Descending a few dozen feet into the open pit mine, visitors enter a monochromatic world that looks like a desert planet from Star Wars. On all sides, walls of nearly pure quartz sandstone rise up, the sparkly tan of raw cane sugar, layered with bands of different shades. Loose sand sits in small piles at the base of the cliffs; in the distance, larger piles are being loaded into huge yellow dump trucks that can move 70 tons of the stuff at a time.
But they’re not digging for valuable ores or precious metals buried beneath all this sand. This is a sand mine, and there are dozens like it in western Wisconsin. This state, and others in the Midwest, have some of the best sand in the world.