Associated Press – EUREKA, Utah — Underneath the mountains and deserts of the U.S. West lie hundreds of thousands of abandoned mines, an underground world that can hold serious danger and unexpected wonder. They are a legacy of the region’s prospecting past, when almost anyone could dig a mine and then walk away, with little cleanup required, when it stopped producing.
In Utah alone, the state is trying to seal more than 10,000 open mines with cinderblocks and metal grates after people have died in rock falls and all-terrain-vehicle crashes and from poisonous air over the past three decades. Just this month in Arizona, a prospector broke his left leg and ankle after plunging to the bottom of an old mine shaft. He spent nearly three days there with no food or water fending off rattlesnakes before a friend heard his cries for help.
Still, not everyone wants to see the mines closed. For years, a dedicated subculture of explorers has been slipping underground to see tunnels lined with sparkling quartz, century-old rail cars and caverns that open in the earth like buried ballrooms.
“Nobody has walked the path you’re walking for 100 years,” said Jeremy MacLee, who uses old mining documents and high-tech safety equipment to find and explore forgotten holes, mostly in Utah.
He also lends his expertise to searches for missing people. That’s how he got to know Bill Powell, who looked for his 18-year-old son, Riley, for months before the teenager and his girlfriend were found dead in a mine shaft the outside the small town of Eureka.