Nebraska June 22, 2018
Most People Don’t Know There Used To Be A Chalk Mine Hiding In Nebraska
Mining has an important place in American history, but Nebraska has never been a rich source of coal or other mined resources. We did, however, have one unusual mine, and you can still visit what remains of it today.
In the lovely rolling hills of central Nebraska is a tiny village called Scotia - population 318. Just outside of town you'll see this mound; get closer and you'll see a sign directing you to Happy Jack Chalk Mine.
Today, the mine is a tourist attraction; it's one of only two underground diatomite mines known to have existed in the country and the only one that's open to the public.
Diatomite was called "chalk" when the mine was operating in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The lightweight rock was first used as a building material, then later as an additive in paint, chicken feed, concrete, and many other products.
But well before that, this area was covered by a vast inland ocean. About 6-10 million years ago, algae-like microorganisms called diatoms inhabited the water.
As the water receded and the landscape of the future Nebraska changed, these tiny organisms' shells became sediment that formed the chalky substance which would later be discovered here by an Army scout in the 1850s.
The diatomite hadn't lain undisturbed in the intervening time, however. After the area became a large grassland, ancient rodents burrowed into the soft material and made their homes there. Happy Jack Chalk Mine is now one of the best places in the world to see these well-preserved burrows.
This is all part of the fascinating history you can explore today on a tour of the mine. In addition to the animal burrows on the walls of the mine, you can see displays exploring the mine's more recent history.
You'll learn about when, how, and why diatomite was mined here and about the happy man for whom the mine was named.
The mine encompasses more than 6,000 feet of honeycombed chambers that have been wired for electricity to make exploration safer. Your tour guides will be more than happy to explain the mine's long history as you walk through the rooms.
The experience doesn't end underground, though. Happy Jack Peak - that large mound mentioned earlier - offers a spectacular view of the North Loup Valley. Hike, picnic, and enjoy the various flora and fauna that inhabit the area. This is a unique day trip that's got something for everyone in the family.
Visit Happy Jack Peak and Chalk Mine on Highway 11, just south of Scotia in Greeley County. You can visit the grounds to hike and picnic for free. If you would like to tour the mine, admission is $7 for adults, $6 for senior citizens and children ages 5-12, and free for ages 4 and under. Special rates are available for groups. The mine is open for tours Memorial Day through Labor Day, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day, but you can schedule an off-season tour by calling 308-245-3276.
Nebraska’s natural history is fascinating in so many ways. For another ancient natural wonder, check out
these bizarre formations in the panhandle.