THE WESTERN STATES are full of holes formed by open pit mining, and many of them are so big it is impossible for them not to be noticed by people passing through. Some of these sites confront their visibility head on, accommodating viewers by providing a place to pull off the road, and peer into their landscape void. Though that might be enough, it doesn’t usually stop there.
Open pit mine overlooks generally include visitor infrastructure in the form of observation decks, interpretive plaques, suggested photo spots, viewing devices, picnic tables, heavy machinery displays, and at least one or two oversized mining truck tires. They provide a sightseer-friendly frame for these man-made Grand Canyons, dramatic landscapes carved by explosives and machines–breathtaking and lingering monuments of our ongoing industrial age.
The CLUI presented an exhibition on the subject of industrial interpretation at Sierra Nevada College, last summer. The exhibition, called Pit Stops: Open Pit Mine Overlooks in the West was composed of sixty images from the CLUI photo archive, selected by CLUI program manager Aurora Tang to show the way the experience of looking can be shaped and structured at these sites.
The images in the exhibit were drawn from the thousands of locations documented in the Center for Land Use Interpretation’s photo archive, images taken by members of the Center over the past 20 years. They are among the most iconic images in the archive, as they show both the immensity of human constructions, and the interpretive structures built to contextualize them.
Sierra Nevada College, in the Sierra Mountains above Carson City, was considered an appropriate context for the exhibit subject, as the region is notorious for the early mining booms of the mid-1800s, which drew so many westward for the first time and accelerated the development of the West. Today, of course, few come for mines. They are considered, for the most part, footnotes, accidentally on the side of the road, and in need of interpretive enhancement. ♦