French Mine

Photo: French Mine
Photo by Janis Wright

Vermilion Forks Field Naturalists traveled up Nickel Plate Mountain on Oct. 24th to explore the old French Mine site, a busy location in the 1950s, and last mined in the 1980s. We began our hike a few kilometers up the road, and fifteen of us trekked along a trail already in use by several cows and calves. Our bovine companions were unsettled by our presence, and tried to keep ahead, with laggards ultimately jostling us as they pushed their way to the front. We felt as though we were herding cattle as we made our way to the mine!

Eventually we reached an old ore bin, a tall, free standing structure with a chute at the bottom for loading ore onto trucks, and we scrambled up a sharp incline to reach the mine shaft. John Henry, our leader on this outing, pointed out a nearby layer of limestone originally formed in the mid to late Triassic period, 225-250 million years ago, and showed us a small nugget of gold he discovered in the area decades ago. Another member of our group recalled when he and his buddies used greased brooms to whiz down the mountainside on tram tracks!

We continued upward along a narrow trail and then challenged our physical prowess by struggling up a couple of steep slopes, almost as agile as mountain goats! This brought us to an upper area of the mine site that is cavernous due to extensive excavation. We spent some time exploring the caves, eating lunch, and reliving past adventures. Back on the trail, we continued to enjoy spectacular views of the valley from many points. Once again, this was a hike filled with laughter, song and camaraderie.