Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Freeport McMoRan Morenci Copper Mine

Even though we're back home now, I still have more vacation photos to share. This post documents a special treat I enjoyed during our stay with the Pickle family: Steve showed me around his workplace. This is not just any workplace -- Steve works at one of the largest open pit mines in the world, that not only has a lot of neat machines on site, but a lot of those are Caterpillar machines.

Here are three of the many Cat 793D trucks that haul rock at this mine. You'll see in a later photo that the bumper on the front of these trucks is about 6 feet off the ground, just to put things in perspective. You'll notice the trucks are driving on the left side of the road (like they do in England) even though the drivers sit on the left side of the vehicle. Even though there are huge berms along the sides of every road in the mine, placing the driver next to the edge of the road allows them to avoid unexpected trips over cliffs. These trucks can easily roll over the top of a pickup, so the mine is very careful to control traffic around these vehicles.

The trucks are filled by shovels that clean up material left when the side of the cliff is blown away by explosives, and the trucks carry the rock to sites like this: a large basin where the rock is loaded on conveyors to move to the next processing area. Mining copper isn't like mining coal or diamonds, those materials are distinct from the rock around them and easily separated. Rock that contains copper must be crushed, drawn into solution with acid, and then plated back out of solution with electrolysis. The copper is then removed in sheets and shipped in bulk.

The sloping conveyor in the background has transported the pile of rock you see beneath it, which will be transferred to the cylinders closest to the camera. I believe those pulverize the rock so the copper can more easily be drawn into solution in a later step. The light colored plain beyond the conveyor is the rejected material left after the copper has been removed, aka tailings. It has been spread at that location for decades, and has literally filled a valley.

Steve's department maintains the infrastructure of the mine, supporting the production equipment in numerous ways. One of those ways is offering crane support when the conveyors need to be moved. In this picture, two men on the blue manlift remove caked-on dirt from the conveyor supporting structure so the crane doesn't have to lift more than necessary. The yellow crane on the left is simply managing the support legs, one of which is laying on the slope behind it. The conveyor itself was lifted by a 300 ton crane that is out of the picture behind me.

I've enjoyed trips on trains in the past, but never as a passenger in the locomotive. That experience has now been realized thanks to Steve and his crew. Steve's department also manages the trains that haul cars between the mine and a small railyard in Clifton nearby. In this picture we were taking four locomotives down the 4.5° slope to town where several cars were waiting for us.

Here's a view of the loaded train making its way back up the mountain pulling six tankers full of sulfuric acid and one empty gondola. Lots of curves on the route, and plenty of crossings so the engineers can blow the horn!

Here we are safely back in the yard at the mine where Vince and Jose have safely completed another journey. Most of their trips are uneventful in a good way, although they did share a story with us about a runaway train and derailment one of them experienced early in his career. Not joking, they told me to be prepared to jump out of the train should they instruct me to. I was very attentive the entire trip.

Looming over the massive structures in the foreground is the largest crane in the mine, capable of lifting 500 tons! When we visited this work site the crane was loading the pieces of a large shovel onto trucks so the shovel could be reassembled at another mine. When we left town a couple days later, we saw one of those trucks on the highway with his escort vehicles. The shovel bucket on the right is large enough to drive a pickup inside it, and is probably about the size of my first apartment.

A trip to a mine would be incomplete without a visit to the maintenance/repair building. Several of the 793D trucks were in various states of disassembly in the building, and along with the track-type tractors, made me feel right at home.

Here are the sheets of the finished product. Each bundle weighs about 6,400 pounds, so this image contains about $2,000,000 of copper sitting here waiting for shipment.

The wives and kids joined us for lunch at a nearby park, so here's a shot of the youngsters with the mine behind them.

This is the view over their shoulders. I've stitched together several images to make this one, so it's not perfect, but it does give you some sense of the size of at least one part of the mine. Click on the image to see the larger version of this image. Thanks for visiting!

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Corn in the backyard 2010, weeks 1, 2, and 3

We happened to be in Arizona when the corn in the backyard made its first appearance, but the Ryken family stepped up in our absence and contributed to the kind of post that earns awards for our blog. Enjoy!

May 2

May 9

May 16

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

High tea with good friends

Our Arizona adventure finally reached its pinnacle when we arrived in "the middle of nowhere" Arizona, home of Steve and Heather Pickle, and their children, Elissa and Seth. We all met a couple years ago in Illinois when they came to visit our church, and we've enjoyed staying in touch ever since. Visiting their corner of the world seemed a natural part of our trip to Arizona, and their generous hospitality made us feel right at home.

Since both our families enjoy tea parties, the girls couldn't wait to organize and execute a grand event. The high tea was scheduled for the supper hour so even the men folk could be present, and Mr. Pickle and I were happy to help them consume the comestibles. The girls (Elissa, Lily, and Gretel) prepared all the food you see here in the afternoon, and they were still able to smile for the camera at dinnertime (that was one busy kitchen).

I have to include a close up of the table so you can appreciate all the wonderful foods. We've witnessed a few Pickle teas via Heather's and Elissa's blogs, and we knew this was not going to be a disappointing affair. And no, we did not consume all the food.

Later, we realized that we ate English food on Cinco de Mayo instead of our traditional Mexican fare. Oh well, maybe we'll have to eat burritos on Guy Fawkes Day instead. Thanks for visiting!

Saturday, May 8, 2010

The Pioneer Museum in Flagstaff

The Pioneer Museum is part of the Arizona Historical Society, so we were hoping it would give us a sense of the history of Northern Arizona, and Flagstaff in particular. The history recorded here is quaint and frequently presented in first-hand accounts, which we find preferrable to revisionism based on the latest theories. Most of the exhibits are specific to a topic and time period, so we didn't find a general, chronological history of the area, but we did find several interesting vignettes.

The museum is housed in the former Coconino County Hospital for the Indigent, on the grounds of the former "poor farm." Several exhibits recall details and names from the hospital years (1908 to 1938), including a reconstructed surgery and an iron lung.

One of the larger exhibits contained sketches, photos, and first-hand accounts of the volunteers from Arizona that fought with Teddy Roosevelt in the Spanish-American War in Cuba. The Arizona contingent brought a mascot with them: a mountain lion cub named Josephine. Josephine grew to adulthood, and provided many exciting moments for the soldiers, especially when her natural instincts drove her behavior around the dog and eagle that were mascots from other states. That's Josephine's head in the picture above. Her cause of death is undocumented, but her hide was used as a rug for several years until it wore out, and all that was salvaged is what you see above.

Although labeled "Rough Riders," the soldiers displayed amazing horse handling skills and felt the title denigrated those skills. Ironically, very few horses were transported to Cuba with the soldiers, so most of them fought on foot as infantry. The display case shown above contained a campaign hat, a sword, and a rifle, among other things. I don't recall the description of the rifle, so I'll challenge any reader familiar with guns to use what information they can glean from the photo to enlighten the rest of us.

Although originally a homesteading cabin for one of Flagstaff's earliest white settlers, this building was moved to the museum site so folks like us could snoop around in an original structure from about 100 years ago. Ironically, this is one of the most modern dwellings we've visited here in Arizona.

Also on site is this train that had served as a logging train quite a few years ago. Unfortunately, I think I've lost the printed information describing this train, so again I'll challenge a train expert in our readership to help me out on this one. Thanks in advance for your assistance, and thanks for visiting!

Monday, May 3, 2010

Wupatki National Monument

Having just chilled ourselves with the snow at Sunset Crater, it was an easy drive over to Wupatki National Monument to warm up. Wupatki is at lower elevation than Sunset Crater, so it tends to be warmer, and on Friday we found it about ten degrees warmer, with no snow showers. Wupatki is one of several abandoned pueblos in this area, and probably the largest and most complete.

As you can tell in this photo of the main structure, no one has lived here for awhile, and some of the structure has been reinforced or repaired in hopes of reducing further deterioration. I wonder, if my home were left undisturbed for several hundred years, would archaeologists descend upon it and declare it a national monument?

Those that have studied this site believe several tribes have inhabited the location over several centuries, and evidently it is not as attractive as a homesite now as it once was. Since we have not studied the site in detail, nor been privileged to unearth the things left behind by past inhabitants, our comments will be based primarily on our initial impressions.

Here's a closer view of the main structure showing many rooms on, apparently, several levels, all constructed with flat stones held together with mortar. You'll notice some large rocks in some of the rooms, either as part of a wall, or occupying space inside the room. I've seen similar things done recently when folks wanted their home to be "an extension of the landscape around it." Is that what the first inhabitants here had in mind? I've heard some tribes described as having a close connection to the earth, but sharing your room with a boulder is lost on me.

It's evident this pueblo was built on a rock outcropping intentionally. There are plenty of suitably sized spaces between the rocks in this area that I think would have provided wonderful building sites, but then I wasn't here to influence the opinions of the original builders. I examined this room with Gretel and asked for her opinion of why the room was built with the stone in the corner. Gretel thinks the top of the stone makes a nice shelf, and the space beneath the stone looks like a great spot to hide things out of the way. Of all the mysteries of this abandoned dwelling, I think the rationale behind building your home with rocks protruding into your rooms may be the one that puzzles me the most.

This is a reconstructed ball court near the house, which I'm told is evidence that people south of here had an influence on the inhabitants here, since this type of court is more common in Mexico, and this is the northernmost example of this type.

In our opinion, this is the most interesting feature of all: a natural blowhole. This little stone structure was built around a small hole in the ground that connects to a larger cavern underground. When we visited, the pressure inside the cavern was higher than the pressure at the surface so air was rushing out of the hole at 20 to 30 mph. If you look closely, you can see the hair around the girls' faces being blown back by the breeze coming out of the hole. We thought about it too late to try, but it would be neat to see if the air would levitate a hat released above it.

Here's a little description of the conditions that create this geologic feature.

For this last image of this post we head back into Flagstaff where we discovered a rare fast food combination: Taco Bell and Long John Silvers in the same building. We've seen LJS and A&W, TB and KFC, but this is the first time we've run into the long-sought TB & LJS combination. We ate here twice. Thanks for visiting!

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument

The weather looked promising for being outside on Friday, so we set out for a couple more National Park Service sites. First stop: Sunset Crater, which is an inactive volcano that still shows quite a bit of evidence of its last eruption. Scientists have used tree ring dating to place the eruption around 1040 to 1100 AD, and since we don't have evidence to the contrary, we'll go with that.

The walking trail around the lava fields at the base of the volcano were simply cinders past the first few hundred feet of concrete. As you can see in the image above, the main cone and the area around it are still pretty sparse even after hundreds of years of vegetation trying to get a foothold.

There were several large expanses like this where the ground was covered by large lava pieces that reminded us of chocolate covered corn flakes. Walking on the cinder trails made a sound similar to what one hears when crushing graham crackers. Why do all our analogies center around food?

At any rate, I continue to be amazed at the lack of vegetation and desolation in some of these areas. It would probably be interesting to study why some areas of a volcano support more vegetation than others, and I would guess available moisture has something to do with it. The mountains in the background of the image above are the San Francisco Peaks which are thought to be the remnants of an older, larger volcano (hence the bowl shape made by the peaks).

This is a hornito, a small vent for lava near the main cone. Amazing to think how many years this thing has been sitting here without much change.

There is no hiking allowed on the cone of Sunset Crater, but there is a hiking trail on Lenox Crater just to the west. We hiked the 300 feet up the cinder slope and were able to find views like this one of Sunset Crater in the background. The slope was pretty steep, and the cinders were very loose, so it was a little work making our way to the top such that we all removed our jackets even though the temperature was in the low 40s. By the time we starting making our way back down we were treated to a light snow shower that lasted until we'd made it all the way back to our van. The snow wasn't a surprise since (a) we experienced heavier snow in Flagstaff the day before, and (b) we could see the snow showers making their way across the San Francisco Peaks before we started our hike. In fact, it was kind of fun and refreshing to enjoy snow knowing that warm temperatures were within easy driving distance. Thanks for visiting!