We’re on a roll of weird and interesting field trips lately, and this one was no exception. A visit to a local quarry – who wouldn’t want to do that? The kids thought it was cool, and the adults thought the processes in place to be good neighbors (and meet EPA standards) were downright amazing!
This particular field trip was to the Manassas quarry, but Vulcan has sites all over the country, primarily the lower half of the country. From Georgia to California and almost everywhere in-between. It’s hard to find a list of just the quarries on their website: check the facilities list first and compare it to the wildlife protection areas list of quarries. If you’re interested in touring, call the site directly and ask for a tour – I sent two emails to their listed email on the website and never got a response.
Our tour started with some car shuffling – this particular quarry has a limit of 4-5 personal vehicles per tour, and they prefer you to come in a bus. We’re homeschoolers, so no bus! Because they do tours for scout groups and other community groups, they agreed to let us come in our private cars instead of considering us a “school” tour. The kids thought car pooling was quite fun.
As we drove to the office building, we noticed little things like a curious looking train engine that moved gravel-filled cars, pipes spraying water here and there, and retaining ponds with nesting boxes for birds. Everything was clean, if a bit dusty, and much more quiet than we expected a quarry to be. Bird calls sounded, the neighboring asphalt plant puffed steam into the air, and the little trickle sounds of water were heard here and there.
Once in the tour room (conference room) our guides told us some of the details about the quarry. How old it was, how much longer it will be in service (about 30 years) and the very basics of how they work. from blasting to crushing to sorting. The kids were particularly impressed by the many large cases of minerals and fossils. They included many different kids of mineral samples, and one specific case held samples from this particular quarry. How can you not love a tour where you get to see dinosaur poop?
Our tour guides showed us some company footage of processes in action that no one is allowed to visit for safety reasons. We watched a drill make holes for blasting, we watched the actual blast occur (the kids made a collective “oooo” sound at that one!) and we watched the stone go through several crushers. The first crusher was 5 stories tall!
Once finished with the demonstrations and talk, we headed back to the car to drive down into the pit. It’s a deep quarry – to get an idea of the scale, here’s a short video of the quarry and surrounding area including a satellite shot . It’s impressive just how big and deep the quarry is! We didn’t get to go all the way down for safety reasons, but we parked at an overlook and watched the giant dump trucks cart rocks up from the current work zone to the start of the conveyor belts.
I took a few pictures of the quarry pit, and at the very center of the picture are the dump trucks: tiny little minuscule trucks working away at the huge pile of rock. Once one of the trucks parked for us to look at, we realized that the tiny trucks weren’t so tiny after all, and the tires stood well over my head! The kids were suitably impressed.
After we were finished at the overlook, we headed out, past the maze of conveyor belts, sorting houses, and pipe systems that pumped the water from the pit up to retaining ponds. The quarry uses the water in their water trucks and sprayers to lay the dust down: we got to watch a water truck in action spray its way up the gravel road of the pit towards us.
The kids were very impressed by the mountains of gravel – I thought they looked like gravel dunes, with the same waving edges and shape of a giant sand dune. During our visit a steady stream of dump trucks came to be loaded up with gravel and rock, and we even watched one tractor trailer go over the massive truck scale and get sprayed off before we left.
As field trips go, this was one of our better ones! We really appreciate the graciousness of the Vulcan Quarry people and their willingness to educate – they took time out of their busy day to talk to us and drive us around the quarry when they didn’t have to. Visiting a quarry is a truly awesome experience for our kids and the parents – most of us had never visited a quarry before, so we learned right along with the kids.
It was pretty amazing!