Estelle’s Secret Mine

Talk about a gem of a find…But you gotta slog through a lot of mud and dodge horse poop to get there. 

A rather unspectacular hike so far. Lots of ankle deep mud, slippery rocks, trenches and horse poop navigation to get here…

But my hiking companions were moving at a much faster pace. I noticed this branch that looked like a snake, and decided to take a picture…

While they were waiting for me to catch up, they noticed something and decided to go off-trail to explore…There was this odd marker, not your traditional trail cairn:We see this “cave” not knowing what was ahead…

It was a neat cave, until you got out your headlamp. But when you took pictures… WOWZA! We went through 4 of these tunnels that were for iron ore mining in the late1800’s. The intricate fracturing of the rocks was fascinating.That’s the light of one of my hiking companions at the opposite end of the tunnel. There was no echo though…There was the beginning of stalagtites, about an inch, in one tunnel. Some of the entrances are quite large – enough for a horse to walk in (as evidenced by the poop). Others require some tight crawling to get in/out – but still easily manageable.

This one was hard to crawl out with my daypack. And I knocked my head on one of the protrusions in the process. (So watch your head!)

The layers are spectacular.Confession: I wanted to take a lot more pictures and explore, but the rest of my group weren’t quite as interested in closer investigation…

From this view, they don’t look too impressive, do they?

This was an interesting completely unrelated vein-like pattern on the tree stump…

We hiked approximately 2.7 miles (apparently the iron ore in the tunnels made my GPS funky because it had the hike as over 11 miles). The trail markers actually lead you around the tunnels – for those of you claustrophobic sorts. When you exit the tunnels, you’ll see the path and pick up the blazes to continue on.

It turns out there are seven tunnels, one is a mile deep. One has collapsed. I’m piecing together info from a few online sources, This area was once known as a bustling town of approximately 4600 acres called “Shaw”, which has completely disappeared (aka a “ghost town”), The Shaws owned the operation known as “Estelle Mining Company”, named after their daughter who lived from 1864-1882. There were 6 miles of narrow gauge railroads in the area, More than 200 men were employed with the mine, more than 175 homes surrounded the area for employees. Two schools educated approximately 190 children. The Estelle cemetary is the site of one of the former schoolhouses. The mining operation closed in 1924.

Here are a few links about the history:

I’m going back to explore when I can have the entire day to poke around. I haven’t been able to locate any sort of map pin-pointing all the mine sites, etc. My maternal side of the family grew up in the area, so I’m somewhat fascinated by it. I may even pop into the LaFayette Historical Society and see what info I can find out.

Here’s a link to the WMA website:

Advice: don’t go after a heavy rain. Wait for it to dry out. Very muddy. And some of the tunnels (not ones I hiked this path) tend to collect water at entrances. Make sure you have several strong flashlights and let your camera’s auto feature do the guesswork. 

Let’s keep this one just between us, okay?
Here’s my trail data from MyTracks, it was pretty wonky. 



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