In January, 2019, while skiing down to the Sultan Express Chairlift at Deer Valley, I noticed the outlines of an old silver mine below the lift to the East, and a large mine tailing area even further down the mountain.
As a trained geologist, whose first job after college was exploring for geothermal energy and related epithermal ore deposits in Utah and Nevada, my curiosity was raised! In May of 2020 I finally got the chance to hike up and visit these old mines of the Park City Mining District, Mayflower Complex. The large tailings hill I saw from the chairlift was part of a rich silver-gold-lead-zinc mine called the Star Tunnel, the highest and north-western-most working mine in the Mayflower Complex. For the next three years I made numerous hikes up to the Star Tunnel and surrounding mines. Today, they are all abandoned, with remains of a once thriving miners camp complete with saloon, cabins, latrines, workshops, storage buildings, assay offices and, of course, mine shafts and tailings piles.
The story of the Mayflower Mine, especially the Star Tunnel, has been forgotten over time. Most of the attention, both historical and commercial, went to mines and other historic ruins closer to Park City, like the Silver King, Judd, Dailey, Crescent, Thaynes, and other great producers of silver, lead and zinc. However, only the Mayflower, and a few other small mines near Park City, had not only these “big three” minerals, but were also quite rich in gold. In fact, The Mayflower and Pearl veins, accessed by the Star and other tunnels, were some of the richest gold and silver producing veins of the entire Park City Mining District.
The mines first opened at the turn of the century. Unfortunately, the underground tunnels, as in other mines, quickly flooded. The water was hot, with temperatures in the tunnels reaching 150 degrees. The same aquifer that feeds the now famous Homestead Crater and surrounding hot springs in Midway, also poured steamy water into these tunnels. After a certain depth and relatively short timeframe, mining was abandoned at the Star and other tunnels. The narrow gauge railway that brought the rich ore down was pulled up, and the area was temporarily abandoned. The lower Mayflower Mine, closer to Highway 40 and the Jordanelle Reservoir, continued to produce into the 1960s. Other mineable minerals included iron and copper, but silver, lead, zinc and gold were the real money-makers.
Early miners and mining engineers shared interesting stories about their lives underground in the Mayflower and other Park City Mining District tunnels. Several of the volunteers at the Daughters of Utah Pioneers museum in Heber City recalled how their fathers worked in these mines, enduring long hours in tight spaces, drilling, blasting and hauling ore from the tunnels.
Later attempts to get the Star and other upper Mayflower tunnels working again met with some success; including construction of a drain tunnel which is now a water source for the small Glencoe Canyon stream and potentially for the new Mayflower Resort development. However, the water and temperature issues in the deeper tunnels prevented further exploration and soon she was another ghost camp. The Star Tunnel’s tailings are immense, covering several kilometers and towering over two hundred feet in height. The miners once produced high quality bricks and lead for sealing pipes and other uses. In later years, a large electrical plant was built above the mine, closer to the Sultan Express and Mayflower ski lifts of Deer Valley Resort. Other, nearby rich but smaller ore deposits were prospected and mined, including the Glencoe Mine.
Perhaps the most important and interesting features of the Mayflower mining complex includes the flora and fauna-rich Glencoe Canyon, with its rain and drain tunnel-fed stream, and the surrounding ridges, gullies and hills. Historical ruins abound, from early telegraph/telephone poles and lines to cabins, mine buildings, mine shaft riggings, diggings, tailings, etc. With a little effort and investment, the once rich Star Mine could easily be restored for tourism, serving both Deer Valley and Mayflower Resort guests in addition to the public. Plans for bike and hiking trails in Glencoe Canyon and surrounding areas already exist and at least one trail is already built that gets explorers close to the Star Mine. Of course, the once public (BLM) and mining company — owned land is now private, bought up and consolidated by Extell Corporation of New York/Utah. In partnership with the Military Installation Development Authority (MIDA) and potentially with Deer Valley, Extell has cut out ski runs, roads, expensive home sites and is building a large hotel and condominium complex. Perhaps a partnership can be worked out between the developers/resorts and Wasatch County Parks and Recreation to establish a historical and natural attraction, accessible by the public, around the former Star Mine. The Extell Senior Vice President for Development, Kurt Krieg, did a fantastic job helping develop the Gerald Ford Amphitheater and Botanical Garden in Vail, CO. His expertise will ensure that Mayflower is a beautiful resort and could also be used in establishing a historic site, perhaps complete with an outdoor concert amphitheater below the Star Mine ruins. Local artists would be sure to utilize such a venue.
Numerous articles have been published regarding this new resort development and partnerships by both local news, real estate and development corporation writers and are easily accessed online. There are also several excellent articles on the history and geology of the Park City Mining District and the Park City Museum is a great place to visit and learn more about our incredible mining and early ski resort history.
As we move into the future it is important we preserve what we can and not forget our past and those who paved the way for us to be where we are today.