Tuesday, April 23, 2013


My junior year in high school I signed up for a summer canoe trip in Isle Royale National Park. In order to participate, I had to write three reports by the end of the school year which pertained in some way to the island.

I wrote one report on the shipwrecks of Lake Superior. Another on the ecological balance between the moose and wolf populations on Isle Royale. And finally a report about prehistoric indigenous copper mining on the island.

I didn't realize it at the time, but being encouraged to learn a little historical background allowed me to much better appreciate the experience while I was there. I'll never forget the thrill of coming across holes dug into solid rock and knowing ancient Native Americans once mined for copper in those pits. I left for the Island a boy and returned a filthy, sunburnt boy with parasites.

What stuck with me longer than the ticks and leeches was my fascination for geology and history. How every place that exists today is the the product of the random geologic processes which shaped its environment coupled with the aspirations and fortunes of the humans who chanced upon it, and either moved on or settled there permanently.

Later, while attending Michigan Technological University, I was able to learn much more about mining history and industrial archeology from a professor who quite literally wrote the book on the subject.

A few years later I took my first trip to Colorado just to visit several of the state's early abandoned gold and silver mines. Yeah, that's how fun I am.

After moving to Atlanta, I couldn't wait to explore the historic gold mining areas in the North Georgia mountains. Several booming communities were formed during Georgia's gold rush days of the 1830's only to go bust as more lucrative lodes were discovered in California and the prospectors moved west. Some of these early mining towns found other means of industry or survive today as tourist attractions while the rest are just stone foundations overgrown with trees and brush.

One of these North Georgia ghost towns is just outside of Dahlonega.  Auraria is Latin for  "land of gold". Legend has it the Georgia Gold Rush began in Auraria when someone tripped over a gold nugget. Today just a few ruins remain as evidence that earlier generations of Americans lived out their hopes and dreams on that spot.

I explored this ghost town years ago, but just this week I learned more about its story. Something that, had I known then, would have made standing there – the only human being in the derelict town of Auraria – even more significant.

In 1858 a group of prospectors left Georgia to follow rumors of gold in Colorado. Their party settled in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains at the confluence of two rivers. Perhaps they were homesick, because they named their settlement after their home in Georgia.

As Auraria, Georgia gradually withered away into obscurity, it's namesake in Colorado continued to thrive, and still exists in name today as a neighborhood of Denver, the city which developed around the settlement.

I learned this because, as a nerd, and I like to study the history of a place before I visit.

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