Road Trip

ROAD TRIP: Going where metalsmiths have never gone before

The clean, shiny, "virgin" metal that arrives at our studios, weighed, wrapped and invoiced, is not where its story actually begins. Gold, silver and copper come from deep within the earth, and most often from remote areas of the world. We wanted the idea of "material sourcing" to be less abstract, and more real. To remedy this, we arranged ROAD TRIP: Going where metalsmiths have never gone before, which took place May 16-23, 2007. Susan and Christina drove from Salt Lake City west on Interstate 80, following the route of 19th century wagon trains in an "epic" metalsmith quest for first hand knowledge and "grounded" experience. We imagined ourselves living out the classic "road trip" American movie genre, but without a script or film crew. Each day was an adventure. And, as predictable as a Hollywood ending, we returned home "wiser for our experiences."

First, we visited and pondered the world's largest manmade excavation, Utah's amazing Bingham Canyon Mine. The pit is more than 2.5 miles wide and 0.75 of a mile deep, and as of 2004, has produced more than 17 million tons of copper, 23 million ounces of gold, 190 million ounces of silver, and 850 million pounds of molybdenum. It is a National Historic Landmark and operates around the clock. While in Salt Lake City we met with Ivan Weber and learned about the interdisciplinary field of Industrial Ecology. He explained how mining could, instead of short term gain coupled with environmental catastrophe requiring years of reclamation, be the impetus for very long term, sustainable regional planning that does not compromise natural systems or understanding human needs.

The rest of our trip was spent in Nevada, which has produced 200 million ounces of gold and approximately 9% of the world supply in recent years. If Nevada were a country, it would be the world's third largest producer of gold. In Nevada, we had the good fortune to spend several days with Dan Randolph and Jon Hadder, executive director and staff scientist of Great Basin Resource Watch, who answered hundreds of questions with patience and good humor. We can't thank them enough for their camaraderie and for sharing their knowledge and insights.

In our quest for as many experiences as we could fit into this trip, we hiked to a high mountain "perch" and observed the Pipeline Gold Mine in full operation (blasting, 300-ton ore trucks hauling ore and dumping tailings, cyanide leaching, dewatering pumps and blowing dust). Next, we visited an abandoned copper mine where acid streams were rimmed with blue crystals, and the earth reeked of sulfur.

The following day, Paul M. Pettit and Jeff White of Newmont Mining Corporation gave us a tour of a gold mine that was undergoing remediation followed by a visit to the site of a proposed large gold mine.

Before leaving the area, we visited with human rights activist Julie Ann Fishel of the Western Shoshone Defense Project and were honored to meet Shoshone elder Carrie Dann on her ranch in Crescent Valley. The award winning documentary, Our Land, Our Life is the extraordinarily moving story of sisters Mary and Carrie Dan fight to continue ranching on Shoshone land.

They took us to Mt. Tenebo, the nearby mountain that is sacred to the Western Shoshone and fundamental to their traditions, creation stories and worship. One of the world's largest gold mining companies, Barrick Gold has petitioned the Bureau of Land Management to expand mining onto Mt. Tenabo. This would destroy Shoshone gravesites, disturb ritual grounds and could harm important water sources. (learn more)

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ROAD TRIP: Going were metalsmiths have never gone before