The Champion Spark Plug mine is quite a place. The deposit was initially found in 1916 by Dr. Joseph Jeffery, a dentist who was looking for better minerals to build dentures from. However, the minerals he found were actually more valuable as insulators for spark plugs. The Champion Spark Plug Company successfully worked the mine from 1919 to 1945, producing high-quality insulators that helped to power cars and trucks across the country.
Unfortunately for the miners, the deposit was high up on a cliff, at an elevation of around 9,000 ft. The terrain was too steep for a road, so all the ore was hauled out by mules. This also means that everything the miners needed, such as food, tools, building materials, and supplies, also had to be hauled up the mountain by mules.
The miners built two camps to support their work. The main camp, called the Black Eagle, and the appropriately called Upper Camp a few thousand feet higher at the mine. Even from the lower Black Eagle Camp, it is a long way down to the canyon bottom where the road ended at around 5,900 ft elevation. From there the ore was loaded onto a truck and then hauled to the railroad siding where it was shipped to Detroit for processing at Champion’s factory.
The camp is a small oasis in the mountains. It has half a dozen furnished cabins, a cookhouse, three outhouses, a workshop and even a museum full of artifacts from the mine! The cabins are small but cozy. Some are fully furnished with beds, tables, and chairs.
The camp has running water piped to the cookhouse and wash house but sometimes the water line is in disrepair.
Volunteers maintain these cabins. The cabins are on a first come, first served basis and are free to use. If you come up here, follow Backcountry Cabin Etiquette and care for this incredible place.