Three Kids Mine
Three Kids Mine; Las Vegas, Nevada
Three Kids Mine on the outskirts of Las Vegas, Nevada may be less worthy of mention for its past than for its post-use roles due in large part to its position on the increasingly-encroaching fringes of the urban center.
Built in 1916 and opened the following year, Three Kids Mine consists of a massive 300 foot deep open pit, along with two other nearby smaller pits from which high grade manganese ore was mined. Though today it sits not far from the boundary of the Lake Mead National Recreation Area, at the time of the mine’s construction, the Hoover Dam was still over a decade away from breaking ground, and the city of Las Vegas, located about 15 miles from the mine site, was only 11 years old with a population of about 2000 people. Initially, manganese ore from the mine was hauled down to the rail yards in Las Vegas by a 10-horse team pulling three heavy-duty freight wagons and a feed cart hitched to each other. Shortly after, a mill was constructed beside the main pit to process the ore onsite.
According to the mine’s one-time owners, the Manganese Ore Co., the mine was at one time the largest open pit deposit of manganese ore in the US, while the leaching process took place in the largest acid-proof thickeners ever constructed.
The mine saw three periods of major activity, each coinciding with significant military campaign eras: World War 1, World War 2, and the Korean and Cold Wars. Though by 1961, most of the rich ore had been depleted, and the government terminated the mine’s contract. Much of the mining operation was dismantled the following year. Sitting on BLM land, the area was used by the federal government for storage until 2003.
Following its closure, the earlier completion of the Hoover Dam and the formation of Lake Mead, along with the growth of Las Vegas as an urban and tourism center left the abandoned mine and its tailings in a no man’s land of BLM-controlled desert mountains.
Immediately west of the empty mine pit and concrete mill ruins is 1.8 million cubic tons of black sludge, the result of processed mine tailings mixed with diesel oil and soapy water and transported into a manmade reservoir. [This area is visible in Google Maps Satellite Images today, immediately across E. Lake Mead Parkway from Lake Las Vegas Parkway.] Those with knowledge of these tailings pools contend that even today, beneath the hardened topmost 3-or-so feet of dirt, there is pure liquid sludge 30-70 feet deep.
In 1987, the sci-fi film, Cherry 2000, starring Melanie Griffith, used the mine and pit for filming. Though the movie itself is forgettable, Three Kids Mine was amongst filming locations exclusively throughout southern Nevada like Goldfield and the Valley Of Fire used for filming.
A mix of pollution, multiple-entity ownership, and bureaucracy even less viscous than the sludge left behind has slowed any cleanup of the site. Though now the Lake Mead National Recreation Area is approaching 8 million visitors annually, making it the US’ sixth most visited national park site in 2017 and Las Vegas development has reached almost to the mine site itself with the Lake Las Vegas development located directly opposite the road.
Most recently, the City of Henderson purchased the land and announced plans for a large-scale development on what they have rechristened “Lakemoor Canyon”, though this is all pending a cleanup with cost estimates varying from $300 million to $1.2 billion.
White the pit itself remains a toxic hold that continues to slowly accumulate dumped loads of refuse, car tires, and a surprising number of discarded small boats thrown into it, the mill ruins grow increasingly colorful as graffiti writers continue to cover its available surfaces. The most well-known piece, which remains an attraction even for non-writers, is the Wheel Of Misfortune piece by politically-deviant crew, INDECLINE, whose 2012 mural covers most of the surface of one of the mill’s thickeners and can be seen by flights on path to Vegas’ McCarran International Airport.
In a city where face and image are rebuilt and recycled constantly and new home construction expands in all directions, threatening the area’s undeveloped mountains, fossils and petroglyph sites, and threatened animal species, the slow-moving wheels of bureaucracy and inconvenience of millions of tons of sludgy waste has left Three Kids Mine a shrinking island of darkness in the illuminated grid of the Southern Nevada desert. Someday soon, a home on the massive pit that once supplied metal for the war efforts and a waste receptacle for former boats could be yours, starting in the low $500,000’s…
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