it's the color that counts
|A geologist stands with core samples from the drilling done in the mid-1990's at the mine site near Moon Lake.|
It's been millions of years in the making, serving up hues of red and rouge.
Then it served as a color palate for native Americans who needed it's red colors for their paints and dyes.
Then about 70 years ago, a family from Salt Lake named Maxfield spied the color in the cliffs clear above Moon Lake in the Uintah Mountains while hunting. They laid claim to it in hopes of finding copper ore. However, what was there was pigments; pigments of unusual grade and clarity.
In 1946, the Uintah Mountain Copper Company was formed with the intentions of developing a "paint mine." Local tile and paint manufacturers had found the sample brought down by early prospectors was of such good quality, organizers of the company started to see gold in their future rather than red.
Those early days saw the development of a primitive road, but one that was to difficult for haul vehicles. In 1951 control of the company was sold to a man named Tony Zito, and over the next 20 years he spent his summers ( about the only time a mine could be operated in the high Uintah's) developing a real road and hand mining ore and selling it to local paint manufacturers. But the road never got more than 500 feet from the actual mine so Zito strung an overhead cable from the base to the mine and hung an old boiler on it. He would fill the boiler with ore and then send it cascading down the cable until it hit bottom where it would spill it's contents on the ground, where it would be picked up and hauled out.
In the 1970's Zito felt he was getting too old to do any more mining and he turned the rights over to the Kandaris family, particularly Mike Kandaris, a native of Carbon County and a former business owner in Price. In 1976, a vehicle rolled up to the mine for the first time as the road, containing 13 switchbacks, was finally completed. It was also at that time that the full impact of the deposits were realized. High grade hematite deposits were uncovered during this time, and the realization that a good sized mining operation could be supported began to emerge.
It was also at that time that the United States Forest Service, and the company realized that the road was not only boardering wilderness areas, but was also becoming congested with recreational use such as horseback riding and backpackers. The road would not have served the mine well under the conditions, so a land trade was made and the road to the mine was moved to a less sensitive area, with the design of the Forest Service being used for the roadway and the cost of construction being paid by the company. Meanwhile the old road was reclaimed by the company.
With the approaching wilderness debates heating up, the idea of an open pit mine in the area made Kadaris' partners back off the project. However, by the late 1980's, Kandaris' children, Pam and Peter, began working with their father to make the dream of a producing mine come true.
|The mine pit as it was being reclaimed with a "gabion " whose top is visible in the lower left part of the photo.|
After restructuring how the mine would operate and an intensive exploratory drilling program in 1994-95 that cost nearly $200,000, pin pointed the richest ore deposits via 36 holes that were punched in the earth. The pit itself was reclaimed by use of a structure called a "gabion" which son Peter designed from work as an engineer for years on the Salt River Project in southern Arizona. This gabion was installed without the use of heavy machinery and it reinforced the mountain side so that vegetation and grasses could be planted. While the idea for the structures is centuries old, and have been used in many places, including the Andes Mountains in South America, the use of these in this situation brought recognition to Peter in a paper he presented to the American Rock Mechanics Association symposium at Veil, Colo. in 1999.
Because of the change in plans, an environmental assessment is presently underway for full scale removal of the high grade hematite deposits that the drilling uncovered in the area. As of this week about another 30 days of comment period remain.
But the tie to Carbon County is not just with the family, part of whom resides here, but with what the deposits are bringing to the area.
Peter has developed a new way to process the pigments from the ore and the company is presently beginning construction of the processing facility in the Ridge Road Business Park, about four miles south of Price.
"The project had to be viable for the Forest Service to approve our applications, " said Pam Kandaris Cha at an interview on Tuesday. The drilling proved the mine could be a winning enterprise."
The exact process of deriving pigments from the ore is proprietary, making the plant that is being built in Price the only one of it's kind in the world. The pigments that are going to be produced there will be purer than any others made. This has made the cosmetic and artistic paint industry stand up and notice.
"Right now we are working with Aveda (cosmetics) about what we can do for them," says Cha. "They have seen enough from the test samples we have from the drilling that they are very interested. So are the paint companies."
Another group that is interested are medical doctors who use "body tattooing" during plastic and other cosmetic surgery.
"If the pigments are pure enough they will be able to use it in cleft palette repairs as well as in breast reconstruction after a mastectomy," states Cha.
The plant will initially only employ a few people, but as time goes on and the operation grows, more jobs could come to the area.
"This is an industry of the future for Carbon County," says Cha. "We have been involved in this for a long time and are serious about pursuing it and growing."
The process of extracting pigments from ore is not one of large tonnage being available, like in other mining industries. Cha says that since the mine is really only accessible three months of the year the company intends to mine enough ore in the summer months to run the plant all year long.
"We can run the plant eight to ten hours a day on 2000 tons a year," says Cha. "The mining will probably be done by a contractor, and we have already contacted local trucking companies to carry the ore to Carbon County."
The company is also being traded on NASDAQ and is a fully registered public company.
"We're on the OTC bulletin board," says Cha. "The day we were named a fully registered public company, was the day of my dad's funeral."
That was in November of 1998 and the dream, that started in the 1930's with one family seeking minerals from the craggy peaks of the Uintah Mountains, continues as another family works with high technology and new, more colorful dreams of the near future in mind.