Yesterday morning, before the sun had come up, I made the long drive down to the abandoned mining town of Rush, Arkansas on the Buffalo National River. I'd been there once before with Slim Jim last spring, but I hadn't had my new camera then. A lot of the pictures hadn't turned out very well, and I needed to take more.
The sun was just up by the time I got there. Thanks to my nagging insomnia, I hadn't slept a wink the night before. Also, I put off buying any bottled water until I was closer to Rush, and ended up being screwed when I realized there weren't any gas stations close to it.
I started out taking pictures of the few old buildings that remain at Rush, then I headed up on the mountain to check out the old mines. Most of the good mines have had steel bars mounted over the entrances to keep people out, but every once in a while you'll find one where someone has dug under the bars. And, if you go up higher on the mountain away from the trails, you can find lots of smaller mines that have never been sealed up.
Right away, I found one such mine high up on the mountain. I was way up away from the trail and noticed a small cave just barely big enough to squeeze into. I almost didn't check it out, thinking it was one of the many little caves that litter the area around here. I decided to go in, anyway, and was pleasantly surprised.
And let me tell you... You haven't experienced anxiety until you're crawling on your hands and knees into a dark mine tunnel in the middle of Arkansas bear country. Fear Factor's got nothing on this.
Once inside, the mine got much larger than the tunnel to crawl inside. It was at least ten feet high in places. The walls were also covered in crystal formations. It's not uncommon to find quartz crystal in red clay soil in Arkansas, especially down around the Hot Springs area. Here, though, it was scattered in places on the walls, so when I shined my light, it looked like twinkling stars all around me in the dark. It was eerie.
Back in the mine, I found a little side passage just big enough to crawl into. It led into yet another section of mine tunnel. Here the ceiling was supported with thick wooden beams that were rotting away to nothing. The floor was covered in a spongy mass of rotten wood where many of the supports had already disappeared.
I left that mine and continued on across the hills after that. I found mine after mine, all of them sealed up with bars. I tried in a few places to squeeze past the bars and the rock, but it was no use. If I'd had something to dig with, I probably could have, though. I also found places where there was still tracks laid out for the ore carts, though it was rusting away. They looked like miniature railroad tracks. At one part of the trail there was even a huge, metal ore cart just laying there stranded.
Toward the end of the trail, I found one large mine where someone had managed to dig under the bars. I took off my backpack, laid my camera where I could reach it, and squeezed under the bars. I managed to get through, but I got filthy in the process.
This particular mine was fairly big. I spent probably half an hour just wandering around inside, taking pictures of the old wooden beams and metal pipes laying around discared. It wasn't perfectly level, either. In some places the mine would suddenly slope up or down an entire story. When they'd dug the mine, they'd had to follow the vein of ore, no matter what direction it had gone.
When I was certain I'd seen all the tunnels inside, I headed back out to the trail. At the end, I walked back down the mountain, and walked the few miles down the road back to my car. When I got there, I got in and drove back into the area a little farther. I found that one of the old buildings that used to be there was burnt to the foundation and surrounded with police crime scene tape. Apparently some vandals had burnt the place down.
After that, I wandered around the campground next to the river. I saw turkey and deer all over the place. You couldn't even look at the ground there without seeing tracks for both animals.
Before I left, I drove to the edge of Rush and walked down yet another trail. Down near the end was another mine, the one called Monte Cristo. It was huge compared to the others, with several entrances, one of them at least two stories tall and covered with metal bars. I could see inside where it sloped down into the ground so far that my flashlight couldn't even show me how deep it went. I would've killed to get in there.
I'd intended to check out some more mines in Marion county while I was there and stop by Dodd City to see the old schoolhouse, but I'd spent about six hours at Rush at that point. I was exhausted from backpacking up and down the mountain on no sleep and without any water (although I admit to drinking a little of the filthy water from the creek in desperation). I finished taking the last of the pictures I needed for the site, headed home, and went to bed.
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Here you can read about White Rabbit's day-to-day explorations and adventures.
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