Nevada is home to more than 300,000 abandoned mines, mines that can kill you in an almost unimaginable number of ways.
But those old Nevada mines have attracted a modern problem for state and federal officials charged with guarding the death traps: vloggers and YouTubers.
Interest in abandoned mines has increased in recent years, according to Sean Derby, chief of the abandoned mine land program for the Nevada Division of Minerals. In part, this is due to increased access to mines thanks to the popularity of off-road vehicles and ATVs. But influencers who record themselves online going to the mines also play an important role, according to Derby.
Most of the mine explorers are not from Nevada, where the state has for decades gone to schools to educate children about the dangers of abandoned mines, Derby said.
“What we’re seeing now is a new generation coming from all over and looking at mining as a hobby,” Derby said.
But with a backlog of hundreds of thousands of mines that need to be protected, putting barriers on them all is a near-impossible task. That’s why mining authorities are increasingly turning to social media in hopes of reaching the audience at their own level.
Abandoned mines in the Silver State
With a nickname like the Silver State, it’s no surprise that Nevada’s mining history dates back even before the state joined the Union in 1864.
That history also left its mark. It is estimated that there are about 300,000 abandoned mines across the state, a figure based on historical data from the United States Geological Survey.
State officials have visited about 25,000 mines over the years, of which about 20,000 are “secured,” meaning some type of closure, such as a fence, is placed around the mouth of the mine. . According to Derby, the state division visits between two thousand and three thousand sites a year, slowly trying to reduce the severe backlog.
Even sites that are already protected need to be revisited every five to 10 years, which only adds up, he added.
“There’s an endless rotation of sites that you have to check for quality,” Derby said.
According to John Callan, abandoned mine lands program manager for the Nevada Bureau of Land Management, sometimes protecting sites is only a temporary solution. People made holes in fences, destroyed signs, and some even used excavators to open mining shafts that had been closed by the state.
Many of these amateur miners do not have the proper training or the necessary equipment, he added, which only increases the risks.
“You can put up all the signs you want, but people are people,” Callan said.
Callan said that if people encounter an unsecured mine while hiking or horseback riding in rural Nevada, they should take photos of the area and, if possible, note the GPS coordinates and report it to Division of Minerals.
All the ways a mine can kill you
Educating the public about the dangers posed by abandoned mines has been a top priority of the Minerals Division for decades.
And there are many, many ways a mine can kill you.
Falling dozens or even hundreds of feet down a mine shaft seems the most obvious. There’s also wildlife – a deadly rattlesnake, a sleeping cougar, a rabid bat – and even the chance you kick up dust with particles of rodent droppings that can carry hantavirus, a serious lung infection that can kill you for one thing. seconds. in days.
Ahead, things will get even weirder.
You may find explosives or chemicals that have remained dormant for decades, decaying and becoming increasingly unstable over the years.
The wooden support used in many mines slowly rots over time, a process that causes the gas to be released. That can create pockets of mines where oxygen is never available, a situation that killed two men in a mining accident near Virginia City in 1996.
Since 1961, 19 deaths have been reported in abandoned mines in Nevada, along with 24 injuries. Four dogs also died during that period of time, while seven survived.
“There are a lot of things that can kill you, and this is the only thing that can be avoided,” Derby said.
Still, considering the small number of people — and animals — injured or killed in abandoned mine accidents over the years, the state’s education efforts appear to be paying off.
Between 1990 and 2010, 36 incidents were recorded at an abandoned mine in Nevada, 24 of which occurred between 1990 and 1999.
Since 2011, however, there have been only five incidents, according to state records, the most recent of which occurred in May 2020, when a dog fell down a mine shaft in Pershing County. He was rescued three days later.
But my officials worry that the appeal of social media makes it difficult to spread the message to people.
Derby said staff noticed that most of the division’s videos uploaded to YouTube only got a few hundred views, if that. Meanwhile, the videos that came next in the queue were often of vloggers filming themselves going into the mines, videos that generated millions of views.
From there an idea arose. What happens when the State makes videos in the same style, but the content is the classic “public service announcement”?
The end result was the birth of “Jimmy King, the king of bad ideas”, a character created with the same exaggerated style of popular videos, but showing all the ways in which you can die in an abandoned mine.
One of Jimmy King’s videos quickly became the division’s most viewed on the platform, with nearly 25,000 views, and Derby said the division’s board gave them the green light to do another one. round of Jimmy King ads.
Derby wants people to explore Nevada’s rich mining history, but in a metaphorical sense.