While two 12-acre lakes now support largemouth bass
and pan fish, both lakes are manmade and their dams came from rock hauled in from mine sites after the era when trucks
and internal combustion engines began. While miners of all eras found our metallic ores often
attached to cave walls or to quartz geodes which usually range in size from bowling balls to beach
balls in size, modern concentrators and refinement came with automating the ore-cleaning process, which came with electricity and trucking.
TIFF A unique mineral asset of the area is "tiff" (or barite), named by the French from their word, "Tuff", meaning "scrap",
which they first threw aside in lead mining.
Crushing & Washing: Our ore-dressing operations
at the upper lake first separated lead and barite ("tiff") by down-sizing the raw material which could arrive as pieces
as big as 24" x 36" in size or whatever miners could get up a mineshaft, but usually wrapped in thick, red, 'greasy',
as they called it, clay. In the first step, crushing reduces everything down to a hand-held size.
This crusher design (shown below) is virtually identical to our stationery operation in 1915 and is still used to this
day all over the world.
What came out the conveyor belt would be hand sorted and the galena nuggets, the "low hanging fruit", pulled out first. At 80
lbs per cubic foot, it was heavy work. Then that feed would go to a log washer, like spinning telephone poles, that got flooded with water and washed the red
clay off. That water may have taken away the clay but it also contained tiny pieces of ore too small to pick out
and they went into the lake and sank to the bottom of the lake's floor. Waste was estimated at 25%.
The common sense approach in this era used a lot of water but all the fines, considered pollutants today, were contained
by the process in the upper lake. It was not until WW II that the huge crushing operation of the War Department on the Chat Pile
re-mined our mine dumps. The entire flow of Valles Mines Creek was used to wash out clay and tiny ore particles
directly into the creek. Too small to concentrate, this ore washed downstream for miles. The environmental consequences are
measurable to this day but it was a world at war and winning the war over the Axis powers was the priority.
(NOTE: You can find zinc at Valles Mines not only in rock and soil but also in the biosphere as ridiculously robust plants near
the many zinc mines because Nature transports zinc in a process called natural cycling. "Rain, snow, ice, sun and wind erode
zinc-containing rocks". But for the Mining Company, zinc ore began its conversion from an ore mixed in with rock into a
usable metal by heating it above its melting point in the Calcine Furnace on the Rock Road above Tunnel Station
on the MR&BT Railway. Because of the scale of the deposits it was transported
to the Edgar Zinc smelter in Carondolet but when it closed, so did our zinc mines.
A serious effort to revive some mining was begun in 1977 by hiring William Weigel, retired Doe Run Mining Engineer, who came up with a
plan but it never got started [See The Valles Mines Ore Washer].
The Lower Lake [aka "Beaver Lake", shown on the left of the road] has a huge natural artesian spring flowing out of the
bottom of the lake. If you check the spillways you can see how much water is coming out. Of course the lake
has been adopted by local beaver colonies where they build shallow 'kiddie pools', only 6" deep, for their new
arrivals to train in.
Because the Lower Lake enjoys both a spring-water supply at 39 degrees and a gravel bottom, it is capable of
supporting trout. In the near future we hope those released grow into a native population.
The Upper Lake has been characterized by Conservation as "Marginal Wetland Habitat" and gets visited by Canada geese
annually. Recently when the Upper Lake was drained and the dam maintained, an island was added in the
middle of the lake for the visiting geese.
With almost 8 sq. miles and ruins of several former villages we are still mapping the abandoned county roads, graveyards, and
schoolhouses where the old villages stood. Since many trails were built with generous amounts of crushed rock from the crusher and tiff mills
at this site, they are still quite usable today. We have over 16 miles of trails if you really want a hike. GPS encouraged.