Few things pique my interest as much as the prospect of exploring an abandoned mine (see what I did there?). So Richie and I set off in search of the New Prospect Mine in Sharps Chapel, TN. After getting lost and obtaining directions from a friendly ferryboat captain, we found the mine entrance several hundred feet off of Old Leadmine Bend Rd, who’da thunk it?
The huge mouth of the mine seems out of place among the double-wides and old barns of the small Sharps Chapel, and even more peculiar is the large lead/zinc sulfide deposit among the bland carbonate rocks. However, the mine is amazing, especially in the cold winter weather when the man-made cave is littered with brilliant icicles and strange ice stalagmites that turn the mine into an eerie cavern.
The veins of lead and zinc ore are only a few inches thick, and the exposures of these veins are weathered and difficult to spot. However, upon breaking the ore-bearing rocks open, the galena and sphalerite are unmistakeable. The galena is very heavy and has a distinct metallic luster and the sphalerite is a bright yellow. The other mineral we found is cerussite, a lead carbonate that forms white crystals similar to aragonite (same crystal structure). The host rock is typical Cambrian carbonates.
The exploration was cut short due to the danger of falling icicles, some of which exceeded 6 feet in length. However, when the weather improves we will return to venture deeper into the mine as well as explore the banks of Norris Lake in search of a kimberlite pipe, an igneous rock formed in the mantle known for containing diamonds and other rare minerals.
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