Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Tunnel vision

While some people may want to toss a journalist down a deep, dark hole sometimes we jump at the chance. This morning I had the opportunity to do a little exploring down a hole as I went on assignment to an abandoned sand mine in the ghost town of Tesla five miles south west of Tracy.

Coal and sand mines once populated the foothills and in recent years the abandoned mine shafts have become targets of vandals as well as safety hazards. The California Department of Conservation, the State park system and the Office of Mine Reclamation have gathered together to seal off the mine entrances. Members of the media were invited to attend the first sealing of a mine.

Our convoy of journalists, park rangers and state workers arrived at the base of the hill where the mine was located. We ferried up the hillside in four-wheel drive vehicles where we hiked up to the mine.

It doesn’t seem like much a small wooden doorway into the hillside but we offered the opportunity to look inside. Most of the steel tube gate being placed in the opening had been installed but there was still a gap just large enough to squeeze through. So one by one we squirmed through the opening and with a single flashlight began to explore the mineshaft.

I had been in a mineshaft at the Black Diamond Mine Park in Antioch but this was different. Through the dim beam of the flashlight I could see the rough features of the shaft. The ceiling hung low so walking was best tried with a slight stoop. The rocky walls funneled us down the tunnel and we walked with no clue where we were headed.

Graffiti covered portions of the wall and timbers supporting the ceiling. Occasionally I would step on a can or crumbled plastic bottle left by a trespasser to the property. I was far enough into the tunnel that available light photography was not possible. I slipped on the flash and using the autofocus setting did the best I could to record the scene around me.

Three of us went as far as we thought prudent and finally headed back using the light at the end of the tunnel to guide us out. Outside the tunnel we gathered on the precariously narrow trail ledge where we watched a ceremonial welding of the last bars for the gate that will permanently block human access to the mineshaft but still allow bats and birds in and out of the structure.

All in all it was one of the more interesting assignments I have been on recently. How often can I explore go spelunking just outside of town and get paid for it?


Jon Mendelson said...

What's all that graffiti-ed on the walls in that cave there?

Anonymous said...

that was way cool wish I could have been there but at the same time it just might have been to close for a claustrophobic!

Laura said...

i saw this on news10 and immediately wondered if you made it there to take some photos.
the graffiti shot pretty much sums up why they need to close up these mines. kids do hang out i have been told and have seen on some myspace pages.
what a cool assignment.
thanks for sharing!