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Mine touring in Nevada.

The grizzled prospector who once panned and tunneled for gold and silver has faded into Nevada history. But mining still holds a firm place in the state's economy; last year, some 200 mines coaxed about 700,000 troy ounces of gold from the earth. You can learn about modern mining techniques by touring a mine.

We checked every working mine in Nevada with over 20 employees and found seven you can visit by arrangement. One mines medrcury; the rest go after gold and silver. Another mine--Chollar in Virginia City--quit working in the 1940s; today, it just mines $3 from each visitor. But it's the only one that guarantees a trip underground and requires no advance notice. What you'll see: open pits, mills, heap leaching, maybe a mine shaft

Most mines in Nevada now take ore from open pits. On your tour, you may see the ore blasted, hauled from pit to mill, crushed, and dissolved in sodium cyanide tanks. Activated charcoal picks up the dissolved gold, then releases it after heating. From mountainside to bullion, the process takes about 40 hours.

Mines also get gold from heap leaching. Tailings and low-grade ore are piled up and sprinkled with sodium cyanide solution, which dissolves the gold; the gold-bearing liquid then runs underneath the pile to a catchment pond.

Of the eight mines we list, all but the Chollar are working, but falling gold prices ($303.90 per troy ounce at our press time, down from $800 in 1980) may cause some to close.

To set up a tour date, call at least two weeks ahead; drop-in visitors are not allowed. These mines use toxic materials and heavy equipment; stick with the guide and keep an eye on children. Wear old clothes and shoes. You'll see the most activity during the day shift, 7:30 to about 3:30. We list the mines north to south. Nevada area code is 702.

McDermitt Mine, 86 miles north of Winnemucca; 532-8512. Mercury; open-pit mining, mill. Monday through Thursday tours take 1 to 1-1/2 hours; ages 8 and over allowed. Here is one of the country's few mercury mines. You'll go to the open pit to watch scrapers scoop up ore containing cinnabar (mercuric sulfide). At the flotation mill, it's heated to free the mercury.

There are picnic and camp sites in nearby Humboldt National Forest.

Pinson Mines, 38 miles northeast of Winnemucca; 623-5036. Gold; open-pit mining, heap leaching, mill. Weekday 1- to 1-1/2-hour tours for ages 6 and over. Hop in the mine's truck for the ride to the edge of the pit: below, 50-ton trucks (each worth $350,000) haul ore to the mill.

Metal catwalks along the conveyor belts high atop the mill give spectacular views of the Osgood Range.

Dale Mine, Minerals Associates, 10 miles south of Winnemucca; 623-6243. Gold, silver; open pit, heap leaching, water washing, mill. Weekday 1-1/2- to 2-hour tours for all ages, June through September. This site contains placer deposits of gold, easier to mine than the more common lode gold. Look for the telltale flecks in a sample.

Gortez Gold Mines, about 70 miles southwest of Elko; 635-5131. Gold; open pit, heap leaching, mill. Monday through Thursday tours take about 2-1/2 hours; ages 8 and over allowed.

Here at remote Horse Canyon, you'll see 85-ton haul trucks winding 14 miles and 3,000 vertical feet from the open pit on the flanks of Mount Tenabo to the mill. When the trucks' 8-foot-high tires wear out, they're replaced at a cost of several thousand dollars each.

Amselco Minerals, 70 miles northwest of Ely; 289-8901. Golds, silver; open-pit mining, heap leaching. Monday through Thursday tours take 1 to 2 hours; ages 8 and over allowed. To visit, you will need prior tour permission in writing from the Denver office; call for details. Here at Alligator Ridge, gold is heap-leached only.

From the mine, you can drive about 25 miles north to Ruby Marsh for fishing, camping, and picnicking.

Chollar Mine, Virginia City; 847-0155. Former underground mine for gold, silver. Weather permitting, daily 1/2-hour guided tours start Easter weekend; open 1 to 5 to mid-June, noon to 5 to mid-September, 1 to 5 through October. Admission is $3, $1 ages 4 through 14. Look for the sign off C Street at the south end of Virginia City.

Walk 425 feet through the narrow-timbered adit (miners' parlance for a tunnel with one opening) and straight into history.

Opened in 1859, this was one of the earliest of the Comstock mines. Over the next 80 years, miners blasted and carted out some $17 million in gold and silver. Light bulbs, good ventilation, and some new timbering are the only concessions to modern times.

United Mining, Gold Hill, 2 miles south of Virginia City; 847-0334. Gold, silver; open-pit, underground mining, mill. Weekday 2- to 4-hour tours. At the Loring Pit, huge trucks haul out 2,500 tons of rock and ore a day. If the staff isn't too busy, and if you're 13 or older, you'll take a ride underground into the New Savage Mine, where miners blast away 588 feet below the earth's surface. The mine entrance (called a decline) is hot, humid, and completely dark except for the light from miners' headlamps; don't go down there if you're claustrophobic. Smoky Valley Mining, 55 miles north of Tonopah near Round Mountain; 377-2366. Gold, silver; open-pit mining, heap leaching, mill. One-hour tours every fourth Thursday of the month at 1; other tours weekdays by arrangement; ages 12 and over allowed. Miners have coaxed gold out of the Toquima Range since the 1860s; today, Smoky Valley converts the ore into more than 100,000 troy ounces of pure gold each year.

There are picnic and camp sites nearby in Toiyabe National Forest.
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Date:Apr 1, 1985
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