03 August 2009

A Mine Dump Mystery in Butte, Montana

Thanks to Superfund, a lot of environmental remediation (aka "cleanup") is underway on the Butte hill. To the west and north, however, lies a separate Superfund site that has not yet been addressed. This area is behind my home in Walkerville, and includes a lot of mine dumps (mill tailings, overburden, etc).

Walking past this particular dump, I heard water flowing. "Hmmm, that's new," I thought, "Where might it be coming from?"

You have to be careful where you enter the area. The "official" entrance to the Ryan Mine is gated and posted "No Trespassing." It doesn't say not to shoot the sign, however. Also, as Woody Guthrie pointed out, "And on the other side, it didn't say nothing. This land was made for you and me" (click for song; Seeger & Springstein version at the Obama inauguration):

There were also pools of water near the soil storage area that ARCO-BP's contractors are using to cover-up (instead of clean-up) toxic waste on the Butte Hill. Without the gate, soil-hungry residents would no doubt make short work of this top soil:

Interestingly enough, ARCO-BP has also fenced the old Ryan Mine building. Are they trying to preserve this graffiti as an historical artifact?

Back to the mystery. I hiked around the tailings from where the water is flowing, and found a larger pool of water. Getting warmer, or at least wetter:

Mystery solved, I think. The large, round structure (on the left, below) is a new water storage tank that Butte-Silver Bow government is building for tap water coming from the Moulton Reservoir. The workers must be releasing some excess water, or else they have one hell of a leak:

Even on these most toxic of mine dumps, life asserts itself. At first I wondered what this strange plant and flower buds were:

But some were in bloom. Oh yeah, Blazing Star (Mentzelia laevicaulis):

I don't know our native grasses very well, but love the soft heads of Foxtail Grass and the way it bends light:

Foxtail Grass closeup:

These I know, too. Needle and Thread Grass, aptly named for the irritating, barbed (and sometimes spirally threaded!) seeds that burrow into clothing, dog hair, and hide:

A mystery hike deserves a mystery flower. Not a clue what this beauty might be:

Well, mine mystery solved and morning hike over, I headed back to the house as Mrs ER & I had a picnic planned for a local state park.


This Is My Blog - fishing guy said...

ER: What a neat set of grasses and flowers you have shown. I'm glad you solved your quandry.

The Crow said...

Lovely photos from an area (mine dumps) not usually thought of as beautiful.


Janie said...

A toxic waste area seems like a strange place for water storage, even in a tank.
Foxtail looks pretty but it's really bad in hay. When dried, it gets in a horse or cow's teeth and causes abscesses.
I looked for your mystery flower in my assortment of wildflower books. No luck.

Anonymous said...

What you call "Needle and Thread grass (Stipa comata)" here is actually bottle brush squirrel tail (Elymus elymoides)