650 Feet Underground

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.

trainOur 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.

truckKaren 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.

12 Responses to 650 Feet Underground

  1. Libby Summers July 7, 2014 at 06:45 #

    I have never heard of this salt mine before. I’m going to check on their website. How interesting. And… If I am ever lucky enough to travel around the country and see all America has to offer, I will descend into the earth also, even though the thought of the rickety old elevator gives me the willies.

    • Jeffrey King July 7, 2014 at 10:28 #

      That elevator SHOULD give you the willies! I have go admit the thought of a broken cable and that steel box plummeting 650 feet did cross my mind.

  2. Pete July 7, 2014 at 07:49 #

    That really is cool.

    • Jeffrey King July 7, 2014 at 10:27 #

      Thanks Pete. As another science guy, I thought you’d find this interesting.

  3. Carol Adams July 7, 2014 at 08:39 #

    Wow….enjoyed reading about your latest adventure. You piqued my imagination to go and see this amazing sight!!

    • Jeffrey King July 7, 2014 at 10:26 #

      Thanks Carol. We’re sure enjoying ourselves, although it’s only been two weeks! We hope we can say the same after two years.

  4. Jon King July 7, 2014 at 10:05 #

    4 states, 200 miles!!! Amazing.

    • Jeffrey King July 7, 2014 at 10:25 #

      This is what happens when a huge salt water sea evaporates millions and millions of years ago.

  5. Greg July 8, 2014 at 07:54 #

    Great story. I would assume that the environment lacks moisture because of the salt? Making it an environment conducive to storage?

    • Jeffrey King July 8, 2014 at 09:22 #

      I’m not sure, Greg, but the temperature in the mine is always 68 degrees, and the humidity is constant. I’m not sure if that’s a function of the salt or just being 650 feet underground. I haven’t seen the movie Monument Men yet, but I understand it’s about the Allies liberating the salt mines in Germany during WWII where the Nazi’s stored their stolen artwork and other valuable items. Evidently there’s something special about salt mines.

  6. Bonnie July 15, 2014 at 14:52 #

    Very interesting and put me on the list to receive a copy of the first edition of “Adventures of Two Kings on the Road”! Hint! Hint!

  7. Steven and Daphne July 20, 2014 at 17:11 #

    I don’t know if this (the link below) is part of that salt mine or not but this is called the “Kansas City, Missoruri” underground. When I was driving truck I had to deliver a trailer of secure items to a business (and their are hundreds of business in this GIANT ant type farm of tunnels).

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