Ron and Rose-Marie's Most Excellent
Bunker Hill Mine Adventure

Bunker Hill Mine, Kellogg, Shoshone County, Idaho
Ron Zeilstra rzeilstr@pinc.com


Editors Note: Unfortunately, Bob Jackson of Geology Adventures reports that COLLECTING TRIPS AND TOURS OF THE BUNKER HILL MINE ARE NO LONGER AVAILABLE through Geology Adventures or any other source, including the mine. :(

In 1994 and 1995 Geology Adventures offered several fee mineral collecting trips to the Bunker Hill lead/silver mine. My wife Rose-Marie and I were on the October 1994 trip.

The Bunker Hill mine operated from 1887 to 1983, producing more than 2.9 million tons of lead, 1.3 million tons of zinc and 154 million ounces of silver. There are over 200 miles of works in the mine. The mine and its equipment were auctioned off in the late 1980's and the mine itself was picked up by New Bunker Hill Mining Company owned by a career miner who is also a mineral collector. The mine continues to produce a small quantity of high grade ore as well as being mined for pyromorphite and cerrusite specimens.

Our adventure began with a ferry ride from Victoria to Vancouver, British Columbia, from where we drove to Seattle. The next day we jumped on a commercial plane to Spokane with Bob Jackson who organized this trip. Arriving in the Spokane airport, we met several of the other collectors who had flown in from other destinations. After renting a group van, we drove 60 miles east to Kellogg, Idaho, where we met up with the rest of the group. We then drove up to the mine site.

The fun began by putting on our equipment. This included coveralls if you had them, rain gear, steel-toe boots and miners' helmets complete with rechargeable lamps. We were then given safety instructions including how to use the emergency breathing kit strapped to our waist and the very clear instruction that if our group leader told us to move, to do so right away and not to stop and question. Permission was needed to take photographs.

The adventure continued by getting on a narrow gauge electric train used to shuttle miners and equipment in and out of the mine. The track entered the mine through the "Kellogg Tunnel" which was marked with the dates 1893-1902. The train ride continued for 2 miles inside the mountain. The passenger cars are open, so the need for rain slicks was soon apparent as the train passed through areas with water dripping and pouring from the tunnel ceiling.

The age of the timber supports was obvious as we passed by.

We stopped in an area which was well finished and lighted compared to the tunnels we had been passing through. We disembarked the train and were given a brief history of the mine and shown some of the equipment which had not been auctioned off. At this point we were at the 9 level with more than 2,500 feet of rock above us. The temperature was about 50 degrees.

The group was split in two, the first to collect pyromorphite in the Jersey Vein and our group to collect cerrusite in the Cherry Vein. Both occurrences are on the 9 level in an oxidized zone of the orebody. We would switch places later during the day. While the first group went their way, we got back on the train and after a minor derailment, we continued our trek to the Cherry Vein.

Getting to the collecting area, we got out of the train and climbed up a short ladder to reach the stope with the crystals. Here we searched the walls for seams and vugs containing cerrusite crystals. Using a hammer and chisel, screwdriver and a small brush, we opened up the vugs to see what treasures were inside. While it was easy finding micromounts, the larger crystals were rare. However, between Rose-Marie and myself we were able to collect a few thumbnail cerrusites.

Rose-Marie, collecting in another section of the stope, was complaining about having difficulty seeing. It turned out her helmet lamp was dying and she was literally being left in the dark. All it needed was a little attention and she was soon able to get on with the collecting. After what seemed like a very short time, we left the site and got back on the train to go to the collecting area at the Jersey Vein.

Riding the train to the Jersey Vein, I started getting nervous. Although claustrophobic, I had been in mines and caves before and knew I would not have a problem with normal tunnels. However, earlier Bob had described our next hurdle which involved climbing a 170 foot ladder at an 80 degree through a narrow raise used to remove ore. I was not looking forward to this enclosed space. The train stopped just below the ore shaft and we started our climb. It was not as bad as I imagined since, although it was enclosed on three sides, the right side was wider to allow the ore skip to be sent down.

Entering the stope, we saw patches of orange pyromorphite on the walls just out of reach. The pickings within reach were thin. I climbed another short ladder into a large limonitic vug where the ceiling was coated with small "crusts" of 1-2 mm greenish brown pyromorphite crystals.

The crusts were abundant and easily removed. They seemed to be attached to the ceiling with a wet, black muddy substance and you could peel them away with your fingers. Soon a second person was in the vug with me collecting the crusts.

I was told that during the last trip a month previously, this vug had produced some wonderful thumbnails. However, by the time I got there, the thumbnails had been cleaned out. After collecting probably 100 small crusts, I left the vug to look for better finds.

Rose-Marie had made her way to the end of the tunnel with another collector and was working on a small vug producing some cerrusite. I searched for more crystals or vugs along the wall and was disappointed on how few there were. After searching around for awhile and finding nothing, I began to realize that the most success I was having was picking up pieces in the rubble on the floor.

I began to methodically sift through this rubble and low and behold, pyromorphite crystals!

I called Rose-Marie over and we sat there sifting through the rubble collecting crystals. There were mainly brown barrel shaped thumbnail crystals including singles, clusters and matrix pieces.

In all, we were underground for seven hours. After leaving the mine we were given the chance to purchase additional specimens at mine prices. Then we raced back to the airport to try to catch our flights out. Several of our group actually missed their flight and alternative arrangements had to be made.

My favorite specimen collected on this trip is two orange pyromorphite crystals coming together at the base. We were able to collect several spectacular specimens which are proudly displayed in our collection and we have lots of trade material, mainly the pyromorphite crusts and brown pyromorphite thumbnails. I understand that other trips were more successful in finding orange or green pyromorphite. Although I don't know how the group who entered the Jersey Vein earlier that day did, I believe Rose-Marie and I may have done better than most in our group.

Bob Jackson issues a brochure on his Geology Adventures field trips to the Rock Candy Mine, Spruce Claim, Hallelujah Junction, and other mineral deposits. For further information on Bob's collecting trips, visit the Geology Adventures web page.

Bob Jackson also has "Explorer Group" field trips for those who have been on two or more of his regular field trips. The Bunker Hill trip was an explorer group trip. Unfortunately, Bob reports that field trips and tours of the Bunker Hill mine are no longer available through Geology Adventures, or any other source, including the mine.


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Bob Keller