On Monday I visited the Hutchinson Salt Mine with Luke and Mom.
Being so deep underground (twice the depth of the height of the Statue of Liberty) was disconcerting. ‘Tis not hospitable for humans down there… had the ventilators quit working we would soon have died from lack of air. I noticed a tangy smell/taste that made my tongue feel acrid. Definitely not my first choice for work conditions. Others may, but I cannot.
The tour operator instructed us not to lick the salt, whatever we did, because it was low grade only used for de-icing roads, not for human consumption. Luke was quite curious and badly wanted to test the culinary quality, but refrained because – I guess – all the warnings dire. But then, next thing I know he’d done gone ahead and ate a piece! No rules against that. I think he’s Ok, and not palpably ill.
Now that its been proven (by Luke) their salt is fine to eat, perhaps we could recommend the mine broaden their market?
Lighting down there was skimpy, so if you ever visit, do bring a flashlight. The following picture was taken with my cell phone in the only location lit enough to not need a flash: the Men’s Room.
The nifty apparatus slung over my shoulder is a rebreathing device that would convert hazardous gas back into oxygen in the case of a fire. In 50 years of mining, there hasn’t been a fire yet, thanks Be. Salt doesn’t burn, which is a plus, and I left all my fireworks at home.
The floors were smooth and made from saltcrete, (like concrete but from salt). They said if water gets on the floors they’ll melt like the wicked witch from Wizard of Oz.
At one point in our tour we had to traverse some five yards of unfinished dirt-like ground. Before we did so, we were given solemn warnings on the safety hazards of crossing this hazardous, uneven ground. Good grief!
It’s times like these I have that little bit of culture “shock,” wondering to myself how a caution like this would be received by someone from the Moi tribe? No doubt a circuit or two would be blown in their brains. They routinely traverse muddy logs over rushing rivers while balancing heavy burdens or carrying a child slung on their back in a handwoven sack and don’t think twice. And here to be lectured on the dangers of walking across some dirt?
There are other dangers. For instance, from time to time ceilings cave in. That’s dangerous, but thankfully no one so far has been under one when it happened. In fact, no one has died in the mine yet, supposedly.
I found it interesting they told us that, on the one hand, it will take 50,000 more years for the current 9’ ceilings to get squished back into the ground. Yet on the other hand, I saw with my own eyes a ceiling that had caved in with significantly less time (like 50 years). Fortunately, we were all wearing hard hats.
So it’s a working mine, providing salt for roads all over the US. Like I said, they don’t mine for human consumption. Despite the massive production quantity (including providing anti-ice for Chicago) the grand total of miners down there furiously chipping away are only…. four!
No joke, four miners. Ha, the wonders of mechanization (and explosives), we no longer need people.
Speaking of mechanization, saw an article on robots in Popular Science while waiting in the eye doctors office this week. Robots these days have come a long way. They’re now so smart, and learning so fast, it’s predicted we will soon have our own to do our bidding: from brewing up coffee on our automated coffee makers, to putting dirty dishes into our dishwashers (and turning them on), to fiddling with the thermostat when we get too hot or cold, to popping open a refreshing can of Dr. Pepper for us from the fridge. Won’t it be great having our own robots?
The robot above can get a can of Coke from a specialized fridge, but I’m holding out for one than can bring me Dr. Pepper, which I prefer.
But whenever you do visit… if you happen to see Mom’s reading glasses on the train down there, please bring them back for her. She left them on the seat towards the back.