Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Ghost town tuesday! Ophir's Revenge!

Well, it’s Tuesday again, so let’s visit another crazy ghost town. You know, it seems like pretty much every ghost town worth visiting has its roots in the mining industry. All I can figure is that mining was way more popular 130 years ago than it is now. I’m betting that if you read the journal of an average Utah citizen who lived 130 years ago it would say stuff like “buy more powder for blowing up rocks and stuff”, and “take pick-axe to pick-axe repairman” or “challenge claimjumper to duel. If win, buy beans for dinner.” Ha! Just kidding. Most old time miners were illiterate, and couldn’t have written in a journal if they had wanted to. But if they had, it would probably be filled with nonsensical statements like “brotzic graaaffpf trzzittit” and crude drawings of prostitutes.

Anyway, like I said, the towns I have covered so far all have been mining towns that sprung up, made a bunch of noise, chopped down all the trees, and disappeared. One day I would like to cover a ghost town that doesn’t follow the mine-mine-mine-gone model, but today is not that day. So, here we are, entering the mining town of Ophir.

The story behind this town is basically the same as every other town that we’ve covered. So if you loved those, then get prepared to do it all again. If not, then get prepared to do it all again anyway.

The story of Ophir starts with the army and the mormons. Back in the day, people didn’t trust mormons. Well, the mormons trusted mormons, but nobody else did. And the US Government was no exception. Ever since the pioneers bailed on the civilized parts of the US, rumors had abounded that the mormons were up to no good in their new deserty hideout, and planned to do all sorts of sinister things. I suspect that these rumors are still circulating in several parts of the US, but this post isn’t about that. If history has taught us anything, it’s that sending in the army is a good way to scare the locals and make sure they are saying their Pledges of Allegiance. And so, in the early 1860’s, the US did that very thing. And to make sure they had a REALLY close eye on those tricky Utahns, they set up shop at Fort Douglas, right next to Salt Lake City.

I imagine that the two parties didn’t really get along, but I wasn’t there so what do I know. I do know that nowadays Fort Douglas houses several excellent parking lots for University of Utah students. But sometimes they will give you a $20 ticket if you park in the wrong place. And they totally suck about it and won’t let you graduate if you owe them. Because they suck.

Well, after a while the army folks got bored. It seems that there weren’t enough troublemakers running around Utah to keep the solders busy, and you can only shoot the cannons at the nearby hills so many times before you’ve simply shot them enough. So the army turned to poking around the hills for minerals. Brigham Young had told his followers to forget about mining (see Silver Reef post! It’s called continuity folks!) so no one had really investigated the valley for neat and profitable minerals. One day the solders came across a group of Indians who had handfuls and handfuls of homemade lead and silver bullets. I guess werewolves were a big problem in Early Utah.

Mr. Forester looks like he probably had at least 30% wolf in him. The solders investigated the homemade bullets and soon found a series of Indian mines in the western slopes of the Oquirrh Mountains.

I don’t know who came up with the name “Oquirrh”. Once it was on a spelling test I took in third grade. Only one girl got it right and we all accused her of cheating. It turns out the 30 year old me still stands by that accusation (You’ll get yours Megan!)

My best attempt at Oquirrh was # 3. Aucker. That was the best I could come up with. Apparently I would just stick a question mark after any answer I wasn't sure about. I still got marked off though. Don't I get points for admitting I have no idea what is going on?? No, no I don't.

So in 1870, several mines were set up, and sure enough, along came the town of Ophir.
Here’s a fun bible fact! The town name came from some prospector who was a-reading his bible and thought that the canyon looked a little like King Soloman’s Mines in the land of Ophir. I have never read this particular part of the bible so I can’t agree or disagree with his assessment. Ahhh, what a fun fact this was.

The mines really took off. People were pulling up all sorts of valuable stuff. Gold, Silver, Lead, Copper (I don’t know why I’m capitalizing these) all showed up to the party. You may recall our good friend W.T. Barbee as the man who got shafted (I’m aware of this pun) in the Silver Reef post. Well, in case you felt bad for him, here’s some good news for all those Barbee fans out there. He discovered an ore body here at Ophir that was so rich in silver, they named the hill Silveropolis. This hill, in fact….

If you visit Silveropolis, prepare to be disappointed. From the outside it just looks like another stupid non-silvery hill. Things were so good for the miners that all sorts of stupid mine names popped up. The Miner’s delight mine, the Velocipede mine (awesome), Wild Delirium, and, of course, the Ophir mine.

The Ophir mine is still in pretty good shape. It’s still got an ore chute and everything. Plus there are still mine cars on the tracks!

Also it has a huge pile of rocks near it! Rocks that are filled with toxic heavy metals! Toxic metals that will make it so your kids will have flipper arms. Neat!

The mine is on private property, so I didn’t dare go up there. People get really shooty in Western Utah. And who can blame them? I would get defensive too if I had a sideways cabin in my front yard.

Some people have chosen a different route, and right in downtown Ophir there is a mine that I think has been occupied by permanent human residents. Permanent human residents who love to decorate with skulls

I bet the people who live here can dominate a party like nobody’s business. You may recognize that mine from the santa post I made last December. It’s the same one! I guess the people there like to decorate the mine during winter a little. Ophir is a weird place.

Well, back to history. During the 1870’s more and more concrete and stone buildings were constructed on the canyon floor while the mines continued to belch out all sorts of shiny rocks. A town hall with a fire station upgrade was built…

(Town hall is the building on the right. The other building is a unusually nice house)
As were several pretty swanky log cabins.

And more importantly, a quiet time was established.

Actually, I suspect that the quiet time rule came into effect long after the main mining boom. Apparently the town of Ophir has a problem with old men not getting enough sleep. Plus they say that you can only go 10 miles per hour on your ATV, but I bet there are exceptions.
I don’t know what that rusted metal thing is in the background. Let’s just call it a mining tube and be done with it.
As usual, things were good for only a few precious years. By 1880, the great ophir dream was over and most of its 6,000 residents moved onto other towns with equally ridiculously named hills. The ore was still there, but it was pretty deep now and hard to recover because, well, it was really down there. Shafts up to 1,000 feet deep were dug but no one really wants to go that far into the earth. It gets stinky and warm, and sometimes the mines fall in. The good news is that there wasn’t any groundwater in the area, so the mines didn’t flood. I’m no miner, but that seems like good news to me.

So the town sat, and through the years the population has dwindled down to 40 or 50 quiet loving citizens. What they do there I can’t really say. The Ophir Hill Consolidated mine, the Hidden Treasure mine and the Cliff mines all produced ore up until the 1970’s, so maybe they all worked there. Or maybe they are there because someone built this totally sweet hot tub.

And maybe make a few prank calls on the last phone booth in Utah.

During my visit, I took a wander up to an offshute of the Ophir Hill Consolidated Mine. It had collapsed over the years, revealing several veins of this….

Green rocks??? What madness is this?? That’s Malachite baby, and it’s copper-rich! That was kinda cool. The snow was really deep in the area, but you could see several large piles of snowy lumber, as well as more mining tubes. The most interesting thing to see up that way are the wooden towers that used to serve as a tram that lead up to the Cliff Mines high above town. I don’t have any pictures of those. Probably should have taken some. Ah well.

And that's the end of Ophir.

It's not the most exciting place you will ever go (if you ever go there) but it sure is quiet from 10 to 7.

1 comment:

Dan said...

Brilliant, hilarious and informative! 2 thumbs up!

Did you know that I went to a play last night at a brothel that had been converted to a theater? It was in Magna of all places!! It was on the west side of town near the Kennecott processing plant. The downtown looked like a charming old mining town, narrow roads lined with pubs and sundry shops. Megan really liked it, but we're not moving out there.