Mining heritage still alive in Upper Peninsula [Michigan] – by Phil Power (Holland Sentinel – August 20, 2012)

Ann Arbor — Michigan’s Upper Peninsula has been a powerfully mining-oriented place ever since early explorers were astonished to discover enormous chunks of pure copper in the Keweenaw Peninsula.

The iron ore deposits uncovered west of Marquette in the 19th century were so rich that unprocessed ore was shipped directly to blast furnaces to be made into iron. Once those deposits were worked out, vast quantities remained of less pure — but plenty rich — iron ore. Ever since, this has been one of the U.P.’s biggest industries, creating jobs extracting, processing and shipping iron ore to steel mills from Cleveland to Gary, Ind.

I’ve just returned from a family vacation at our cabin “up north,” where we toured the Tilden iron mine near Negaunee, owned and operated by Cliffs Natural Resources Co., which readers may remember was named Cleveland-Cliffs until a few years ago.

The scope and scale of the mine flabbergasted us. As we approached, we saw a vast three-story rust-colored building looming that seemed to run on for a mile or so. Hills of waste tailings as high as the biggest ski hill rose up to the south.

The ore was dug out of an enormous deep open pit, the black-dark red rock with multiple terraces descending deeper and deeper into the ground. You could put several University of Michigan “Big House” football stadiums into the pit and still have plenty of room to spare. You may not be surprised to learn that after many years of mining, the pit bottom today is the lowest point in the entire U.P.

Rock is blasted loose by setting off deep explosive charges in the pit. Vast shovels — the newest capable of hoisting hundreds of tons of rock and costing up to $30 million — unload ore into transporter trucks, themselves three stories high and capable of hauling 360 tons at one go. The tires for those monsters are 10 feet high and covered with chains to protect them from the sharp rock.

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