Mining archaeology (roadside view)


The mining company has piled this waste crap (okay, tailings) next to the road in Copperhill, Tennessee. I thought that strange until I got home and looked at GoogleMaps, and I can see that they’re using the pile as a visual buffer, so you can’t see the even uglier mining activities behind it. Clever. I had thought they would prefer not to remind us of the ugly by-products of their surface mining. Apparently, it was the lesser of two evils…. As one county webpage notes:

Copper ore was discovered in this region in the 1820’s.* From the time of this discovery through 1987 the Copper Basin had the largest metal mining operation in the Southeastern United States. Early profiteers gave no attention to the environment, cutting down every available tree for copper smelting, creating an acid rain that killed over 60,000 acres. This turned the land into what was later described as having the appearance of a red moonscape.

So, now most of that hideous moonscape is hidden, mostly by vegetation barriers, but also by being buried. Here, where the highway passes right next to the mine (or smelters, or other machinery—something ugly), they’re “using” the waste piles….

* Not quite; Native Americans knew about the copper deposits before Euroamericans arrived….


  1. tom says:

    I’ve been through there a half-dozen times on the motorcycle. Felt very much like some of the towns in Western and Central PA. Momentary vibe of severe earth-trauma as I passed through, but didn’t dwell on it long… being focused on dodging the side road traffic, enroute to Tellico Plains and the western end of the Cherohala Skyway.

  2. Sammy says:

    The Cherohala Skyway is positively lovely! Well, it’s really a scar across the wilderness. Now that it’s there, I have to confess I’ve really enjoyed it. Along with platoons of motorcyclists (almost platoons, maybe just fleets or even pods; better: bevies!).

  3. tom says:

    Bevies! Yes! “Bye bye Miss American Pie…drove my bevy to the levy but the levy was a strip mine…”

  4. Sammy says:

    Truly, you are inspired, Tom!—even more, I daresay than the myriad of verses JCB can create about nearly anything to the tune of the Edmund Fitz.