Japanese teens visit Smuggler Mine
January 11, 2007
Aspen, CO ColoradoASPEN From the low, sighing expressions of wonderment, uttered in unison over a particular tidbit of information, to the squeals of fear mixed with laughter when a side tunnel yawned open next to them, it was clear that this was the first time the group of students from Japan had been in a mine.Listening to guide Chris Preusch at the Smuggler Mine on Thursday were 13 eighth-graders from Shimukappu and Tomamu, which are among Aspen’s various sister cities around the world.Behind the group was Preusch’s partner, explosives expert Jay Parker, making sure no one strayed into any of the tunnels and shafts that branched off.Before heading into the portal of Smuggler Mine Tunnel No. 2, which Preusch said was the first deep shaft into the hills around Aspen in the silver boom of the late 1800s, Preusch tried out the only expression he knows in Japanese. Enunciating over and over again, he practiced a phrase that sounded like “don’t touch your mustache” and means “pleased to meet you” in Japanese.On the other side of the cultural fence, none of the Japanese youngsters spoke any more English than Preusch did Japanese, but they occasionally would trot out their own limited phraseology with equal glee.
Also on the trip, which is part of the Sister Cities Student Exchange Program teachers Kamalla Marsh and Georgina Levey oversee, were two Japanese teachers and Aspen native Corey Lucks.Lucks is now a resident of Shimukappu; he has a Japanese wife and they are expecting a child. Lucks teaches English at the Shimukappu schools, under a two-year contract that has stretched to five years.Moving into the tunnel, electric light bulbs every 10 feet or so illuminated a narrow track for ore cars. A junction of several mining shafts, called a “stope,” opened at the top of a narrow steel ladder to permit the entire group to stand still for a while and listen.Pointing out the different openings, Preusch explained that some went straight down for hundreds of feet, while others rose an equal amount toward the summit of Smuggler Mountain, and still others branched out parallel to the No. 2 tunnel.Snapping photos with small, digital cameras, whispering excitedly to one another as Lucks translated Preusch’s remarks, the group learned that mine shafts crisscross the ground beneath the town, and that until 1918, one could walk the tunnels from one side of the valley to the other. After 1918, mine owners shut down pumps that kept a veritable ocean of ground water at bay, and the tunnels flooded.
At a spot where a wooden barricade blocked the tunnel’s farther reaches, Parker picked up a hand drill and a small sledgehammer, and demonstrated how miners would drill into the rock by hand, place dynamite in the holes they created and blast the rock to free the silver ore.”It was interesting, and fun,” said Emi Tachibana, who admitted to being “a little bit” frightened by the darkness and the difficulty in seeing well enough to walk.And Rudai Maeda said that, yes, it was his first time in a mine, but he said he was “not a bit” afraid.The students said they like what they have seen of Aspen and the United States, noting that “the food is good” and “everything is huge.”Tachibana said the people she has met in Aspen have been “very nice, very kind,” and both said they hope to come back sometime, once they can afford it on their own.
The student exchange program began in 1988 at the suggestion of the then-mayor of Shimukappu, and has grown to include students and teachers.Lucks, who first went to Japan in 1991 as a seventh-grader with the exchange program, graduated from college in 2001 and moved to Japan the following year. He married his wife, Tomoe, two years ago and has no plans to come back to the States anytime soon. He said the school district is now looking for his replacement so that he can get on with his career.The visiting students and their teachers have also tried cross-country skiing at Ashcroft. They will spend today in Glenwood Springs, including a trip to the Glenwood Caverns, and will be bowling Saturday at El Jebowl.Their visit will end with a farewell ceremony Monday night after a day of skiing at Snowmass, Lucks said.John Colson’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org