When most people imagine a day trip from Salt Lake City, they usually think about heading to one of Utah’s natural wonders like Antelope Island State Park or Mt. Timpanogos. However, many people aren’t aware that one of Utah’s singularly most impressive landforms isn’t natural at all – it's completely man-made. The Bingham Canyon Copper Mine, which might not sound immediately appealing, is in fact one of Utah’s most fascinating wonders. You would be a rare person to not enjoy a trip to the world’s deepest open-pit mine – just 45 minutes from Downtown Salt Lake City.
320-ton Capacity Trucks: Like Ants in Bingham Canyon Mine — Photo courtesy of ZacharyTirrell
A day trip to Kennecott’s Bingham Canyon Copper Mine takes visitors southwest from Salt Lake City and onto the eastern flanks of the Oquirrh Mountains, roughly 25 miles from downtown. This mine, which occupies 1,900 acres and has a diameter of 2.5 miles, has multiple entrance points. Those heading to the Visitor Center – the only option for tourists – will take UT 111 to the mine’s southeastern entrance.
The Visitor Center, which stands in front of the mine itself, serves as an excellent starting point for the day’s exploration. Here guests can learn about the mine’s long history, complex infrastructure, incredible machinery and unique geology by way of photographs, illustrations, hands-on exhibits and demonstrations. Use the center’s 3D microscopes to examine geology samples or check out historic mining equipment artifacts. Before leaving, spend 16 minutes in the 90-person theater watching a fascinating movie on the mine’s history, current operations and future plans.
After your stop in the Visitor Center, you can walk onto an overlook and witness the actual mine itself. Beneath the overlook, this gaping chasm gives visitors a spectacular sensation of exposure. The mine itself, in production for nearly 110 years, is presently 4,000 (0.75 miles) deep.
Standing on the overlook, visitors can listen to a descriptive audio recording (playable in several languages) describing the goings on of the world’s largest man-made excavation. 240- and 320-ton capacity trucks, which look like ants from the overlook, drive along the more than 500 road miles contained within the mine to deliver crude ore to the in-pit crusher. There the ore is reduced to soccer ball-sized chunks that are then taken to the Coppperton Concentrator by way of a 5-mile conveyor.
Currently the second largest copper producer in the United States, the Bingham Canyon Mine yields roughly 300,000 tons of refined copper each year. In its history, the mine has produced a world-record 18.1 million tons of copper. Additionally, the mine produces 4 million ounces of silver and 400,000 ounces of gold annually, as well as numerous other essential elements that help make up everyday wares like cell phones, shampoo, food, medicine and hybrid cars.
Since its opening in 1992, the Bingham Canyon Mine Visitors Center has seen more than 3 million visitors. The Visitor Center is open April 1 through October 1 each year, weather permitting. All proceeds from the center go toward local charities.