Home > Mining students explore U.S. mines: BLOG

Mining students explore U.S. mines: BLOG


A group of mining’s future stars have jetted off to the United States to put what they’ve learnt in the classroom to practice.

With an itinerary that would make even the most basic mining enthusiast drool, the group of 13 mining engineering students from the University of New South Wales have blogged their site visits for Australian Mining so we can keep up-to-date with their adventures.


Day One 8/7/2013: Transit day, Sydney to Denver

Morgan Holmes

Today would have been one of the most exhausting and testing days, despite it only being our first. Delayed flights, lost luggage and customer service were of particular interest.

We all gathered at Sydney International Airport at around 11am for our 2pm departure. Originally our flight was meant to be directly to San Francisco then connecting to Salt Lake City for our much anticipated visit to Rio Tinto’s Bingham Canyon.

However, due to the horrific airplane crash a couple of days earlier we were redirected to land in Los Angeles and connecting on to Salt Lake City.

After boarding and sticking out the 14 hour flight we made it to the United States of America, WOO!

Upon arrival, we were met with news our new connecting flight to Denver was delayed and we could possibly miss our connecting flight to Salt Lake City!

Anxiously we waited, waited, and waited some more.

The flight to Denver arrived five minutes before we were to depart for Salt Lake City.

Frantically we ran to our gate, only to find boarding had closed and we had missed our flight.

To make matters worse, when we went to retrieve our luggage from the carousel they did not show up! Our bags, unlike us, had been put on the next plane to Salt Lake City, further adding to our troubled first days in the States.

With all the delays we decided not to go on to Salt Lake City, staying the night in Denver and instead headed to Grand Junction a day early.

Day Two 9/7/2013: Denver – Grand Junction

Morgan Holmes

The day commenced with an early morning trip back to Denver Airport. This was an amazing effort by all considering yesterday’s issues, late night and slight case of jet-lag.

We were headed to a small town in Colorado called Grand Junction.

Once arriving in Grand Junction, without our luggage, the team set about purchasing an unstylish and cheap but much needed change of clothes until the arrival of our bags later that night.

Following our first visit to Wal-Mart the group then set out to relax and catch up on some much needed sleep before a big day of sightseeing and leisure activities.

Day Three 10/7/2013: Grand Junction

Mark Lucas, Nick Ramsey, and Morgan Holmes

After retrieving our luggage from its unexpected holiday the group had its first day of activities in Grand Junction, Colorado.

While the brave set out on a mountain bike ride on the plethora of local tracks, the rest saw Colorado’s State Monument, followed by a wine tasting tour through the local vineyards around Palisade.

Monument tour and wine tasting

With the amazing tour guide Bonnie, we experienced the majesty and beauty of the Monuments’ breathtaking geological structures and amazing wildlife. The wine tasting tour through Palisade allowed us to relax and let loose our indulgent side as we drank and roamed through amazing scenery that encompassed this wine making area.

Mountain biking

The six guys that decided to see the sights of Colorado’s Monument by mountain biking were tested by the heat and elevation that Grand Junction had to offer, but were rewarded with an amazing view and strong sense of accomplishment and satisfaction upon completion.

The day began before dawn in order to beat the 35+ degree heat that would challenge us later on that day. A flat tyre and lack of equipment got the crew off to a bad start but we arrived at the tracks just in time for an amazing sunrise.

We battled the steep hills and obstacles for two hours until reaching the peak of our ascent, Widow Maker’s Hill.

The summit offered endless views of Grand Junction, surrounding towns and the amazing geological structures present at the State Monument. The descent was only a fraction of the time necessary for the climb but stopping every now and then for breaks, essential to keep us hydrated.

We finished the afternoon with a casual ride through town, checking out the heritage shops and museum.

In the end, both groups had a fantastic day of sightseeing and immersing ourselves in the local culture, a great opportunity after our rough start and to prepare for the first of our five mine visits tomorrow.

Day Four 11/7/2013: Mine Visit: Arch Coal’s West Elk mine and Bowie Resources, Bowie coal mine

Alex Papaioanou, Eshan Wickrema, and Riley Lewis

Today the group split in two, one half heading to Arch Coal’s West Elk Mine and the other visiting the Bowie Resources’ Bowie Coal Mine.

The mines are located in the picturesque Elk Mountains in southwest Delta County, overlooking the North Fort Gunnison River.

Bowie mine

Following a detailed safety induction the group was given a presentation regarding the mine’s operational characteristics and their mining methods.

The group then continued underground with Technical Services Manager Jim Abinshire, who took the group on a tour of the various working faces of the mine.

We managed to time our visit perfectly as the mine was currently undertaking a longwall move. This allowed the group to observe the difficult and time consuming process of disassembling and reassembling a longwall miner.

This was especially eye opening for group member Blake Ardely, as this was his first underground coal mine visit.

The group also travelled to some of the areas of development panels to observe the numerous continuous miners in operation.

Overall the mine was very similar to Australian underground coal longwall operations, with minor differences being due to the stringent Mine Safety and Health Administration's (MSHA) policies to which mines must abide.

The group learnt a lot from the visit, exposing some of the challenges and opportunities in underground coal mining.

West Elk mine

Group two were introduced to John Poulos, the senior mining engineer at West Elk.

Poulos provided the safety talk and the essential mining equipment to go underground.

The group split up and were transported down to the longwall by Poulos and the vacation work geologist, Kendra Hinton to watch the shearer and hydraulic roof supports in action.

It was interesting to the students that have worked in a longwall operation in Australia viewing the comparison in strata and ventilation conditions.

 The group left the longwall area and headed back to the surface to view the ventilation fans and shaft.

Poulos explained the mechanisms behind the ventilation process within the mine, which was very educational.

During winter, large gas flame burners are required to heat the intake air so that work conditions in the mine are comfortable for the workers.

Once the tours of each mine were finished we travelled back through the picturesque Rocky Mountains, frequently stopping to inspect and take photographs of old coke ovens in historic mining districts.

Day Five 12/7/2013: Colorado School of Mines tour - Golden, CO

Morgan Holmes and Eleanor Calderwood

Today's visit to the Colorado School of Mines was a great experience, leaving most of the group jealous and wanting to go to a university such as this one.

The day began with a tour of the mining school, lab facilities and classrooms by Doctor Jurgen Brune.

Brune is one of the senior lecturers at the school, specialising in ventilation, rock breakage and is currently doing research there.

The tour of the mining engineering facilities was terrific, allowing us to compare and contrast how an equivalent program is run in another country.

An element of particular interest was how perspex plastic blocks were used to visually show students the way in which explosives fracture and blast materials under different in-situ stress conditions.

Following the visit to the mining engineering building we were then taken on a tour of the campus by one of the undergraduate students, Isabel Chaltas.

The campus hosts around 5000 students, a minor fraction of UNSW, however, majestic and friendly nonetheless.

The final part of our tour of the campus was to the EMI, or the Engineering and Earth Mechanics Institute.

The facility's basic function is to test material from various operations and also conduct research on tunnel boring technology such as cutter head design, speed/cutting optimisation and much more.

It primarily acts as a consulting facility for mining companies where students can do hands-on engineering and possible thesis research during their final year of study.

The campus tour concluded with a visit to the local university store where we were able to purchase some School of Mining clothes and mementoes.

After visiting Colorado School of Mines we got on a bus and travelled to Idaho Springs outside of Golden, Colorado, to visit the School of Mines’ experimental mine.

Edgar mine was formally a productive stoping mine, extracting lead, copper and silver with some gold.

The Colorado School of Mines acquired the operation and transformed it into a training facility for students, to teach the practical aspects of mining.

Throughout the tour we observed the mine workings noticing where students had worked on drilling techniques, surveying and some blasting work.

There was also a strong focus on training facilities for student mine rescue teams, something that most of the group had never seen in Australia before.

As a group it was an excellent experience to see how other students, similar to ourselves, learn and apply their knowledge from the classroom.


Day Six 13/7/2013: Denver, CO

Morgan Holmes

On the sixth day of the tour we visited a science museum which had a fantastic array of exhibits ranging from space, sports, world wildlife, Ancient Egyptians and Colorado mining and geological history.

In the geology exhibit there was a huge range of minerals on display from base metals, to precious metals and gem stones.

A stone of particular interest was rhodochrosite which is an ambient red colour and is Colorado's state mineral.

In the City Park there was a funky music festival and markets where we were able to purchase some more mementos from our travels.

The day concluded with a meal at a nice Mexican restaurant and celebratory birthday cake for Daniel, who enjoyed his second, first legal beverage.

Day Seven 14/7/2013: Denver, CO

Alyssa Hendriks

On this day the group hired a coach and we travelled from Denver to the Mollie Kathleen historic gold mine and the Garden of the Gods.

The Mollie Kathleen Gold mine is located in Cripple Creek.

The mine started production in 1891 and ceased mining in 1961 when the Carlton mill closed. When we arrived we had to squish into the cage to descend 1000 ft down the shaft to the production level.

The tour consisted of looking into the evolution of mining within the mine until the closure of the mine itself. A series of equipment including jack leg (airleg) drills and a mucking machine is still in working condition and is shown in operation within the mine.

Underground, we also had the opportunity to ride the air powered locomotive, which was previously used to tram the gold ore.

Once the tour completed we had lunch at the Hard Rock Diner and took time to look at some old mine machines, shaft winder used at the mine and buy some souvenirs.

Next was onto Garden of the Gods. Garden of the Gods is a registered National Landmark in Colorado Springs.

With amazing 300 million year old geology of the park which is set on 1367 acres, the Garden of the Gods is definitely a worthwhile stop on the agenda while in Colorado.

That night we headed to the Rock Bottom Brewery in Denver and had the opportunity to have Brad Nelson (Chief Engineer at Henderson Mine) and his Wife Pat join us for dinner.

Nelson has been working at Henderson for almost 35 years and told us of his trip to Olympic Dam and various other mines in Australia to compare conveyor and train haulage capabilities.

We all enjoyed a lovely meal, gaining a great introduction into the mine and engineering aspects of the operation.


Day eight 15/7/2013: Mine visit: Henderson mine

Annette Au and Anya Ram

Henderson mine is approximately 150 miles west of Denver, Colorado and is owned and operated by Climax.

It is one of many molybdenum mines in the area and sits at elevations between 7 000 and 10 000 feet above sea level.

Ore is extracted from the underground mine using panel caving – a method heavily reliant on gravity, ore and country rock properties.

Students were taken to the production level, which comprised of various draw points – where ore is extracted and loaded into ore passes which lead to the underground crusher.

Initially, explosives were placed in the undercut level to encourage fracturing of rock due to ore strength. Interestingly the ventilation pipes consisted of silencers on either side of the internal fan and also allotted channels to the trucks moving material and ore in the production level.

From underground, ore is transported for processing on a single 16 mile conveyor over the Continental Divide to the Henderson mine mill.

Students then toured the Henderson Mine mill, located over an hour away by road and at an altitude of approximately 9 000 feet above sea level.

Mill equipment included: cyclones, semi-autogenous (SAG) ball mills and flotation cells targeting molybdenum of varying grades.

Balls were composed of iron and traces of molybdenum to crush the ore and new balls were introduced every month.

Workers were encouraged to bring photos of family, hobbies and interests to keep them motivated and focussed at work.

During winter and across the year, snow and winds in excess of 100 miles per hour are major hazards the mill has faced and in the past, forcing workers to remain in the mill for up to two days.

Over the last few years, Henderson mine mill has been upgrading its recovery system with the installation of new cleaner cells – this service is contracted out.

The trip to the Henderson mine and mill was an eye opening experience for all due to the extent and complexity of on-site operations, procedures and systems.

Following the visit we returned once again to Denver Airport to catch a flight to Gillette, Wyoming, to visit some Peabody open-cut coal mines.​

Day nine: 16/7/2013 – Peabody mine visits

Morgan Holmes

Today the group visited two of Peabody's opencut coal mines; Raw Hide and Calballo.

Both use open-pit cast blasting with truck and shovel haulage systems. 

The day began leaving Gillette at 7am for the first of our two mine visits, beginning with Raw Hide.

Upon arrival we were given a safety induction and brief overview of the mining method used at the operation.

Once we were all ready and had appropriate gear on we headed out in two vans to inspect the two production pits.

The first pit used a simple front-end loader and rear dump truck haulage system to a central hopper, which then conveyed the coal to a primary crusher and finally to the storage silos.

The pit has a 28 metre coal seam, visible in the highwall. This was something all students and lecturer found fascinating as the largest seam most had seen was only six to eight metres.

We then journeyed to Raw Hide’s second production pit where a truck and shovel haulage system was used.

In this pit there was a geological discontinuity known as a roll in the coal seam, which was also visible in the exposed highwall. This again was of great interest to staff and students, as to how such geological problems can be effectively managed and mitigated at a mine site.

After visiting the second production pit the group boarded the bus again to head 50 miles north-east to Calballo coal mine. 

Calballo was a very similar operation to Raw Hide, however it had a small dragline in operation to excavate the spoil and overburden, rather than bulldozer and truck and shovel. 

From both visits the group learnt a vast range of complexities that can trouble an opencut coal mine and how to effectively deal with them.

The day ended with dinner at a local Australian steak house, accompanied by Raw Hides head engineer, Chuck, and two vacation students from North Antelope Rochelle Mine (NARM), Seth and Yohanna.  

Day Ten 17/7/2013: Mine visit - North Antelope Rochelle Mine (NARM)

Alyssa Hendriks

The North Antelope Rochelle mine (NARM) is located approximately 65 Miles from Gillette, Wyoming and is the most productive open cut coal mine in the world.

The mine is completely owned and operated by Peabody Energy, has 12 operating pits and in 2012 shipped 108 million tonnes of coal.

The coal seams range in thickness from 18 to 24 metres.

The operation uses dragline strip method and cast blasting with a truck and shovel pre-strip operation.

Electric shovels and front end loaders are used to load the coal into trucks which transport the coal to one of four hopper systems, where it is then conveyed to the silos for train load out.

The trains are loaded from the main silo’s using a flood gate.

The carriages are then topped up at another silo and finally sprayed with an adhesive veneer in order to prevent coal dust blowing off during transport.

The day started with an overview of the operation from Andrea Deml and a safety induction from the NARM safety team.

Students had the opportunity to tour the operation and see one of the four operating draglines and also the build pad where a fifth dragline is being constructed.

The tour also consisted of seeing a newly established pit where first coal had been loaded into trains only days prior to the visit.

Students also saw one of the electric shovels loading coal into the trucks and a truck dumping into the hopper.

The tour concluded with a Subway lunch on site and Peabody gave each student a cap and pen to take with them.

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