Bingham Canyon Visitor Center
This page last updated on June 10, 2017.
Although the Bingham Canyon open pit copper mine became a destination for tourists as soon as the county road in the canyon was paved, it was a place to see almost from its very first day.
The first steam shovels started the open pit copper mine in 1906, but the mines in the canyon were already well known by that time. The canyon was well into its boom times of mining activity when tragedy struck in late February 1907. A special train for Utah legislators was run into the canyon to give the men and some of their wives a special view of the developments in the canyon. The train was made up of a Copper Belt Shay locomotive and two flat cars with benches mounted to them, and was struck by a runaway ore car coming down from the Boston Consolidated mine. The collision knocked two men off of the car on which they were riding. Their injuries were fatal. (Deseret News, February 23, 1907; Ogden Standard, February 23, 1907; Salt Lake Herald, February 23, 1907, the Salt Lake Herald provided continuing coverage of the tragedy and the days after, since one of those fatally injured was its own reporter.)
A special train came to Bingham Canyon by way of Rio Grande's Highline branch into Cuprum Yard, continuing up the canyon to see the workings of the Utah copper mine. The occasion was the cross-country honeymoon trip, via private railroad train, celebrating the marriage of Vivien Gould and Major Jack Beresford (Lord Decies). The private train consisted of D&RGW locomotive and two passenger cars; a combination baggage and staff car, and business car No. 2 of the Missouri Pacific Railroad. Ms. Gould was the daughter of New York financier George Gould, who controlled the Denver & Rio Grande Railroad, was well and the Missouri Pacific Railroad and the Western Pacific Railway. Photographs indicate that the members of the party were very much out of place, and not among their usual high society surroundings.
Residents of Bingham Canyon were promised by the Salt Lake County commissioners that the last four miles of the newly-designated county road to Bingham Canyon would be straightened and improved. It was an important road and was at the top of the list of the hundreds of miles of roads in the county to be improved. (Bingham Bulletin, March 13, 1925)
The last 1-3/4 mile of county road into the canyon to Bingham was completed and was ready for concrete paving, which would be done the following year. The paving was to be completed to the Bingham city limits. (Bingham Bulletin, July 21, 1921; December 15, 1927)
The streets of Copperton were paved during June 1928. The project was paid for by Utah Copper Company. (Bingham Bulletin, June 14, 1928)
The county road in Bingham Canyon was paved and completed to the Bingham city limits in mid September 1928. Plans were progressing to pave the road through Bingham, with the city sharing in the costs with Salt Lake County, which had set aside $20,000 as its share. The city and county agreed on using concrete for the city streets, rather than asphalt, and work began in early October. (Bingham Bulletin, September 20, 1928; October 4, 1928)
The county road in Bingham Canyon was paved, allowing a view of the open pit mine to become a growing destination for tourists.
Work was progressing on paving the upper Main Street in Bingham, including laying a new sewer line at the same time. The concrete paved road was being extended "a considerable distance up Carr Fork." (Bingham Bulletin, September 24, 1931)
Sometime during the 1930s, either before or after the county road was paved between Bingham and Copperfield, a designated visitor observation point was completed on the open pit mine side at the base of the 'E' Line wooden bridge where the county road passed under the long wooden bridge. This observation point included a small structure for volunteers to tell stories of Bingham, and for the Bingham Lions Club to sell souvenirs. There was small parking lot with a safety fence surrounding it. This first observation point was closed after the 'E' Line bridge to be removed.
The first observation point was at this location by September 21, 1936, when an employee of Utah Copper had his car stolen while he was on-shift. The car was noted as being in the parking lot at the observation point, as well as being the first stolen car in Bingham in two years. (Bingham Bulletin, September 25, 1936)
An item in the Salt Lake Tribune newspaper on July 30, 1941, about Joe's Combination Bar in Copperfield, noted that the restaurant and bar were just 100 yards from the open pit mine observation point. This would put the observation point very near the site of the removed 'E' Line bridge, and indicates that the observation point was still at its original location.
March 31, 1937
Utah Construction Company had begun construction of a new vehicular tunnel between Bingham and Copperfield. The work was paid for by Utah Copper Company, at the same time that Utah Copper bought the surface rights and a portion of the underground workings of Ohio Copper. (Utah Copper Company Chronology, citing the book "Power In The Copper Industry" by R. J. Corfield, Volume 1, March 1940; see also, Bingham Bulletin, March 26, 1937 and April 16, 1937)
February 13, 1938
Contractor crews made a perfect hole-through on the vehicular tunnel between Bingham and Copperfield. (Utah Copper Company Chronology, citing the "Mines Annual Report, 1938")
December 26, 1938
The Bingham-Copperfield vehicular tunnel was completed. (Utah Copper Company Chronology, citing internal company documents)
February 4, 1939
Copperfield vehicular tunnel was opened for traffic. The tunnel, 7,000 feet long, had been completed in December 1938 and was built at a cost of $1.4 Million. The tunnel rose from 6,100 feet elevation at Bingham to 6,600 feet at Copperfield, at a 6.4 percent grade. The old county highway in the bottom of the canyon was closed and the tunnel was deeded to Salt Lake County as its replacement. The tunnel was used by about 850 cars that first day and could accommodate 1,100 cars per day. Utah Copper began immediately to fill across the old county road, connecting the east and west sides of 'C' Level. (Utah Copper Company Chronology, citing the "Mines Annual Report, 1938")
At the same time, the U. S. District Court granted Utah Copper's request that the new tunnel be disconnected from Bingham City, and turned over to Salt Lake County ownership and maintenance. (Bingham Bulletin, January 20, 1939)
Traffic in the tunnel was one-way, controlled by "electric eye" that in turn controlled electric traffic signals. Flag men communicating by telephone were used regularly when the traffic lights were not working properly.
The second visitor observation point for the public to view the mine was built in 1941 and was located in Copperfield at the upper end of the vehicular tunnel completed in 1939. The observation point was reached by way of the vehicular tunnel from Bingham, which curved into the mountain to avoid the slowly expanding pit operations.
During 1955, Malcolm (Scotty) Robertson, a retired Kennecott track worker, provided commentary to the 100,000 visitors to the mine. (Deseret News, December 14, 1955)
October 8, 1956
The observation point at Copperfield was closed in October 1956. Over 1.5 million visitors had seen the pit from the Copperfield location since it was completed "some 15 years ago." (circa 1941). The Bingham-Copperfield tunnel remained open for local residents. (Bingham Bulletin, October 5, 1956)
Kennecott opened the new observation point on the north side of the mine, near the site of the Apex Yards, at the east end of the recently dismantled D-Dump Line bridge. This new observation center included a paved parking lot, rest rooms and a "sloped floor" at the observation deck to allow visitors unobstructed views when there were large numbers of visitors. The new shelter was 100 feet long and 18 feet wide, and was located right adjacent to the D-Dump rail line. By August 1957, over 60,000 visitors had been to the new location. (Bingham Bulletin, June 28, 1957; Murray Eagle, July 4, 1957; Deseret News, August 9, 1957)
Tooele County carved out a parking space and view area at the top of Sunset Peak, to allow visitors to view the Bingham mine from the high point on the southwest edge. In 1964, the Utah National Guard built a road up Butterfield Canyon to connect with the road from the Tooele side. (Deseret News, April 30, 1984, "Twenty five years ago" and "five years later")
April 22, 1960
The Salt Lake County Commission would soon vote on a resolution to turn the Bingham-Copperfield tunnel over to Kennecott as a private road. A survey over a recent 14-hour period showed that the tunnel was used by 300 cars, carrying 1,200 men, of which 1,195 were Kennecott employees, and the remaining five were employees of another mining company. Kennecott had requested that the county complete some needed repairs on the road through the tunnel. (Bingham Bulletin, April 22, 1960)
August 10, 1960
The Bingham-Copperfield tunnel was abandoned by Salt Lake County, and became a private road for exclusive use by Kennecott and its employees and contractors. (Bingham Bulletin, August 12, 1960, as voted on "Wednesday" at the commission meeting.)
The visitor observation center was moved to a site adjacent to the D-Line, at a reported cost of $100,000.
The Bingham Canyon visitor center reopened on July 2, 1967 after a slide closed part of the parking lot and walking path on June 19th. (Davis County Clipper, July 7, 1967)
This new visitor center was on the northern foundation of the old 'D' Dump Line bridge that crossed Carr Fork. Kennecott built a parking lot down adjacent to the Carr Fork road, and a long inclined walkway up to the visitor outlook. The walkway had a chain link fence, six feet high, along both sides. A large truck tire was located about halfway up the walkway.
Kennecott announced in February 1978 that the north rim location for the observation center was to be closed at the end of the 1978 season, with Kennecott stating that if a new visitor observation center was to be built, it would be done by either state or local government. At the same time, the House of Copper in Copperton was closed, after being in the same location since 1961. A small museum was located inside the store, which would remain open to sell clothing and convenience items. The House of Copper sold items made of copper, and was to re-open at a new location at Heritage Square, at Sixth South and West Temple in Salt Lake City. (Deseret News, August 9, 1978) There were discussions of the state funding the improvement of the existing road to the top of Sunset Peak, which overlooks the open pit mine from the southwest side. The existing road is accessed from both Tooele and from Butterfield Canyon. (Deseret News, February 28, 1978; June 3, 1978; September 7, 1978)
"The visitors center at Kennecott's open pit copper mine was closed indefinitely last fall." (Deseret News, April 30, 1984)
An all-new visitor observation center was completed in 1988 at a new location on the northeast side of the pit. The new site included a separate formal visitor center along with a large tire from one of the mining trucks. (Deseret News, April 12, 1993)
The visitor observation center opened for the season on April 1, 1988. The news item does not mention whether of not the location is new or remodeled, but does mention that a big tire is now part of the exhibit. (Deseret News, March 28, 1988)
In January 1989, the company announced that the $14,000 collected as an entry fee since August 15, 1988, when the practice was started, would be donated to local charities, as would all fees collected in the future. (Deseret News, August 11, 1988; January 2, 1989)
Throughout the years, the visitor observation center was open for six to seven months out of the year, between late March or early April and late October, depending on the weather and the amount of snow on the ground needing to be cleared to provide access.
In a "What To Do This Weekend" feature, the visitor observation center was mentioned as still being located in Bingham Canyon, with access by way of continuing west from Copperton. (Deseret News, August 21, 1991)
April 27, 1992
Kennecott held a formal opening of a new visitor center at the mine observation area. The ceremony was attended by Governor Bangerter and by Frank Joklik, Kennecott president. The visitor center featured a video and other displays that told of the mine's history and its operations. (Deseret News, April 29, 1992; Salt Lake Tribune, April 28, 1992)
Access to the visitor center was changed during the winter of 1991-1992, with a new access road being constructed from a new entrance gate at the old location of the Lark townsite, climbing northward across the face of the waste dump area to an expanded parking lot. After a new access road to the new visitors center was opened in April 1992, Utah Route 48, the state road in Bingham Canyon, was decommissioned and abandoned. The roadway and right-of-way west of Copperton became private property of Kennecott.
Since 1988, more than $200,000 has been donated to 70 local charities. (Deseret News, April 12, 1993)
The visitors center at the Bingham Canyon observation point was enlarged by 1,600 square feet and 12 new exhibits and a theater were added. Over 176,000 visitors viewed the Bingham mine during 1996. (Deseret News, May 18, 1996; April 1, 1997)
There were over 180,000 visitors to Kennecott's open pit mine during 1998. All fees collected, $3 for cars and $30 for large buses, were donated to local charities; a total of $104,500 was collected during 1998. (Deseret News, April 5, 1999)
Kennecott reopened its Bingham Canyon visitors center in a new location. The visitors center was moved, remodeled and enlarged and relocated to a new site within the mine. The building was reported as having a new exterior and several energy savings improvements. (Kennecott 2005 Sustainable Development Report)
"The Kennecott Utah Copper Visitors Center Charitable Foundation donated $130,000 to 95 local community charities in December. The foundation is organized as a Kennecott nonprofit entity giving funds exclusively for public welfare, community improvement and charitable purposes, which is limited to providing help to the underprivileged." "The foundation raises money for local charities through tax-deductible entrance fees to the Bingham Canyon Mine Visitors Center. In 2007, the center hosted 169,945 visitors, an increase of about 21,092 from 2006, and raised more money than any other year in the foundation's history. Since the inception of the charity fund in 1992, the foundation has donated more than $2 million to local community charities and nonprofit organizations and hosted more than 2 million visitors to the center." "The foundation has given to charities focusing on children, veterans, disabled, homeless and senior citizens throughout the state. Donations were made to 26 senior centers, 24 human service organizations, five health organizations, and nine groups focusing on the disabled." (Deseret News, January 13, 2008)
The current visitors center is at 6,340 feet above sea level.
Rio Tinto announced that the Bingham visitor's center will be closed for the duration of the 2013 season, due to safety concerns. (Deseret News, April 2, 2013)