I think we’ll find lots of hidden treasures in our travels across America. We certainly did yesterday.
We wanted to go somewhere and do something. That can be a challenge in the middle of corn country, but I found a couple of interesting possibilities in Hutchinson, Kansas, about 130 miles from the parking lot we currently call home.
Our first stop was Strataca, a staggeringly beautiful salt mine. But calling Strataca a salt mine is like calling the Sahara Desert a sand pile. This salt deposit is 650 feet underground, spans 4 states, and covers about 120 thousand square miles. That’s a lot of salt! Three companies in Hutchinson mine salt, and Carey (the company that conducts the tour) pulls out about 500,000 tons of salt every year. That’s ONE BILLION pounds if I put the decimal point in the right place! This salt is used primarily on icy roads during the winter. The tour guide said they could dig with full crews, 24-7-365 for thousands of years and never run out of salt. I’ve never seen anything like it.
Karen and I descended the 650 foot shaft in the old, rickety, steel, pitch-dark crew elevator for the actual 2-hour tour. When the rusty steel cage doors creaked open, we stood in front of an enormous salt room from which 200 miles of tunnels began. All I could do was stare in wonder. After a self-guided tour, we took two train rides that were about as interesting as anything I’ve ever seen.
One can only imagine the huge equipment that is used to mine this quantity of salt. The trucks and tractors and machinery are massive. One interesting fact is that everything — everything — in the mine comes down an elevator that has a 4′ X 5′ floor. That’s a little larger than a large coffee table. Everything that’s bigger than 4X5 is first cut into small pieces, placed in the tiny elevator, lowered 650 feet, then welded and reassembled. Incredible.
In 1959, an entrepreneurial company called Underground Vaults and Storage (UV&S) obtained a 99-year lease to occupy many excavated salt rooms for the purpose of storing documents in the environmentally stable environment. Today, they fill about 100 very, very large rooms and store corporate and government documents from around the world. They also store most original movies — the ones on reels. No worries about wildfires or floods or tornados!
What did I take away from this visit? The life of a miner is tough. The ocean of salt that lies beneath Kansas and Oklahoma and Texas and New Mexico defies one’s imagination. The beauty of this underground world was surprising. The amount of natural resources that are taken out of the ground every day is pretty unbelievable. And the underground storage business meets a unique need in a very creative manner.
I’m starting to like Kansas.