops

Of course, things change from day to day on the road! I set out on this journey knowing I had 13 days to accomplish it, which places I wanted to see most, and nothing else really planned. I could just go day to day and decide what I was going to do that day! It was really a freeing experience which I hope I can do again someday. This of course means that I did end up altering my original route a little bit! The actual trip ended up being 4,440 miles in just under 13 full days. I did skip a few of the things I had originally planned due to timing and seasonal hours, but I also added in a few unexpected things that I really enjoyed! *Note- again this is just a general route! See the full route & downloadable maps HERE!

1.Butte, America

The Orphan Girl Headframe at the World Museum of Mining

2. Anaconda Smoke Stack State Park

3. Wallace, ID

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4. Burke, ID- This was recommended to me by a friend, and I'm so glad I went to see it! The road is well maintained and the site itself is spectacular! I can't wait to see if I can borrow my brothers drone and go back to get some cool video!

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5. Sunshine Miner Memorial & Sunshine Mine- The Sunshine Memorial is a stop I always make when I pass through this area. It's very well done and maintained. I also took the extra time to venture up towards the Sunshine Mine itself this time around, which is really a beautiful mine site!

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6. Crystal Gold Mine- This was such a fun little tour! The owner gave me the tour himself and it was just me. The little mine is well maintained, with a lot of fun exhibits and quirky pieces of history! (Be sure to ask about the fish)!

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7. Silver City- Although it was closed! I made it almost all the way there only to be stopped by a ranger and turned around because the road was washed out!

8. Elko, NV

9. McGill, NV- This little town just happened to be on my route to Ely. I ventured around a little bit and really enjoyed all the old buildings, as well as the pieces of waste that they used for construction around the town!

10. White Pine Public Museum, Ely, NV- I really loved this museum! It has just a little bit of mining history which is great, but it also has fun history of the county! The buildings are all restored and you can wander through them! The staff was also so helpful when I told them about my trip, and they were really sweet!

11. Ruth, NV- Recommended to me by the staff at the White Pine Museum! This town is too crazy, driving into it on the main street there are two very large open pit mines! If you have a good car for dirt roads, the surrounding area is full of public land where you can get great scenic views of the mines.

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12. Eureka, NV

13. Austin, NV

14. Battle Mountain, NV- I came driving through here at night and I loved seeing all the mine lights along the roadside! I wish I could have seen them during the daytime too! Battle Mountain also has a couple museums (check out the Other Options section)

15. W.M. Keck Earth Science & Mineral Engineering Museum- Unfortunately due to construction on campus and very limited guest parking I was unable to go to this one! I did spend quite a bit of time driving around though!

16. Star City

17. Unionville- Mostly just a lot of abandoned buildings with not a lot of information, but still a fun little detour! May not be worth going out of the way for though.

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18. Alpha & Omega Hydraulic Diggings- The road to the diggings themselves was closed and FULL of snow! But there is a nice little interpretive trail talking about the area and the diggings, which leads to a great scenic point to view the diggings! I did have to brave butt deep snow for this one though. The road through here was gorgeous and well maintained, and has several camping options during the summer season!

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19. Nevada City

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20. Empire Mine SHP- As stated above, this is a MUST STOP!

Empire Mine Inclined Shaft

21. Placer County Historical Museum- Free museum and helpful staff! A nice quick stop for a break!

22. Folsom Dam

23. Marshall Gold Discovery SHP- Don't forget your gold pan!

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24. Argonaut & Kennedy Mines- If you search the "Argonaut Mine" on Google Maps it takes you to a wonderful historic point with several informational signs. To get a better view of the headframe and mine site itself, find the road that leads up top. It leads to a "dead end- no turnaround" sign, but don't be afraid! That is the road that takes you right to the headframe with plenty of room to turn around! The Kennedy Mine actually gives TOURS on the weekends, so get here during that time if you can!

25. Kennedy Tailing Wheels Park- I stumbled upon this one! This really is a neat little park explaining the wheels (which are well displayed). The park is completely handicap accessible and has a well maintained trail with informational signs! Be sure to head across the street to get another view of the Kennedy Headframe too!

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26. Cave Rock, Lake Tahoe- I just stopped here to have a beautiful drive and get a scenic point of Lake Tahoe! It is part of the public land so they charge $3 to stop for 1 hour and take photos and use the restrooms.

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27. Virginia City, NV- You can't talk Mining Roadtrip without visiting Virginia City! Check out the Mackay Mansion, several mine tours, The Way it Was Museum, and the famously haunted Washoe Club!

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28. Tonopah Mining Park- Disneyland for the Mining Obsessed! Even have a stay at the Clown Hotel if you dare!

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29. Goldfield- Unfortunately most of the headframes here in Goldfield seem to be on private land or on still active mine sites! If you have 4WD and a bit of patience though you can still get close-ish to a lot of them!

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30. Rhyolite- Totally fun! Not a popular destination it seems, so not very crowded. A large open pit shelters one side of the city ruins. It also has an open air statue museum with weird, quirky statues and art exhibits which makes it totally *instagrammable*. Kick in the 4WD and check out several of the old portals in the area! Careful, there are also a lot of unmarked ventilation raises!

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31. Silver Reef, Ut- Silver Reef is unique because it is a rare place that Silver has been found in a sandstone. It's randomly in a residential area but has been well preserved and has a great *free* walking trail and pamphlet! Try to get there when the museum is open!

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32. Red Cliffs State Park- This area actually has a few easy hikes to great geology (natural arches anyone?), mine portals, and ghost towns!

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33. Glen Canyon Dam- I LOVE dams, I think they're so fascinating! This one has a great museum/informational center, and if you get there early you can snag a dam tour! Walk across the beautifully done bridge for the best view of the dam.

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34. Horseshoe Bend- This one was severely disappointing to me. It came highly recommended by a lot of people, but it was far from enjoyable for me. With how much tourism this place gets per year, I was hoping for a nice trail with informational signage describing the history, flora/fauna, and GEOLOGY of the area! However from what I could see most people were just interested in going, getting a photo for Instagram, and then leaving without really appreciating the area. I highly recommend skipping this and making time for Glen Canyon Dam or Antelope Canyon instead!

Horseshoe Bend

35. Antelope Canyon- Antelope Canyon is another popular spot you will see on Instagram. It was made famous by a National Geographic cover and is now one of the most photographed slot canyons in the world. There are other slot canyons around the area, but I promise this one actually lives up to the hype! The best part about this one is you HAVE to visit with a tour. I did the Kens Lower Antelope Canyon tour. My guide didn't really talk much about the history and geology of the canyon, the group I was with was mostly there "for the Gram". But- when prompted he was more than happy to tell me all the information I wanted to know! So I'm super happy to report that it IS more than just an Instagram tour, just ask if you want more information! My guide was also a photographer and helped us each set our cameras and phones to good settings so my pictures actually do this place some justice!

Lower Antelope Canyon

Suggested Route & Stops

This is my suggested route and stops! You'll notice on the suggested route there are still a few things that I wasn't able to make it too, but I added/kept them in because the reviews I was able to find on them make them seem pretty worth it to go! These are again major stops I suggest, there's a TON of smaller historic mining towns along this route and cool places to visit! I recommend tailoring it to your schedule and interests. You can download this map/itinerary HERE!

  1. Butte, America- Really, you gotta stop! Check out the World Museum of Mining, the Granite Mountain / Speculator Memorial, walk among the headframes, and check out Our Lady of the Rockies while you're there! I stayed at my favorite hotel ever- The Miners Hotel in Butte!
  2. Philipsburg, Mt- Philipsburg is a great detour on the route and I highly recommend it! You get to take the Pintler Scenic Highway, which has some great geologic features and is gorgeous! Philipsburg is also an old mining town with some fun history, and you can pan for sapphires in town or at the mine just outside of town! Be sure to stop at the brewery and candy store too!
  3. Wallace, ID- This area is really fun. Check out the mining museum here too (which is FREE but I of course suggest donating!) for a simulated underground experience. There are also mine tours, little quirky things to do (like climb The Stairs or visit the Center of the Universe). a bordello museum, and great food and brewery! In Wallace I spent 2 nights at the Ryan Hotel.
  4. Burke, ID- The drive up to Burke from Wallace is very easy and beautiful! It is dotted with informational signs about the area, and seeing the Star Mine is well worth the short time it takes to get there! A worthy detour!
  5. Sunshine Miner Memorial- As always, a must stop!
  6. White Pine Public Museum- Like I stated above, I stumbled upon this one and really enjoyed it! Even if you just want to stop in and ask the staff some questions and recommendations they are more than happy to help!
  7. Ruth, NV- Just take a short drive through this little town and enjoy it!
  8. Austin, NV
  9. Malkoff Diggins SHP- I did not make it here due to road closures, but it is still high on my list of places I'd like to visit! There are many great hiking trails, guided tours, a visitors center, and camping!
  10. Empire Mine SHP- I really loved this place, the visitors center was well done with great staff, and the grounds are well kept and unique! A must stop in my opinion!
  11. North Star Mine Powerhouse & Pelton Wheel Museum- I did not get a chance to make it here (it was still closed for the season) but it came highly recommended from a lot of the people in the area!
  12. Nevada City- This is another fun town! Grab a B&B for a night or two and spend some time walking around town discovering mining artifacts, browsing the little shops, and enjoying some great food!
  13. Marshall Gold Discovery SHP- This again is so well done and I really enjoyed my visit to this park! Make sure you drive or walk around to see the monument and Marshall's cabin!
  14. Black Chasm Cavern
  15. Virginia City, NV- Virginia City has something for everyone to enjoy, especially those who love mining and geology! The drive up Gold Valley is really spectacular, with a couple of nice lookout points. Find a place to park and walk around town! There are several mine tours, the Mackay Mansion, and the famously haunted Washoe Club!
  16. Bodie Historic Park- This was another one that was closed due to weather! But again it came highly recommended and remains high on the list of places I'd like to visit!
  17. Tonopah Mining Park- How Disneyland looks in my dreams! Once the 2 headframe/shaft restorations are done it will be fun to visit again! Don't forget to stay at the Clown Motel!
  18. Rhyolite- Another great detour spot! The abandoned structures, quirky statues, and off the grid portals make this place a fun stop!
  19. Silver Reef, UT- Another quirky stop! The locals here have really done a great job preserving this little piece of history, and there are many unique little pieces to this outdoor museum!
  20. Glen Canyon Dam- Really really a must stop, especially if you like dams! Try and get on a tour if you can, I was bummed to miss out on them! The visitors center is worth a stop either way, and the gift shop is top notch!
  21. Antelope Canyon- This is Instagram worthy as well as informative and fun! It's a wonderful place to visit with really cool geology! There are a few other slot canyons in the area but make sure you have a permit if needed.

Other Options Near the Trip Route (In no order)

I spent SO MUCH time planning this trip, I found a ton of fun, unique stops along the route! This list is stops that were maybe closed, I didn't have time for, fun things to see, etc! So if you're doing the trip and have a chance, maybe stop and check these out! Then let me know how they are!

  1. Yosemite National Park
  2. Death Valley National Park
  3. Bryce Canyon National Park
  4. Zion National Park
  5. Yellowstone National Park
  6. Black Chasm Cavern
  7. Humboldt Cave
  8. Ophir, CA
  9. Hangtown's Gold Bug Park
  10. Mercer Caverns
  11. Anaconda Mt Smelter Stack Park
  12. Staff House Mining Museum, ID
  13. Kentucky Mine Museum, CA
  14. Underground Gold Miners Museum, CA
  15. Moaning Cavern
  16. Aurora, NV
  17. Travertine Hot Springs, CA
  18. The Wave, AZ (need permit!!)
  19. Mystic Hot Springs, UT
  20. Western Mining & Railroad Museum, UT
  21. Idaho Museum of Mining
  22. Gold Country Museum, CA
  23. The Lost City Museum, NV
  24. Big John Statue, UT
  25. Idaho Potato Museum
  26. Teton Geotourism Center, ID
  27. Valley of Fire State Park
  28. Battle Mountain Depot & Mining Museum
  29. Devils Postpile National Monument

Mining Road Trip Tips & Tricks

I learned a LOT of valuable information during the two weeks I had on the road! Here are my most memorable tips & tricks!

  1. Get gas WHENEVER you can, especially in Nevada! Maybe in a gas efficient car it isn't a big deal, but I almost ran out of gas SEVERAL times because I thought I would find a gas station!
  2. Stay off the interstates as much as possible! You see a lot more and it's a lot more fun! I literally took almost every "scenic byway" Nevada and Idaho had to offer and it was so amazing!
  3. When car camping- be safe. I don't recommend just pulling off the road anywhere, the one night I did that was really uncomfortable because cars kept stopping, I wasn't sure if I was illegally parked, etc. Walmart parking lots and rest areas actually make great, safe camping spots!
  4. Make sure to have a phone charger. You should just always have one in your car! Spend the extra money and get the actual good one too.
  5. Spotify or Pandora Premium is SO worth it. Cell service can be pretty spotty and I used 4gb of cell data in 2 weeks. Whoops!
  6. Download offline maps on Google Maps for the same reason! Or save the route to your home screen.
  7. Pack snacks and water!
  8. Even though this is a "mining roadtrip" remember to be smart! There are a lot of abandoned mines on this route and not all of them are well covered or caved in. Abandoned mines can be dangerous because of cave ins, gasses, sharp pieces of metal, etc. Explore at your own risk, never go alone, or even just Stay Out, Stay Alive!

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