April 16 - 17, 2016 The Salt Mine

When we first started traveling, I had a list of places to go and attractions to see – my “bucket list”.  Since then it has grown into a spreadsheet with so many things to do that I may never see them all.  The list continues to grow as people tell us about places they liked or reviews from magazines or from blogs that I follow.

The place we toured today was recommended by Jan Mains (thanks Jan) in her blog: http://billandjanrvingtheusa.blogspot.com/

Her post on her tour is here: http://billandjanrvingtheusa.blogspot.com/2015/06/to-salt-mine.html   

(Her pictures are better than mine and she has a great description of going down into the mine – Smile.

So let’s do a little history first:

The mine is carved within one of the world’s largest deposits of rock salt which formed over 275 million years ago.  The deposit is actually 300 feet in thickness but the original mine owners found that the purest and cleanest salt was found at 650 feet below the surface.  The Hutchinson Salt Company mine covers about 980 acres. If one were to consecutively line up each excavated area, the chamber would stretch for 150 miles. Natural pillars of solid rock salt 40 feet square are left intact to support each corridor or “room”.

Since 1923, Hutchinson Salt Company (formerly Carey Salt) has produced rock salt by the room and pillar mining fashion, which begins with a shaft sunk through the overlying rock to the salt deposit.  The salt is removed in a checkerboard pattern, in which large square caverns alternate with square pillars of salt that serve as support for the rock above. This pattern of mining also provides fresh, ventilated air in worker-occupied areas.

Blasting breaks the salt into manageable pieces, which are conveyed to crushers and removed to the surface through the shaft with large buckets on the hoist. The mine elevator is called the “skip” in the mining industry. Fully loaded it carries four tons of salt and makes a round trip every three minutes. This loaded skip is hoisted to the top electrically by a wire rope with jute core, and is used to transport miners to and from the mine as well as bring the mined salt topside. Because of the impurities (mostly shale and anhydrite), rock salt is used primarily as road salt.

More information can be found here:





We arrived at the mine entrance at 9:45 AM:

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And decided to take all three train rides - Experience the Dark Ride, the Salt Mine Express Train and the Salt Safari Train Ride – What fun!  Since the Salt Safari Train Ride was a special tour, we were given a yellow hard hat and yellow lanyard, a reservation for 12 Noon and we were told that someone would come find us – How cool is that.

At 10 AM we were given a short safety video and then whisked 650’ down on the “elevator” into a sparkly cavernous room. 

Salt walls:

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We were greeted by a docent who told us about the museums, the location of the train rides, bathrooms, and gift shop and told to take as much time as we wanted.  All I can say is WOW, WOW, WOW!!!

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One HUGE salt block:

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Large deposit of salt in this area:

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This museum was HUGE!

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The salt wall cutter:

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The mover:

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I have to find this episode of Dirty Jobs:

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I did not get a picture of the sight bobs but found it real interesting on how they kept the mine straight:

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How interesting is that – taking apart the cars and then welding them back together again!

More neat stuff:

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Some of the items they found in the mine:

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The conveyor:

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Jurassic Park – could it be a reality?

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There were bubbles in this chunk but I couldn’t get a good picture of it.

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Both Andy and I worked in laboratories in our careers.  And yes, we did use most of the items here.  It was funny to see a digital timer – we didn’t have them 40 years ago…Smile

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This is a schematic of the mine:

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Closer view:

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Our first train ride was the Salt Mine Express Train and we were the only ones on it – it was like a private tour:

One of the “rooms” that was mined.  On the right side of the picture is the salt pillar:

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What came into the mine stayed there.  The museum curators felt like they won the lottery since these items go back as far as 1923.  One of the questions I asked our docent “Were there any prepared rooms in the mine for important officials?”  and the answer was yes – especially during the cold war era!  They did find rooms of stored food and other items that would keep our government running if something did happen.  They hope to make an exhibit in the coming years.   It has been abandoned because there was no way to protect the folks in case of a nuclear fallout – the air shafts went to the surface.

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Many dynamite boxes thru out the mine – the older ones were wooden and the new ones are cardboard.  They used these boxes to direct air flow and used some of the wooden ones to make furniture – chairs, toilets, desks, etc..

Check out where the dynamite originated – Allentown, PA:

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Next tour was the special Salt Safari Mine Shuttle, which was an hour long ride into the deeper parts of the mine.  This area was just opened up within the past year and we wanted to go for the full experience.

But first a stop in the ladies room – check it out – designs in the salt walls made by a machine used in the coal mines:

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We sat in the first row and our docent was very interested in the coal mining in our area.  We had a nice chat on some of the differences.

This shuttle took us deeper into the mine as our docents explained the curators explorations and how the mining was done in these areas.  The have a retired miner on staff to help them sort out the “whys”.

I could not get many photo’s due to the darkness and the flash just didn’t help.  Sad smile

More of the dynamite boxes:

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Here is what they call “muck”.  The debris of salt left after the explosions that will be picked up the next day.  There were a couple areas where the muck was not cleared.  One of the reasons was that it was too dirty or it was the red salt.  Today all the salt would be taken and processed and impurities removed.

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Some of the rails that were left:

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The original tracks of vehicles – still here after 50 years:

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Crystallized salt from a leak in the mine – Beautiful!:

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Boxes being used to direct air flow:

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Area of red salt:

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What a great tour!

After this tour, we hopped on the other shuttle for the dark tour.  This tour was a little more technical and explained more on how the air was vented and controlled in the mine.

In both the Dark Tour and the Safari Shuttle, we were able to get salt souvenirs from the muck piles.  (A good way to clean out the muck – Smile)

From there, we went into the museum about the underground storage.  There are three companies involved in this mine:  The Hutchinson Salt Mine Company – which is still actively mining, The Strataca – which is the museum, and The Underground Vault and Storage Company – which is the main storage for documents, artwork, etc. (Think Monument Men and the salt mine where Hitler stored valuable works of art.)

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So now many of our movies, movie props, costumes, animated pictures, etc. are stored here and in limestone caverns throughout our country.

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Layout of the storage vaults:

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Don’t be late!:

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Examples of the facility:

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Some of the displays:

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By now it was 2:30 PM – gosh were we really down here that long!  We made our way back to the hoist elevator and up topside!

If you are in this area, I HIGHLY RECOMMEND going to the museum and if you have the time take all the tours.  It was awesome!  Thank you Jan!

The rain and wind continued the rest of the day and we woke to a few thunderstorms on Sunday.  I went to the local laundry and then we spent the rest of the day figuring out where to go next (all depending on the weather).

So stay tuned and enjoy today!


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