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The First Mine

 Estimated reading time: 1 min.Texts Karina Jozami   Photos Jorge González
Mine 1 Recreational Historical Center - Río Turbio

The foundation of Río Turbio is tightly related to coal exploitation and more precisely to its first large hole: Mine 1, today turned into a recreational historical center.

Only 5 kilometers from the center of Río Turbio, on the base of the Valdelén Snow Park, lies the old Mine 1. The sign located next to the dark entrance today reads: “Recreational historical center”. This is where Río Turbio became a town which grew at the same time coal emerged from the depths of the earth.
Back in the 1940s, the first miners arrived in this inhospitable mountain range region and they began to break the hard rock of the mountain to open the first entrance and start with the mining exploitation works. But the history of the only coal field in the country began in 1870, when and Englishman called William Greenwood and a Frenchman called Francois Poivre settled down in the area. They had come from Punta Arenas and crossed many streams but only one river, which Greenwood nicknamed “muddy” (turbio)” due to the characteristics of its waters. In 1883, Carlos Moyano confirmed the existence of coal after carrying out a thorough exploration from Pavón Island.
Mine 1 Recreational Historical Center - Río Turbio
Ten years later, a geologist called Alcides Mercerat visited the area and considered that “powerful coal deposits that will come to have national economical importance lie amongst these tertiary plates”. Paradoxically, until 1943, the permanent settlements began as a result of the cattle activities and not as a result of mining activities.
The First Mine
The first explorations to extract coal were carried out with the aim of replacing the imports from England. By then, the national oil company YPF created the mineral coal division. Yacimientos Carboníferos Fiscales installed two campsites in Río Turbio in 1943 to perform tasks of recognition in the field.
Mine 1 Recreational Historical Center - Río Turbio
In the first stage, they opened Mine 1, which was characterized by geological exploration and the first extraction works with hand techniques. The coal was loaded into the trucks to be taken to Río Gallegos.
Mine 1 Recreational Historical Center - Río Turbio
As time went by, the precarious pavilions were replaced by others in better condition, as well as sheds, deposits and power stations used by a group of 120 men. Towards 1946, about 450 million tons of coal were extracted and shipped by train to Río Gallegos to be commercialized.
Coal was extracted from the upper mantle, reached through Mines 1 and 2. At Mine 1, the room and pillar exploitation system was applied, by means of which coal was extracted following its structural characteristics and leaving pillars of untouched material to support the roof.
Mine 1 Recreational Historical Center - Río Turbio
Mine 2 lay below Mine 1, whose extraction works began in 1947. The hard work was done with a pickaxe and a shovel and only one compressor triggered out ten hammers simultaneously. Supports made of native lenga were used to hold the columns. Working only one shift, the miners managed to extract 80 tons per day.
In the 1950s, Río Turbio was not exempt from the labor union struggles to improve working conditions. And in the 1990s, YCF could not escape the privatization processes of national companies either.
Eventually, after many concessions that produced losses, the National State, along with the local miners, set the mine to work again in 2003, with a train loaded with coal to be exported to the Netherlands.
Mine 1 Recreational Historical Center - Río Turbio
At present, the last snow of the winter covering the Valdelén remain around the famous mine, a memory of the early days of mining exploitation in the region.
Useful Data
We recommend visitors to make the most of the recreational center, which offers several activities to spend the day.
Complejo Mina Uno
Paraje Mina Uno (9407) Río Turbio - Santa Cruz - Argentina
Tel: +54 2902 42-1191 / 1257  

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The Detail

Mina Uno is surrounded by a leafy native forest of ñires and lengas and it has cabins and a students hostel to accommodate visitors.
In addition to visiting the ancient mine, visitors may go along the trails that get deep into the forest to watch the native flora and fauna, and go on horseback rides to the boundaries of Argentina and Chile or enjoy a fishing outing in the nearby water courses.

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