Deep Down Dark: The Untold Stories of 33 Men Buried in a Chilean Mine
The San José Mine is located inside a round, rocky, and lifeless mountain in the Atacama Desert in Chile. Wind is slowly eroding the surface of the mountain into a fine, grayish orange powder that flows downhill and gathers in pools and dunes. The sky above the mine is azure and empty, allowing an unimpeded sun to bake the moisture from the soil. Only once every dozen years or so does a storm system worthy of the name sweep across the desert to drop rain on the San José property. The dust is then transformed into mud as thick as freshly poured concrete.
Few sightseers visit this corner of the Atacama, though the naturalist Charles Darwin did pass nearby, briefly, during his nineteenth-century journey around the world on a Royal Navy research vessel. The locals told him scientifically implausible stories that linked the rare rains to earthquakes. The vastness of Atacama and the absence of animal life surprised Darwin, and in his journal he described the desert as “a barrier far worse than the most turbulent ocean.” Even today, birders who pass through this part of Chile note that there are few if any avian species to be found. In the deeper desert, the only conspicuous living presence is of mining men, and the occasional woman, riding in trucks and minibuses to the mountains where there is gold, copper, and iron to be extracted.
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