Abandoned mines that pepper the landscape of the American West were thrown into the spotlight this month when a man plunged to the bottom of an old mine shaft in Arizona and spent nearly three days there, badly hurt, before a friend heard his cries for help.
In Utah, two missing teenagers were found dead in a mine shaft earlier this year after authorities say a man killed them and dumped them there.
The West’s mountains and deserts hold hundreds of thousands of abandoned mines, a legacy of its prospecting past. Work is underway to seal them in places like Utah, where people have died in falls, all-terrain-vehicle crashes and from poisonous air from old mines.
Yet some adventurers would prefer the silent recesses stay open. For years, a dedicated subculture of well-prepared expert explorers has been slipping into the West’s abandoned mines — many more than a century old — to see tunnels lined with sparkling quartz, deserted rail cars and caverns that open in the earth like hidden ballrooms.
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