SOUTHWEST TRIP, WINTER 2006
Faye and I needed to be in Wickenburg, Arizona for the beginning of the Roving Rockhounds dig trips Monday morning, February 13. We left Gatlinburg with trailer in tow Wednesday morning the 8th, and made three overnight stops before reaching Flagstaff the night of the 11th.
The decent off the Colorado Plateau was dramatic. We left the pines and junipers of Flagstaff and fell into the tortured, raw landscape of the Central Highlands. The temperature rose until we thought the sub-freezing low of the morning must have been a dream. And, the traffic swelled as we got closer to Phoenix. We abandoned the freeway thirty minutes north and drove toward Lake Pleasant, and left the traffic issue with those continuing on to the big city.
Unfortunately we were back in the traffic when we reached Wickenburg. That weekend was “Gold Rush Days” and the impact was lingering on into Sunday evening. Even though we had called the Horspitality RV Park in January for our reservations we were assigned a space for our trailer in front of the maintenance shed for the first two nights of our week-long stay. That meant no water and 15 amp power provided through a pencil-thin extension cord. You read the name right. It is Horspitality. You can board your horse there. During our stay, the stables were not always downwind and the proximity was all too apparent.
That first evening Jim Flora, of the Georgia Mineral Society, came by the trailer. He was staying at a motel in town and decided to see if he could find any Roving Rockhounds in the park where several had stayed the previous year. We wondered if others were there somewhere. As we discovered the next morning, there were seven other RR’s in the campground.
At nine o’clock at McDonald’s that morning there were two dozen of us crowding the parking lot…many new faces to Faye and me. It’s always a bit of a surprise to see so many others who feel it perfectly acceptable to drive such great distances on the assumption that there really will be a turn out. That night before, Jim, Faye and I were still wondering if there was anybody else there. Of course it was a circus as all of us tried to exit the parking lot to caravan to the dig of the day. The scene was made more hectic with the arrival in the lot of a tour bus. The driver couldn’t park the monster, so he simply stopped in the lane and all passengers began filing off the bus. We threaded our way through.
Monarch and Purple Passion Mines
Wednesday morning we met at the rodeo grounds. There was plenty of parking room and no tour buses. This was the day we were to go to a couple of mines not so far away, but with some challenging roads. We were told that the road to the Monarch Mine would be particularly rough and four–wheel drive and low- range gearing would be essential. Those electing not to go to the Monarch would go on to the nearby Purple Passion Mine.
Before we got to the separating point one vehicle mired up in deep sand when the road became no more than the washes we’d been crossing. They were being towed out by one of the group when the rest of us drove on by, suppressing feelings of guilt for not helping.
The road up to the Monarch was all that had been promised. Last year’s rains had done a number on the already steep and narrow road. At one point it looked like I could see all the top of the vehicle in front of me as it negotiated a sheer incline (only a slight exaggeration). I decided it looked worse than it felt when we had made our passage.
Parking space was limited at the mine. We were on top of a knob that fell off on all sides. There were five of us and there were already two vehicles there when we arrived, one a Hummer. We managed to crowd in, grabbed our tools, and attacked the dumps. Almost the first rock I broke open contained several vugs with small thin quartz crystals coated in a rainbow of colors. And, there were malachite needles tucked in around the crystals. I busted a lot of rocks over the next couple of hours and never topped these early finds.
All five vehicles of our group made it down without mishap and we drove on over to the Purple Passion Mine. Faye and I joined those of the first group still working the dumps there. We were told us to scratch out the rocks that were mostly calcite. Those would be the most likely candidates for purple fluorite and yellow wulfenite. The material was easy to come by in the spot I chose. I began to find the blades of wulfenite and a few pieces that also contained purple fluorite. It was late in the day and we frantically combed the dump hoping to make some good finds while we had the daylight. We would stay after dark to see the fluorescence there, but that wouldn’t help us find the wulfenite.
When it became too dark to continue our search Faye and I took time to gobble down sandwiches we had brought along, and then awaited the nighttime show. And what a show it was. Those with high-powered black lights scanned the dumps and the main pit and everything seem to respond. Almost all the material had two colors and some three and even four. One of the group busted a huge boulder and pieces were distributed. Everyone left with “hot rocks.”
The next two days we spent collecting geodes near Lake Pleasant and then chrysocolla at a series of old gold mines on the slopes of Bullard Peak north of Aquila.
We ate a lot of dust to reach the dumps of the Contact Mine on Saturday. The pavement ran out after the first twenty miles and the remaining ten miles was all choking and gagging. When we had gone as far as we could go, there was still another half mile of walking required to reach the dumps up on the hill. Our scouting party reported from their trip out the day before that there was plenty of massive amethyst there. And there was. I dug out a big rock that I just had to have. It had some nice swirls of amethyst and should make some handsome slabs. It must have weighed thirty or forty pounds, so the walk back to the truck was a grind, particularly when I also had a bucket to carry. Faye helped by guiding us through the brambles of our short cut route. After lunch, in a nearby dry creek bed, Faye and I picked up half-a-bucket of green rocks that appeared to be epidote, or was it olivine. It certainly is micro-crystalline.
Our trip leader, Bill Jaeger, has a mining interest in the Rowley and he was our ticket in to this old renown mine. We would have a chance to dig in the mine and to work the dumps. Faye and I worked the dumps until lunch. There was a lot of material to remove. Bill said the best stuff would be in the bottom two feet of the piles. It was. There was much chrysocolla. And, then there was wulfenite. The crystals were small but much richer in color than those we found at the Purple Passion Mine. They were orange, well formed, and some were semi-transparent. There were also tiny yellow needles of mimetite, another secondary mineral of lead deposits. It seemed that more often than not I would find the wulfenite in rocks that contained a lot of barite.
After lunch Faye and I joined the second group to go down in the mine. The descent was via a vertical shaft rigged with ladders and steps to take us fifty or sixty feet below the surface. It was surprisingly warm down there and our hard hats already felt hot. We met a couple of young guys who were actively mining for wulfenite in an adjacent shaft. They were using a jack hammer so the dust was thick. We were instructed in safety precautions and shown the area were we would dig. Our headlamps made the walls glitter as though everything was a potential treasure. We each chose a spot and tried our best to extract something intact. The color I took off the wall was primarily weathered wulfenite, looking massive and more yellow than orange. Bill called it “mungy” wulfenite. Even so, we wrapped our finds hoping maybe in the light we’d see we had something worthwhile after all.
Faye and I lasted a little over an hour before we called it quits. It was frustrating. My headlamp beam struck the wall at an angle that never seemed to align with the focus zone of my glasses. No manner of head bobbing solved the problem. And, with hammer and chisel we weren’t making much progress. I did bring a small bar with me so I was able to take out one sizeable chunk from the wall. There was nothing behind it but more rock.
The fresh air on the surface felt extra good. We laughed at the way we looked covered in the rose-colored dust. I tried to imagine being in that atmosphere all day. Maybe if you knew there was treasure just ahead you wouldn’t think of any discomfort. Oh, the stuff we hauled out didn’t look any better in the light of day. We went back to the dumps and found some more un-weathered wulfenite crystals. I heard that later that afternoon the two miners hit a small pocket and retrieved some nice wulfenite specimens.
Wednesday morning the group headed back toward Phoenix to try and locate an area reputed to have fire agate. We left the highway after a few miles run north and tried to take a shortcut through a state prison. Well, it must have looked like that to the guard at the gate who emphatically turned us away. We never did find the fire agate beneath the Fourth of July Butte. Our trip leader drove on beyond the group hoping to locate the agate only to take some severe damage to his truck. A mesquite limb raked the side of the cab above the window and then took all the side glass out of his camper top. Bummer.
Thursday morning we drove the hundred-plus miles on to Yuma. Actually we drove through the city and fifteen miles into California where we set up camp on BLM land a few miles north of the freeway. After everyone had set up, we caravanned a short distance to the Blue Bird Kyanite Mine. The kyanite was plentiful. It was very similar to that at Graves Mountain. I discovered embedded almandine garnets, and I began busting rocks in earnest. They were well weathered but had held their shape and were showing some nice sharp edges. I took quite a few back to the truck—I’m not sure why. They’re not exactly pretty or unique.
Red Cloud Mine
Friday, we drove back through Yuma on our way to the Red Cloud Mine. Our turn off the main highway took us through the U.S. Army’s Yuma Proving Grounds. We left the Proving Grounds and paved road near Martinez Lake and passed through the Imperial National Wildlife Refuge. Then we were in the Proving Grounds again. Every quarter mile or so there were signs on each side of the road warning of unexploded ammunitions. The road was rough enough. We didn’t need this additional threat.
Thirteen miles beyond the pavement we arrived at the mine and were greeted by Aaron, the caretaker and resident miner. He gave us a brief history of the mine, cautioned us of dangers, pointed to areas we could access, gave us some samples, and then turned us loose in the dumps which were extensive. This mine is well known for its wulfenite so it was exciting when we began to see signs of the bright orange blades on the rocks. I took the sledge hammer to a particular large boulder and started breaking apart chunks. Faye and I had recovered some pieces with small blades when one blow popped loose a sizable chunk that had a wulfenite blade as large as a thumbnail tucked inside a small vug. I took a deep breath and called to Aaron to come look. I knew by his expression that it was a good find. He valued it at least a hundred dollars. Wow! But, who would sell such a beauty?
A bit later Aaron led small groups of us over to a ledge above the mine itself which now consisted of a deep open pit. There he had stockpiled some material he had removed from the walls above and below the ledge. We went through this stuff and found a lot more wulfenite both on the surface and inside the rocks.
Back at the dumps everybody was busy breaking rocks. Faye and I began again. I never topped my big find but there could have been an equally fine specimen in the next rock, you know! Aaron said there had been millions of dollars of wulfenite taken from the mine, that it was the premier U.S. location for that mineral.
For most of us, that was our last dig in Arizona for the trip. We drove toward Lordsburg, New Mexico the next morning
The size of the group was considerably reduced by this time. Some had gone on to Deming, and some had found diversions in Arizona. Those of us in Lordsburg headed out for Round Mountain Monday morning. Our caravan was only five vehicles. A few miles shy of reaching the turn off from the highway my truck began to sputter and then died. We had our two-way radio so we were able to advise everyone of the problem. It was the consensus of opinion that the problem was the alternator. One of the group jump-charged my truck's battery to give me enough juice to get to the turn off. Faye and I rode on out to the collecting area with another couple who had an extended cab truck.
The geodes were plentiful. Those who had been there before thought there was more than previously, likely due to the heavy rains of last year. Mid-afternoon we decided to get back to the truck and try to get it to Lordsburg. Another extended jump charge and we had enough battery to get us to the Chevrolet place in Lordsburg. We had our new alternator some thirty minutes before the place closed. The manager of the Service Department seemed perplexed as to why we would drive such a distance to get to his neck of the woods. "You got no rocks in Tennessee?"
Tuesday, the group took a trip to the Carlysle Mine. The road from Duncan out to the mine had actually been graded recently. Somebody must have known we were coming. This was the first time to the mine for Faye and me. We were quite excited by the color of chrysocolla and malachite and the glitter of all the metallics in the walls around the adits. We never made it to the dumps. There were so many fractures in the walls that I was able to use the pry bar and pop out some good size chunks. Much of the material was well-weathered but fresh breaks revealed some bright surfaces of chalcopyrite, galena, and even some hints of the peacock ore, bornite. Weathered or not we took many pieces.
(click on pictures to enlarge)
I left the next morning to begin our journey home. By the time we were
back in Tennessee, we'd been on the road for four weeks and had covered
six thousand miles. We
both thought we could have lasted longer, but there were responsibilities
on the home front. Now
we have to figure out what to do with all our loot we hauled back. We'll
have a table at the Weinman Museum Rockfest the 10th of June. Maybe
that'll help offset some of our expenses, ease some of our storage problems,
and spread some of the southwest around the southeast.