Economic Geology Visits Gold Mines

Professor Phil Brown

During the last few days of September (2006), I took nine students from my Economic Geology (515) class to north central Nevada to visit four gold mines. The trip was organized with the help of Newmont Mining Corporation and gift funds contributed to the Eugene Cameron Fund in the department made it possible by paying for the group’s airfare.

Nevada Group
Our group on the surface after a tour of the Midas underground mine.

We flew from Madison to Reno on Wednesday afternoon, picked up two rental minivans, and drove three hours to Winnemucca arriving at 1 am. We were able to stay in a facility that Newmont had rented for the summer for their interns and thus slept well, if briefly. On Thursday we started our tour at the sprawling Twin Creeks open pit mine and after lunch visited an interesting (and abandoned) nodular barite mine. Twin Creeks was the first mine visit for much of the class of seven undergraduates and two graduate students.

Friday upped the ante when we had a tour of the underground Midas mine—a spectacular, multiple generation banded quartz-carbonate vein deposit. One of the students, Matt Riederer, is undertaking a fluid inclusion and phase equilibria MS thesis at Midas and the tour was run by John Marma, a 2002 MS graduate from Madison.

Mine pit.
South Mega Pit at Newmont's Twin Creeks Mine.

After lunch in the rustic Midas Saloon in downtown Midas (a couple of double-wides and hunting cabins and a burned-down school house) we visited the core facility and the surface expressions of the veins and were impressed (and depressed) by how cryptic the appearance of the structures were only a few hundred vertical feet above a multimillion dollar deposit. Friday evening Newmont hosted a delicious Basque dinner in the Martin Hotel in Winnemucca where the students had an opportunity to talk to geologists from many of the Newmont properties within a hundred miles of Winnemucca.

Saturday provided two other views of the modern mining endeavor. In the morning we visited the Phoenix Project—as the name implies, the rebirth of a couple of mines. Several closed mines in the Battle Mountain district are scattered across the top of a mountain and are being reopened as a single large operation with all new processing technologies and facilities. Saturday afternoon we visited Lone Tree—a mine in the process of being decommissioned and eventually reclaimed.

Support provided by the alumni, in this case through the Cameron Fund, allowed us to pull off this wonderful experience of three days jam packed with diverse geology and an introduction to the modern world of prospecting and mine development. The resurgence of mineral prices over the past 3-4 years has resulted in the Phoenix-like rebirth of mining company’s interest in hiring geologists—geologists who can not only run an Excel spreadsheet ore reserve calculation but are willing and eager to get dirty doing the real work of exploration, ore control and production.

Originally published in The Outcrop for 2006, UW-Madison Department of Geology and Geophysics, p. 17.