American Rock Salt mine workers use hand scalers to remove loose roof material. (AP)

American Rock Salt mine workers use hand scalers to remove loose roof material. (AP)

Far under Hampton Corners, New York, a worker inspects a salt mine’s equipment. (AP)

Far under Hampton Corners, New York, a worker inspects a salt mine’s equipment. (AP)

A loader works salt brought up from more than 1,200 feet below ground. (AP)

A loader works salt brought up from more than 1,200 feet below ground. (AP)

A cutter trims the roof of a salt mine in New York. (AP Photos, R. Bishop)

A cutter trims the roof of a salt mine in New York. (AP Photos, R. Bishop)

Up to four million tons of rock salt per year is brought to the surface at this New York mine. (AP)

Up to four million tons of rock salt per year is brought to the surface at this New York mine. (AP)

Deep Down Salt

Posted: May 1, 2017

In Hampton Corners, New York, miners are stepping into an elevator. But it isn’t just any elevator. It’s about to sink more than 1,200 feet into the ground—as deep as the Empire State Building is tall. Ding ding! Going dooooooown.

What will the miners find so deep in the Earth’s crust? Salt! Once, a salty sea existed there. But it dried up long ago. The salt was left behind.

When Americans first started gathering salt from the mine, they used donkeys and pick-axes for their work. That was more than a hundred years ago. Today, workers drive through a gigantic grid of tunnels deep in the mine. The salt surrounding them glimmers in the light from their headlamps. They blast explosives to get the salt loose. But they are very careful. They must leave some pillars of salt standing to hold up the mine. Otherwise, the salt will fall on them. Talk about dangerous work!

Loaders scoop up the blasted salt. Some chunks are as big as file cabinets. After a machine crushes the chunks, a conveyor belt carries them to other machines that break the salt into even smaller pieces—crystals. No matter how warm or cold it gets outside, the salt mine always remains at 60 degrees. Salt floats through the air. Have you ever used saline spray for a stuffy nose? The salt feels good on your sinuses. Miners say the salty mine air does the same thing.

Like farmers, workers in the huge salt mine rely on the weather for their jobs. Today might be a warm, sunny day. But the miners are getting ready for next winter. Highway workers will use the salt they mine to melt snow and ice on roads. The more it snows, the more salt they will need. The more they need, the more money salt miners will make. Mild winters hurt the salt business. So deep in the tunnels on a warm spring day, miners are praying for snow!