Since May 12, 2011, I have been trying to track down a relatively detailed/accurate survey (paper or digital) of the Ute Ulay. I am a resourceful type, but this task has proved beyond my capabilities.

To say it is frustrating, is somewhat of an understatement! But, after many, many weeks of asking politely, researching, cobbling together and ‘making do’, I am approaching something that I am confident will be useful.

A few days ago, I took my latest (6th version) plans and sections up to the site and went back to using hand-brain-eye co-ordination to draw on top of what I had been able to produce through (mostly) desktop research.

The levels on site are very complex, but also important. The narrative of this site is about earth moving. The ground itself is made of hard work. The lumps and bumps, and rocky expanses are as much historical features as any of the buildings, though people tend not to notice. Landscape is the quiet sibling of architecture. But for all that – it has such depths! The information and multiple histories of the landform tell subtle stories, if you take the time to look. Their rich textures, and chemical makeup flow around you – directing your view or supporting your weight.

By contrast, the buildings sit as discrete entities within the landscape. As humans, I think it is natural for us to focus on the object and not on the background. But imagine if that background changed drastically… would not the whole scene be fundamentally different? Proposals for ‘reclamation’ of the site include re-grading some of the oldest parts of the landform, and obliterating them. In mining, the landscape is a systemic entity, and the rock (waste or otherwise) is part of that. Making the site safe for humans, is not incompatible with using the site to tell the story of it’s own past.

My task of recording the landform and conditions currently on site, is my way of paying homage to their importance. I am not opposed to change, but change should be undertaken for positive reasons, and with respect and sensitivity. My own flawed survey will form the basis for my proposals.


The Old Dam

Whilst perusing the Bulletin – United States Geological Survey, Issue 478 I saw on page 86 a tantalising glimpse of Plat V. It showed the lower portion of the Ute Ulay mine site, near the river, and on it was marked the site of the old dam. This was news to me, so I ordered a reprint of the book (the original was published in 1911) and in it was a shrunken down version of the same plat.

Up at the mine I checked as well as I could along the bank, and thought I could make out the remains of a stone wall at roughly the location indicated on the plan. You may be able to make out the the old dam below.

The image above also shows the underground working of the mine which are very extensive. This makes sense of the huge amounts of waste rock which are historical landmarks in themselves.

As a working mine, everything at the Ute Ulay changed many times over. The buildings, landform, and access routes have existed in a fluid state; altering to suit the needs of whoever worked there at the time. For me, this utilitarian attitude to place is the main character of the mine site, and it is what makes it such an engaging place now. The quiet beauty of the atmosphere there seems magnified by the knowledge that it was once a bustling place, filled with people, steam, dust, diesel fumes and noise.

Yesterday, Grant Houston, editor of Lake City’s wonderful newspaper Silver World (which started on June 19, 1875), gave me access to a stash of photographs relating to the Ute Ulay mine. As a prominent local historian, Grant has amassed quite a collection of information about Lake City – including the Ute Ulay.

As I looked through the photos, I noticed something in one of them that caught my eye.

On the far left of this image, you can clearly see the old dam referred to on Plat V from the USGS bulletin 478. It was exciting to find evidence of something that may have been otherwise forgotten. It looks as though the dam was made of large timbers. The next time I’m on mine site, I’ll have another look.The image also shows the old mill, the flumehead, and some large waste rock piles – some of which still remain.

There are a number of structures which are made of in-situ cast concrete at the mine. Part of the blacksmith’s shop and the new dam are made in exactly the same way. Another photo that Grant has, shows the building of the ‘new’ dam (see below).

Today you can still see the imprint of the timbers used in the in-situ concrete being poured in the picture above. The new dam is mentioned in the 1911 book, so must date from earlier than that.

The picture above shows the ‘new’ dam today.

The Ute Ulay is the product of accretion, and I hope that whatever comes next follows in that spirit.

Good Lookin’

It’s a looker!

There’s no doubt that the Ute Ulay, with it’s dilapidated charms is a head-turner. The romance of the Wild West lives on in the shabby chic of the buildings, and the dusty expanses of waste rock, set against the sublime and vertiginous Rocky Mountains.

The Ute Ulay site is is private property, and the ‘no trespassing’ signs are strictly enforced. So, it was a treat for everyone last week, when I teamed up with two Lake City pro photographers (Carol Robinson and Craig Palmer) for a look around.

Here’s your treat now – a selection of their lovely pictures!

image Carol Robinson

image Craig Palmer

image Carol Robinson

image Craig Palmer

image Carol Robinson

image Craig Palmer