One of the first things I did after relocating to canyon was, naturally, to begin the search for caves and mines. While there’s no shortage of solution caves in the walls of the Grand Canyon, almost all are located along the river corridor or in otherwise inaccessible locations, and few are of any substantial length.
So far I’ve found the many abandoned mining operations in and around the canyon have been much more rewarding. These are shaft-style mines, rather than the larger quarry mines that are common throughout the Ozarks in places like Carthage and Springfield. As such, they more closely resemble the stereotypical "Hollywood" mine.
They also tend to vary a great deal in terms of construction and design. The Last Chance Mine is interesting because it was built on a plateau called Horseshoe Mesa, which is located inside the canyon, halfway between the rim and the Colorado River. A special trail had to be constructed in order for workers to reach the mine, which is still in use by hikers today, and miners were forced to live in camps on the mesa for extended periods of time, due to their remote location.
The mine itself is comprised of several levels which run horizontally throughout the depth of the mesa, connected by vertical shafts. Machines are located at the top and bottom, once used to circulate air throughout the system of tunnels, and a couple of mine cart tracks run through the lower levels of the mine.
The Last Chance started out as a copper mine, and copper is still abundant there, as evidenced by the green-hued walls. I believe it may have been converted into a silver mine at one time, but I’ve been unable to substantiate that claim. Regardless, the mine failed to turn a profit due to the logistics of operating in a place like the Grand Canyon, and was abandoned around the turn of the century.
I’ve been to the Last Chance twice now, most recently with Arch, but have only scratched the surface in terms of exploration. I hope to return shortly when Zen Master comes to visit, and will update if we find anything of interest.
An abandoned house was demolished in my neighborhood over the winter. While it was no great loss (it had been an eyesore for years), I received disturbing intelligence that a nearby long-abandoned motel might also be at risk, so I called in Zen Master to help document and explore the place while we still had the chance. I had driven by hundreds of times, due to its proximity to my own home, but never stopped to investigate. It’s easy to ignore the ones you see every day because they seem less exotic. That is, until it’s too late.
I don’t know the name of the motel, as it’s been closed for as long as I can remember. All I know is that it may have been associated with the “Truck Harbor,” a truck stop that went out of business about 20 years ago. I vaguely recall going there as a child and finding several rooms unlocked and still furnished, complete with beds and Gideon Bibles. However, the property had since changed hands several times and was used for storage at one point, so I had no idea what to expect.
The area behind the building was interesting, as it had been turned into a graveyard for discarded gasoline pumps and other things, including a forklift, an abandoned semi truck trailer, billboards, and an industrial refrigeration unit.
After having our fill of the junkyard our first order of business was, of course, to try and access the roof. Being a one-story motor inn this was not a monumental task. I was able to reach the top by climbing up the side of the refrigerator, though I almost fell when one of the doors sprang open. Zen Master opted to climb a nearby thorn tree and go from there. I’d say I got the better deal.
After taking in the incredible view afforded by a 15 ft change in elevation, we climbed back down and went about investigating the rest of the building. The office, which apparently contained laundry facilities at one time, was all but destroyed. It was made of cheap lumber, separate from the main building, and had simply succumbed to the elements. Luckily, the actual guest quarters were completely intact.
After trying a few locked doors Zen Master was ready to declare the mission a failure, announcing that “All these doors will be locked,” but I was able to apply my Fonz-like magic touch and find an unlocked room on my first try; the only unlocked room, it turned out. It was basic cheap motel fare – wood paneled walls and deep pile carpeting. The furniture had unfortunately been removed, along with the Bible from my childhood, most likely during its storage unit phase.
Curiously, the room we were in did NOT contain a bathroom. It’s unclear whether other rooms had private baths, or if they were simply bedrooms that shared a communal lavatory. We reckoned it may have been in the destroyed office space we visited earlier.
Mere days later I happened to drive by and notice the motel had been reduced to a pile of wreckage. We had come just in the nick of time, it seems, and it’s likely that if one were to visit the site now they would find no trace of its existence, as it was being bulldozed away the last time I visited.
In a way it’s an honor, knowing that (with the exception of the demolition crew) we were probably the last people to ever see the old motel, and knowing that these pictures may be all that remain to prove it was ever there. Its salvage archaeology meets urban exploration
Shortly after my return from the Cape I made the trip back to St. Louis to visit Arch. On the itinerary was a return to the Piasa Caves in Alton, I. It would be our second trip, the first being woefully ill-equipped (we forgot flashlights and were unable to penetrate beyond the point of daylight, I fell in a swamp, managed to kick myself in the chest, etc).
For those unfamiliar with the story of the Piasa, it was essentially a Native American dragon/griffin/chimera-type creature that lived in a cave overlooking the Mississippi, and would occasionally leave its den in search of human prey. It was ultimately defeated, and a large petroglyph was painted on the cliff face to commemorate the event. It was noted by early explorers, and the Indians would routinely take potshots at the painting after trading for firearms, which no doubt had an adverse affect on the image quality.
The entire rock face was eventually removed by strip miners and an anglicized version of the Piasa, looking more like a European-style monster, was painted in its stead. The Piasa has since been refurbished time and time again, no doubt moving further away from its original appearance.
While there were once naturally-occuring caves in the cliff face, they were expanded and all but destroyed by mining operations some time ago, resulting in something like an odd cross between a solution cave and a quarry.
The Piasa’s bone cave (the secret lair in which its victims met their fate) is rumored to still exist here, but I was unable to locate it, and honestly wasn’t expecting to. Something else I was unable to locate – which I’m relatively certain does exist – are unusual natural stairway formations that are supposed to be located near the Piasa Caves. They’re said to resemble cut stairs, but start and stop at random locations, leading nowhere.
The area around the caves had changed considerably in recent years. When we first visited we found only an overgrown gravel parking lot to greet us, with no attempt made to bar entry to the caves. However, the caves have since become a full-fledged city park, complete with bathroom facilities and interpretive displays outlining the legend of the Piasa.
The main entrance has also been fenced off, though large gaps on either side still allow easy entry. The city of Alton most likely recognized the fact that people were going to get in one way or another, and chose not to make a serious attempt at gating the caves. Additional, natural entrances further back were left completely open, and another quarry nearby was also open, but we found it flooded and uninviting.
The actual interior was not unlike other quarries I’ve visited, and sadly did not extend far beyond the reach of daylight. While the caves are an interesting place to visit, the idea of the Piasa Caves and the stories associated with them are far more interesting than the caves themselves.
Before returning home to St. Charles we made it a point to locate Robert Wadlow, Alton’s most famous resident (and world’s tallest man), so that we could get our pictures taken with him.
Special thanks to my super-secret informant, who was kind enough to provide me with additional materials relating to the status of the Ozark Greenways burnt bridge, including an invaluable image of the bridge prior to its destruction and an in-progress image of its reconstruction. The new bridge will have a concrete deck and is designed to be thoroughly fireproof.
My partner in crime, Zen Master, confirmed this courtesy of a recent bike trip on the Greenway, and informs me that construction of the new bridge is nearly complete. I look forward to seeing the results when I return home from the Canyon. For now here's some concept art of the finished bridge, which you may have seen featured in your local papers:
Just as my heart is overflowing with love for the North Town Mall, so to this blog shall overflow. I took so many breathtaking pictures the last time I was there that I simply couldn’t squeeze them all into one measly entry, so I’m treating you to a second helping of North Towny goodness. There were three pictures I felt were worth seeing… but then, aren’t they all?
The first provides a stunning first person view looking south down the northern arm of the mall. The central garden and fountain complex can be viewed in the distance, just behind the old information kiosk. The official North Town Mall offices once occupied the store space on the right, as the banner proudly heralds. It’s worth noting that this section of the mall lies behind the barrier, and is not off limits, never to be entered again.
Next up is the culprit itself – the North Town Mall skylight. A loose seal around the skylight is responsible for the barrier being erected around the mall’s central space, which has in turn completely eliminated access to the mall’s north and south arms, as well as its internal entrance into Wal-Mart, not that anyone would want to go there. This has, in effect, closed off ¾ of the mall’s available entrances. No amount of colorful banners can disguise the menace of the skylight.
Finally, I leave you with the symbol of the mall, the North Town Mall logo. This particular emblem, the largest of its kind, still hangs proudly in what was the food court. It occupies a prominent space over the stage, which is currently used for such diverse activities as bluegrass concerts and children’s beauty pageants. Whether it be a dog show or a Christmas giveaway courtesy of the Salvation Army, the NT sees all. Though its neon gas may be long extinguished, it remains a symbol of the mall’s former glory.
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