Sunday, February 10, 2013

Into The Heart of Darkness

Our world is a crazy one.  Some parts are preserved well while others are left to fall apart. On a journey that would leave me with dark thoughts about mining, I struggled for one week to organize my thoughts and write this post.  I also struggled to find the art from it all.  Sometimes photography is about being uncomfortable with the observation.  This post today serves 2 purposes which I'll cover in just a moment.
The Morenci Mines
Arizona is a world of its own.  In many ways, I am thankful for the birding trips to the odd and bizarre because it allows me to see our state as a whole.  On this day, both Kathie and myself would head to Greenlee County.  We went because there hadn't been any bird counts in this region and I quickly understood why.  Greenlee county is a long and narrow one that runs along the New Mexico border.  It is full of breathtaking mountain ranges covered in forest.  Once again, it's home to some rare finds in Arizona which include Magpies!
Roper Lake State Park
We began our studies at Roper Lake Park in Cochise county.  A really lovely park full of cabins and water!  On this day, the Common Merganser would fill the lake with numbers over 150!  Kathie counted.  And I took in all the beautiful landscape locating birds for her to count:)  This took up much of our morning but we knew we had to get to Greenlee County to record data. And so the Las Aventuras and Kathie's Birds team went where most people avoid.....into the Heart of Darkness.
Female Great-tail Grackle
We entered Greenlee County and became excited finding our first birds.....2 Common Ravens!  The first Ebird count for the 2013 year! And then things went south once we entered the mining towns of Clifton and its sister city Morenci.  I became angry and upset because we are facing a mine opening up in the near future on our beautiful Santa Rita mountains.  The people have been fighting to keep this mine out and away from this pristine mountain range.  Pima County environmental officials rejected the proposal on this mine and the state of Arizona(run by Jan Brewer) didn't like Pima County's decision. The State Supreme Court ruled in favor of Rosemont.   So they are giving this Canadian based company another opportunity to open their mine on these mountains.  As of last week, they are one permit away from opening.  What this tells me is that the people have no voice whatsoever and money, like always, speaks.  A mining company will promise the moon and the stars to a community. And then decades later, they'll leave you in a wasteland of human scrap destroying all the natural wonders that this world continues to lose daily.  All people have to do is go to Clifton or Morenci to witness what mining has done to the landscape and wildlife(or lack of!).  Even closer are the mines near Green Valley and Globe!  It's truly an eye stain!
After these pics were released on my Facebook page, a friend came up to me and said that she had been raised in this community as a child. The town is run and owned by the mining company.  You could feel and see the social changes once we entered into this broken down part of the world.  Many of the old homes abandoned.  And some of these decaying buildings were actually used!  I remember seeing a boarded up building that had plywood pulled away from the window which led me to believe vagrants lived in these places.
We went to do a count at one spot in the Morenci area and for the first time in my Ebird experience, we could not find any birds!  It was disheartening.  The place had trees and rock......but there was nothing!  I searched my best to prove to Kathie that there was a least one bird hiding.  Not a peep.  And for this report, a sad "0" was entered into our bird counts.  If most of us just stood still, we'd see or hear something(pigeons count:)  But at this site.....nothing.  And that was sad.
I suppose the town would be a photographer's dream but all the images made me very angry.  Let's just rip this entire world apart and destroy it!  There is a line that should not be crossed and these mines prove that point.  If a mine goes into the Santa Rita mountains, endemic species face yet another human threat. Water quality?  If I were a resident near these mines, I'd be very concerned.  Here is the link about what's going on in the Tucson/Green Valley area. Believe me, people are fighting against this mine opening.  It will affect those who come and enjoy the beautiful Arizona landscape from around the world.  It will destroy what Southern Arizona is best known amazing diversity of birds and wildlife!
I detached my emotions from the ecological disaster and the harsh chemically stained landscape to examine the people.  My fb friend told me that it was a very different life growing up in a mining town.  The mine had indeed grown since she last visited this area.  I would have liked to spend a night in this town just to study the culture and speak to several people about living in this isolated area.  We will be going back here again for more work and study.  There are places we didn't have a chance to visit and would like to see next time.
Rock Wren at Roper Lake
Here is a link to a post I wrote last year titled, Save the Scenic Santa Ritas!  They are only 1 permit away from getting started and if it passes, a lot of people will be saddened by the news.
Imagine looking at this mountain range below with a mining scar on it.  Now imagine the life that lives on those lands and you can see why many people are upset about about a mine opening up.  We headed back home this day with heavy thoughts.   
The Pinaleño Mountains


  1. Niektórzy ludzie są tak zachłanni na pieniądze, że nie obchodzi ich, że zostanie zniszczona przyroda. Mam nadzieję, że kopalnia nie zostanie ponownie uruchomiona. Pozdrawiam.
    Some people are so greedy for money that they do not care that nature will be destroyed. I hope that mine will not be restarted. Yours.

  2. I would be torn about these photos too.
    I always say, more information is good. Keep sharing what you see/know.

  3. Chris, the mining makes me sad. How much they ruin in the process? I would think the water quality and the wildlife are affected. Not to mention the beautiful scenery. Is there a way to stop it? I wish!

  4. I understand why you are torn about the photos.

  5. Mining is always a sad part for a country! Your title is so fitting with how mining makes a scene and a place like, "Heart of Darkness". That is still also a very disheartening topic in our country. It might be less tragic for a landlocked state like that, but for us being archipelagic, more harms will be done. Another sacrificial and tragic moment in this country, is when the most potent fighters of mining are killed, then as you said "money speaks" and cases are just left hanging till all witnesses are also killed. Everybody and all parts of ecosystem are affected. Grrrr!

  6. What an eye opening post, Chris. So sad to hear of the terrible effects of mining in this beautiful area. I can't imagine a place with NO birds, sad indeed.

  7. Only when the last river has been polluted, and the last tree been cut down, and the last fish been caught, will we realise we cannot eat money.

    - cree native saying

    There are barely words to describe the beauty of the owl on your header. Yes I wished our world was looked comes the fracking, where and when will it end? I am so sorry.

  8. So sad to read this and think about these "eyes stains."
    The "0" is not better.
    A Must these days to spread any of these observations.
    It reminds me of the movie "God's country" by Louis Malle and what happened to Minnesota... Greed indeed.

  9. Mining does scar the land and it takes decades after the mining is done (if ever). It depletes the land of vegetation and "life". These companies that say they will replant and that things will be "just like they were before" are liars. It will never be the same.

    Each time I head out to photograph I can see the giant Kennicot mine on the Oquirrh Mountains on the easy side of the Salt Lake Valley and it makes me ill. The only time of the year it isn't a huge eyesore is during winter when it is covered with snow. Ask Kathie about it.

    I am worried for Utah too, fracking, tar sand, open pit mining on public lands. I'd much rather see miles of solar panels than an open pit mine.

  10. Ah what a nice photo stream and commentary. Get's my juices going for coming home this Spring. I miss 90+ dry heat.

  11. Hola chris!!!.. Un título muy sugerente para unas bonitas imágenes. besos

  12. The history of mining in this country is filled with sad remainders. (that is not a misspelling) West Virginia, Kentucky, etc.
    There is still coal burning underground in Pennsylvania that will burn for years to come.

    Yes, we need the raw materials but there are alternatives to raping the land and lowering the living standards of the people.

    The people left behind are less educated and more likely to live on welfare. It's not like the mine will help build good schools and hire good teachers or provide good healthcare. I could go on for hours!! Stop me now!!!

    1. I know. Shouldn't we learn from the past? This mine we went to visit is now spreading into the National forest! It's disgusting.

  13. Excellent post Chris with some stunning images. So hope the mining doesn't go ahead. Dark days - do we never learn from past mistakes?

  14. Sadly, it's nearly impossible to conquer greed.

  15. they have begun 'exploratory drilling' for a tungsten mine at Moutonshoek not far from us, threatening the RAMSAR wetland of Verlorenvlei.

  16. Very nice shots! I enjoyed every image

    Have a great St.Valentine's Day!

    xoxo, Juliana | PJ’ Happies :) | PJ’ Ecoproject

  17. Chris, you captured the feeling of this place in words and images! Well done! I am glad that we went!

  18. After reading this amazing post I now feel very guilty about including the copper mining video in my own last post. I have to agree that preserving the pristine places in nature is extremely important. For the most part I am against "progress." If I had my druthers, I would live in a cabin in a mountain somewhere with no frills. Low impact. That's how people should live. You and I would have never "met" because I wouldn't have a computer...I may not even have electricity! It's sad when you think that prosperity though is coupled with techonological gains and to the world, making money is always the bottom line. I was born in Alabama where strip mining scars the natural landscape there. If they have figured out a way to mine at Rosemont with low impact, then I am not against it...but for me the jury is out. I would need to see that and feel certain that those mountains are not going to be devastated by their activity. I've thought it might be good to take a tour of that mine...they encourage people who are avidly against them to do so. It would be interesting to hear what they have to say. But, I am also a very skeptical person, too...never sure I'm being told the TRUE SKINNY when the party speaking has the most to gain.

  19. I can find beauty in a stark landscape, and I can find it in the decaying structures of man. I can not find it on a raped mountain.


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