A miner’s tale
This weekend’s hike took on more the persona of a history lesson then outdoor excursion. Just outside Antioch sits the remnants of several coal mines abandoned at the turn of the century. The 6,000 acres of the site that once held five small mining towns is now rolling hills and grasslands for hikers and other outdoor enthusiasts. My hike would take me to the hills of the Black Diamond Mines Regional Preserve with a trek to the Prospect Tunnel.
I’ve made this hike before and it can be a little strenuous. To turn this into a just over 8-mile hike I set out from the staging area to Stewartville Trail. There I would pick up Ridge Trail, aptly named as it climbs above the park’s canyon and hike out to the edge of the park. There I would swing back along Stewartville detouring for a trip to Prospect Tunnel and a trip along the Star Mine Trail. To make things interesting I added a climb back to the staging area along Miners Trail, a steep, single track trail etched into the slope of the hills.
Summer at Black Diamond Mines always makes for a warm hike. There are few trees along the trail to provide relief from the afternoon sun. The hills have long turned a golden yellow as the dry wild grasses flutter in the warm breezes. The Ridge Trail does offer spectacular views of the canyon and I headed out, imagining the workers that once frequented the area working in the mines. In the the 46 years or so the mines operated nearly 4 million tons of coal were taken out of the ground.
Making the turn at the edge of the park a lone trail post marks a small path that leads to the entrance of Prospect Tunnel. It was built in 1860 as miners explored the area looking for commercial grade coal veins. They bored a 400-foot tunnel, 200 feet of which remain open today for visitors who trek to the opening. There are no lights or signs, just the rough hewn walls leading back in the darkness.
Entering the tunnel things get warm quickly. I didn’t bring flashlight and the further I ventured in the less I could see of my surroundings. I went about halfway snapping pictures by the dim light still filtering in and with the camera’s built in flash.
Back on the trail I hiked to the the closed off entrance of the Star Mine. Steel bars block entry to the mine shaft and a steep ascent back to the main trail is my reward for the curiosity to see it. The trek back to the staging began passing by now empty spaces where mining towns once stood near the turn of the century.
My last portion of the hike along Miners Trail was a steep climb among pine trees as the wind whistled through the branches. Pausing for a breath the sound of the wind in the trees, eagles above me and the view of the canyon laid out before was spectacular. A few more twists and turns and I was on the main trail descending down to the staging area.
It is always nice to learn something about the history of the land and my visit to Black Diamonds was a good tale of the miners that once populated the land. I will have to try and visit the park in the winters months as the scenery will look vastly different in the winters colors. I look forward for another trip back the Black Diamond Mines and another trip to the tunnel just might be in order.