Curiosity drives mine exploration group
Stuart Burgess, like most young adventurers, was forbidden by his mother to venture into mines, caves and anywhere else deemed too dark and too dangerous.
However, like any persistent young adventurer, he did it anyway.
"I was always interested in the holes in the ground, the attics, the basements and going into all the dark places where not very many people explore," he said.
That childhood sense of curiosity never has left him, and his work and free time as an adult are centered around mapping mines and exploration.
Burgess co-founded the Mojave Underground mine exploration group in September 2007 to feed his fascination with the underground world and has been exploring abandoned mines, ghost towns and deserted buildings ever since.
While working as a meat cutter at Sunflower Market, he was taking off a few weeks per month to explore mines around Utah and the western United States with his high school friend Mike Capps as well as Crystal Burgess, his soon-to-be wife at the time.
"At the time, it wasn't a very well-known hobby," Burgess said. "It still isn't really. Not a lot of people really do it or know about it."
The trio began mapping abandoned mines, staging reclamation projects and preventing the condemnation of mines by the state and federal government that were deemed unsafe.
Capps said the organization was born out of "flying one flag" of keeping open these mines.
"We started Mojave Underground as a way to band everybody together to say we are out here as explorers, we do explore abandoned mines and we are fascinated by the history of them," Capps said.
By 2008, interest in the group had spread like wildfire. Burgess said the group now has around 2,000 registered members on the Mojave Underground website, with members around the country and some who live in Australia, England, Canada and Africa.
The group is open to anyone interested in exploration, and Burgess said plans are underway to take a February trip somewhere in Arizona, California or Nevada. The trips are open to anyone and cost around $200 to $300 for a four- to five-day trip.
Capps joked he and Burgess have explored "a few" mines, estimating they have seen around 200 on Mojave Underground trips and "thousands" independently.
Burgess' favorite is the Ophir Mine in Tooele County, where he's spent 2,000 hours exploring 22 miles of tunnels.
He said he's stumbled upon mining tools and clothing from the late 1800s that are preserved perfectly in the same spot they were dropped more than a century ago.
"That's definitely the holy grail of mine exploring is to get into an area where no one has been since they finished mining it," Burgess said.
Capps' favorite is the Hidden Treasure Mine, near Ophir, where he and Burgess mined out copper-based minerals and "pristine" crystalline formations before carrying the material out up a 2,200 foot incline.
"Just the beauty alone is enough to keep you going back over and over and over," Capps said.
Burgess said Mojave Underground has become a resource for everyone, from the casual explorer to the hard-core adventurer.
He said he hopes anyone interested in exploration will reach out and discover an outdoor hobby deep beneath the surface of normalcy.
"When you go underground, it's a totally different world," Burgess said. "It's not like anywhere else you've ever been."
Mojave Underground membership is free and anyone can join, although exploration trips usually are reserved for ages 18 and older. More information on the organization can be found at: http://www.mojaveunderground.com/ and http://www.facebook.com/MojaveUnderground.