Thursday, July 19, 2012

King Copper -- Wasteland: the Wolverine Mohawk Mills

The Wolverine Mohawk Location - Image courtesy of the MTU Keweenaw Digital Archives

Stamp mills are where valuable copper was separated out from the massive amounts of "poor rock" it must be pried from. Rock was hauled from the mines, gigantic steam-powered hammers crushed that, then water and chemicals washed pulverized poor rock away, leaving the heavier copper.

What's left -- water, chemicals and pulverized poor rock alike -- is waste.

Beginning near the turn of the 20th Century and ending in 1933, the Wolverine Mohawk milling operations generated approximately 25 billion kg of stamp sands and an unknown amount of chemical-laden water, all of which was funneled by the companies to the Superior shore and into the lake. Natural currents and prevailing winds distributed this toxic blend far and wide in ways that can barely be scientifically measured and in this instance, that can also be easily seen.

Nearly 80 years after operations at this mill ceased, the waste stretches all the way to Big Traverse Bay.

Behold one of King Copper's deserts, as seen from space:


While the Internet aspect of this project ranges from traveler's trivia to historical research and touches most points between, the core fieldwork consists of me doing what I've always done, which is documenting our footprint along the Superior Basin.

I don't show much of that work here, for a variety of reasons. But the Wolverine Mohawk site is about as extraordinary as there is, so today I'll make an exception.

Here's a photo essay drawn from work done at the site, beginning near the remaining stack at the mill and leading all the way down to what's been made of the Superior shore...

Mohawk Arch

Mohawk Pillars

Silent Owl

Rebar Madness

Love Among the Ruins


Planet of the Apes

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