Monday, August 29, 2005

The Biggest Hole on Earth!

Note: Click on any photo to see a larger version.

Related Links:
- See all the Bingham Canyon photos here.
- Read the Companion Post from Code Red Mama here.

You've probably heard of "The Greatest Show On Earth!", which is the tag line for the Wringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus. Well, here in Utah, we have the "Biggest Hole On Earth". The big hole is the open pit copper mine, located in Bingham Canyon. To give you an idea of the size, it is 2 1/2 miles across at the rim, and nearly 1500 feet deep! It is one of the two man-made features on the surface of the earth that can be seen by the naked eye from the space shuttle (the other being the Great Wall of China.)

My kids have been to the Bingham Canyon Mine Vistor's Center a couple of times over the past few years. Once as part of a homeschool field trip, and another time as part of a cub scout activity. I, however, had to work on both occasions. We call that a "No Fair" activity. Meaning that mama and the kids get to go, but dad has to stay home -- so its "No Fair" to dad!. I usually make a big fuss over these occasions, in a good natured way. Usually, the kids will graciously invite me to come along, which I am often times, but not always, unable to do. I like to make a big fuss over it, because it sends them the message that the places they are going, and the things they are learning are really a big deal, and that they are lucky to be able to go.

Anyway, I hadn't been to the copper mine for at least 35 years! Its a shame too, because the mine is probably about 10 miles away from my home.

Let's go back to the start of Saturday morning. Dawn Ann's sister, husband, and their four boys were here for the weekend. They drove up from Santa Clara, Utah on Friday night. Their plans Saturday were to go up to Snowbird to take advantage of the Summer resort activities available there. Our kids wanted to go with their cousins to Snowbird, but for a number of reasons, that just wasn't going to work out.

Meanwhile, Dawn Ann had been fighting a headache for a couple of days, and it was coming back again late Saturday morning. I decided to scoop up the kids, and go visit the copper mine. This would give mama some quiet time to herself, where she could take a nap, and get some rest. Hopefully, the headache would go away (which it did).

We arrived at the visitor's center just a little after noon on Saturday. As luck would have it, we got there just in time to witness some blasting in the pit (which they do 2-3 times a day).

We watched as we heard the noise, like a rolling thunder, as the blast occurred. Slowly, clouds of dust would rise over the next few minutes. We watched some of the trucks as they hauled ore to the rock crusher. They are about the size of a house, and can hold up to 350 tons of ore each. The large electric scoops that load the trucks weigh 2.5 million pounds, and can scoop up 98 tons of ore in a single bite!

As you can see, the size of a tire alone from one of these trucks is huge. One of these tires new costs upwards of $100,000.

We went inside the visitor's center and found a lot of interesting things.

One of the cool things in the visitor's center was this cool picture, made entirely of metal. The metals are of different types, all of which comes from the mine. They also had samples of the many products that are made from the minerals that come from Bingham Canyon. Copper is by far the largest commodity, however there are significant amounts of other metals:
" . . . the Bingham Canyon Mine has produced more copper than any other mine in history--about 14.5 million tons of the metal. Bingham Canyon is primarily a copper mine, but it has also yielded a bonanza in byproduct metals. These include 18.5 million troy ounces (about 620 tons) of gold, 157 million troy ounces (nearly 5,000 tons) of silver, 610 million pounds of molybdenum and significant amounts of platinum and palladium. The cumulative value of Bingham Canyon metals far exceeds the total worth of the Comstock Lode and the California and Klondike gold rushes combined. With production statistics like that, it's no wonder that the Bingham Canyon Mine has been nicknamed "the Richest Hole on Earth." (From

This display shows how over the last 100 years, much of a mountain has been excavated away.

Next we went over to the little gift shop, where they have all kinds of trinkets made of things from copper, and other materials from the mine. We each found something to our liking at the gift shop. After spending a couple of hours at the visitor's center and gift shop, Amy was getting a little tired and grumpy. We had originally planned on going up Butterfield Canyon to a mountain top overview of the mine. (As it turns out, the visitor's center is only about 3/4 the up the side of the copper pit!) Rather than having an unwilling (and grumpy - did I mention grumpy?) participant on what we hoped would be a pleasant afternoon, we decided to take Amy back home, with the idea that Bryan and I would go back to the mountain top.

When we arrived home, I told the kids to go in quietly, in case mama was still sleeping. Well, despite my good intentions, as soon as we walked in, the dog started barking, and mama woke up. The kids had to show her their new treasures, and tell their stories. Bryan bought a geode, with 3 compartments, and Amy bought a necklace made of magnetized hematite. (I'll talk about what I got at the gift shop in another post, later.) They told her about seeing the blasting and what we saw and did.

Fortunately, mama was feeling better. Her headache had pretty much subsided. I told her that we still wanted to go up Butterfield Canyon to the mountain top overview and see the copper mine. I mentioned that we could load the kids bikes into the back of the truck, and they could do a little mountain biking up top as well. Suddenly, Amy's grumpiness went away! Riding her bike on the mountain top seemed like something she didn't want to miss out on. We invited mama to come with us and get some fresh mountain air, and we were pleased when she agreed!

So we loaded everyone in the truck, and almost as an afterthough, we decided to take the dog (Strider) along with us too. We made the short drive up to the entrance to Butterfield Canyon, and started climbing the mountain. By the time we reached the top, it was some 15 degrees cooler outside.

On the way up, we were treated to some beautiful mountain views

Finally we got up to the top, and were able to see the copper mine from above.

The visitor's center can be seen in the distance in the upper-left portion of the photo.

Just below the center of the photo, is the where the ore hauling trucks dump their loads. The ore goes into a rock crusher, that grinds the raw ore down to pieces no larger than a soccer ball.

Once crushed, the ore is moved onto a conveyor system, that moves the ore through a 3-mile tunnel through the mountain. Once the ore exits the mountain, it travels another 2 miles above ground to the concentrator plant.

Once at the concentrator plant, the ore is further crushed to a fine powder for smelting.

Amy wasn't too sure about getting out of the truck and looking over the edge. Finally, she too, got out to have a look.

Meanwhile, the dog was able to get out and sniff around as well.

It was shortly after this, that our adventure going downhill took a plunge -- and we hadn't even started our descent down the road yet!

This is our terrier/poodle mutt named strider. He is a fun dog, and makes a great family pet. Here he is shown sniffing around. Later he would "mark his territory" all about. Finally, he decided to acquire a few scents of his own from this place. If you want to read about the dog's adventures, and why we almost wanted to leave him here on the mountain go visit Dawn Ann's Blog (In the Hot Seat) site to read the whole nasty story. Its really quite funny -- and most of what she writes is even true! (Warning! Her story has, shall we say, an Eewwww factor!)

Later the kids got to ride their mountain bikes down off the mountain (Amy for about 200 feet before she had had enough. And Bryan for about 3 miles -- and he still wanted more!) We followed along behind them with the truck to protect them from any vehicles coming down the mountain. They stayed well to the right side of the road to avoid oncoming traffic as well (except when they were near the stinging nettle bushes).

Finally, because of conditions with the dog, we had to scoop up kids and bikes and head home. The dog was suddenly in urgent need of a bath.

It was fun day being together. It didn't cost too much, and everybody but the dog had a good time! After the dog got his much needed bath, we BBQ'd some steaks that Dawn Ann had been marinating for 3 days. Nothing like a good barbecue to end a nice (mostly) day!


UtahDave said...

Wonderful reading here! (and photos) It has been close to 25 years since I have made the visit to the Kennecott Pit. Thanks for bring me back!

Heather said...

Sounds like a great day. I wasn't even aware that was there. The photos are beautiful.

Thanks for the nice comments on my site.

Marti said...

We saw this featured on a program about the worlds largest machines.

Sounds like y'all had a terrific time!

Thanks for sharing!

David B. said...

Thanks everyone for stopping by. We had a great time exploring "our own backyard".

Anonymous said...

It is impresive but you should check this hole:

This is bigger and far more incredible.

Anonymous said...

COrrection: The Great Wall of China can NOT be seeing from space with the naked eye and neither can your hole. While it is impressively big, that whole "great wall of china seen from space with naked eye" thing is a lie, just check it out on

Anonymous said...

It is impressive, and a cool website.

However, speaking of believed lies (and I won't get into that whole LDS thing), there are other man-made holes much bigger than this. The Bingham Canyon publicity machine has definitely carried the day, but that does not mean the facts are, well, factual.