Saturday, February 25, 2017

Gold Mining in Montgomery County Maryland

Random quartz rocks along trail

I follow the littering of quarts pieces up the hillside.

More chunks and flakes of quartz litter the ground as I continue further up the hill

Suddenly there appears several rusted pieces of equipment and manmade trenches and pits now filled and covered with leaves.

Quartz and earthen pits and mounds

I think this could be the spot of the collapsed mine shaft now filled with leaves.

The invasive lesser celandine already popping up on the forest floor after an incredibly warm week where temperatures were in the upper 70's here in Maryland for several days.
I've been doing a lot of exploring around Great Falls and along the Potomac River this winter, mostly measuring trees. One of the surprises during my wanderings was learning that gold mining used to take place in Maryland. Gold Mining took place near Great Falls pretty much right after the Civil War until around 1950 or so. Supposedly, only about 5,000 ounces of gold have been recorded by the U. S. Mint as having come from Maryland (Montgomery County) in that time. Near Great Falls,  miners went as far as 300 feet down and blasted, picked and chiseled away at rock to get the gold out. Tons of stone was sent to the surface to be crushed in mills. The crushed ore was mixed with mercury to draw the gold from the powdered stone.

I was reminded of a hike I took several months ago in my neighborhood woods where I grew up, several miles away from Great Falls and the Potomac River: Many times during past hikes over the years, the trail in my neighborhood woods passes a certain spot where there are quartz fragments littered about. I always noticed them, but never thought much about it. Several months ago, I passed the same spot again and decided to investigate. I followed the quartz fragments up the hillside and eventually discovered several earthen mounds and trenches that were clearly man made, but had been reclaimed by the forest. Pieces of quartz littered the ground. There were rusted pieces of metal in the mounds as well. At the time, I assumed maybe it was somebody's old landfill or something.

It wasn't until a few weeks ago when I read a sign near one of the abandoned gold mines near Great Falls, when the pieces of the puzzle came together. The old miners extracted the gold from pieces of quartz. The round, sunken earth pits were mine shafts, and the trenches were dug for optimum water flow off the hillside. If I had to guess, the gold mine in my neighborhood woods was probably one of the later mines from the 1940's or 50's.

Here are a few links on the subject

Monday, February 20, 2017

Calvert Cliffs: Chesapeake Bay

It's been over 15 years since I last visited Calvert Cliffs along the Chesapeake Bay. It's amazing how much I didn't remember about the place. I didn't remember the crowds, the 1.8 mile hike to the beach, the large parking area, the playground equipment, the small beach, the offshore natural gas shipping terminal.

We've had a beautiful, warm, President's Day weekend. I visited Calvert Cliffs on Saturday. I guess due to the nice weather, lots of other folks also decided to visit. Temperatures were probably near 70 degrees, much cooler and windier along the beach. I like to do a lot of my hiking and exploring alone, and I wouldn't recommend this hike if you are looking for some solitude, unless you explore some of the side trails. This is a great hike for families, couples, and groups of friends. I was disappointed how small the beach was, the cliffs fenced off to the public. Basically everyone gets herded into an area smaller than a football field. One of the highlights is searching for fossils and sharks teeth which date from the Miocene Period. While the Miocene ranged from 24.6 to 5.1 million years ago, most of the fossils found at Calvert Cliffs date from eight to 11 million years ago. Last time I was here, I remember finding several sharks teeth. Not this time unfortunately.

Overall, I think Calvert Ciffs is worth the visit, just keep in mind that you will be sharing it with lots of other people. The 1.8 mile hike to the beach was flat and easy...

Friday, February 10, 2017

1000 Years Ago, Corn Made This Society Big. Then A Changing Climate Destroyed It

I had the pleasure of visiting Cahokia by chance, a prehistoric earth mound city just outside of St. Louis on the Mississippi River, two summers ago, when I drove cross country from California back to Maryland to begin the Appalachian Trail. It was a beautiful, warm, summer's evening when I arrived and walked around part of the abandoned city. The idea of a large, thriving Native American society which suddenly disappeared before the first Europeans arrived on the continent was and still is very intriguing to me. In fact, I had never even heard of the place until I was in my 30's.  Here's a neat article from NPR on the city and a new theory which may have led to its demise...

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

U.S. to Grant Final Permit for Dakota Pipeline

Another strike against clean water in America. This pretty much puts the final nail in the coffin. Let's hope those who argue pipelines are a completely safe method of oil transport are correct...