Arizona Mine’s & Abandoned Mines

The first mineral to be found in Arizona was, like many other regions, gold. Jacob Snively hit the first gold strike in Gila City, Arizona around 1857. It was Arizona's first boom town. This strike would set the stage for Arizona's most profitable resources, mining. Arizona would not be known so much for its gold or silver, for which early on it had many strikes in the cities of Globe, Chloride, Bullhead City, Oatman, Pearce, Quartzsite, Apache Junction (where the lost Dutchman’s mine is hidden, but not necessarily naturally), and Salome. Silver were also prominent, historically with the Spanish, in the cities of Tubac and Superior. However, Arizona would most prominently be known for its copper. It would eventually become known as one of Arizona's Five C's or resources.
The first copper strike by an Anglo was by Henry Clifton, in the area now known as Clifton, in 1864. No claim was staked there because the area was too dangerous to mine. In 1870, Robert Metcalf staked a claim there, then sold controlling interest to Henry and Charles Lesinsky. They later formed the Longfellow Copper Mining Co. in Las Cruces, New Mexico. They set up camp and called it Clifton. Clifton later became one of the largest copper mining communities of Arizona. The value of copper, however, did not take off until 1893. For a further explanation, here is an excerpt from the publication The Mission, Means and Memories of Arizona Miners:
"...the development of the alternating current (AC) system of electricity by Nicola Tesla, a former employee of Thomas Edison. Contracting with Westinghouse, Tesla demonstrated his AC power at the World Exposition in Chicago in 1893. This system, which was superior to Edison's direct current, provided for long-distance transmission of electricity and greatly expanded the use of electricity, using copper as a conductor. The birth of the electrical age was, in turn, a major boon to the copper industry. Copper had not only been proven as an excellent conductor of electricity, it was also plentiful in supply and inexpensive."
This new use of copper resulted in the boom of one of Arizona's greatest resources. By 1910 Arizona produced more copper than any other state in the nation. It would eventually fuel many of its political struggles as well. The election of the governor of Arizona in 1916 became a critical one in the future of copper history. Governor W.P. Hunt was up for re-election facing Thomas E. Campbell. Campbell better represented the factory owners of the copper industry, while W.P. Hunt was a bigger supporter for the working man. Campbell won the initial election while Hunt contended that he had actually had more votes and refused to leave the governor's office. Campbell was later declared the winner, and then a higher court reversed the decision. Meanwhile, with Hunt's power in the governorship negated factor owners such as Phelps Dodge cleaned house.
The Bisbee and Jerome Deportations in 1917 best represents how critical copper was for Arizona, as the factory workers and factory owners were pitted against each other for a resource in high demand. The owners would be the victor, read more about the Bisbee Deportations and what it meant for Arizona here.

Arizona still maintains 65% of all copper produced in the United States even though many closures took place in the 1950s on. Jerome was an interesting example of a city's rebirth. Originally shut down in the 1950s, it became a haven for an alternative culture to move in and get away from city life. It is now a place for artist communities, and some say a modern day Mayberry.

The earliest indication of mining in Arizona may be as old as 1000 BC when inhabitants of the area were already using turquoise, coal, clay and many minerals in their daily life. Even before the Spaniards came to the southwest, Native Americans were using copper and turquoise to fashion jewelry that was traded over much of North America.
With the arrival of the Spaniards in the 16th century, mining increased in the southwest. Coronado searched for the Seven Cities of Cibola, fabled to be constructed of gold. Although he never found these cities he opened up the area for further exploration. Several small gold and silver mines were established, especially in the Tubac area but with the pueblo revolt in the 1680's mining expansion was limited.
American mining history in Arizona begins after the American-Mexican war in the 1840's. In the 1850's prospectors from the played-out gold fields of California began exploring more of the American West in search of gold and silver. By the 1860's large discoveries of gold were occurring in the Bradshaw Mountains, especially along the Hassayampa River. The early prospectors and fledgling mining companies added pressure to the movement to make Arizona a territory which happened in 1863.
In the 1880's silver was discovered in several important deposits in Arizona including the eastern Bradshaw Mountains and around Tombstone. In 1893 the Sherman Silver Purchase Act was repealed and the silver mining industry in Arizona died.
With the demise of silver mining came an increase in the demand for copper. Although many of the copper mining areas had been discovered earlier, they did not become large scale productions until the 1890's. Many of these originally small companies have grown into some of the worlds largest corporations.

But in general it is not these large companies that have created the dangerous abandoned mines in Arizona. Instead it was the small-time prospector who worked a site for a few weeks or months until the mine played-out or the financial backing ran-out. Then they moved on, leaving unprotected hazards for later generations to find. This especially happened at the time of Great
Depression and through World War II.
Since the Mining Law of 1872, over a million mining claims have been filed in Arizona. Arizona State Mine Inspector's Office estimates that roughly 10% may have had actual mining conducted on them leading us to set a number of approximately 100,000 abandoned mine openings within the state.

History of the Arizona State Mine Inspector's Office, Abandoned Mine Program:
In the 1970's deaths and injuries in abandoned mines began to make the news. Two men from Fort Huachuca visited the bars in Tombstone and on their way back to base stopped to relieve themselves along the road side. One of the men disappeared and was thought to have fallen in one of the numerous shafts near the road. In north Phoenix was an area popular with teens for "boondockers", weekend keg parties just out of town. After drinking for quite a while a group went four-wheeling in the area and ended up nosing their jeep into a mine shaft. Fortunately they were rescued with relatively minor injuries. In the mid 1980's near Globe a young teen went exploring an adit with a group of friends. The boy was ahead of the others and in the dark walked off into a hidden deep shaft. His friends remarked he did not make a sound as he fell. His body was recovered 200 feet down the shaft, floating in water.

Also in the mid 1980's a young man was hiking with his family near Gleeson when he fell into a shaft. Fortunately he was able to be rescued with minimal injuries. It was this incident that came to the attention of a state legislator who decided to address the issue and re-write the laws regarding abandoned mines. The Arizona Revised Statutes were rewritten (ARS §27-318) to increase the penalties for owners who did not fence their mines. The revision also stiffened penalties for anyone vandalizing existing fences or signs.

The first formalized abandoned mines program began in 1987 with the inception of an intern program. Under this program U of A students assessed abandoned mines where owners were already known. The interns visited the sites, rated the dangers present and then wrote notification letters informing the owners of their responsibilities. After two years the program ended due to lack of funding.

In the spring of 1992, the Arizona State Mine Inspector entered into an agreement with the Bureau of Land Management to survey federally-managed lands and inventory abandoned and inactive mines. To fulfill the terms of this agreement, the Mine Inspector established a new student intern program. Students from colleges and universities across the state have participated in the program, conducting field investigations and writing reports. These reports make up the bulk of our abandoned mine knowledge. In 1997 state funding for the program began and extended the inventory to state managed lands and to privately-owned lands. Since the programs inception in 1992 approximately 10,000 abandoned mines have been visited and inventoried.

In 1996, the Mine Inspector finalized an agreement with the National Park Service ( to assist in closures of abandoned mines in national parks, monuments, and recreational areas throughout the state. As part of this agreement, ASMI will contract local companies to conduct the required mine closures at selected parks. The first large project ASMI is involved with NPS is the large fencing project at Katherine Mine near Bullhead City.
In the Second Regular Session the Abandoned Mines Safety Fund was introduced as Senate Bill 1250. The objectives of the Safety Fund are to encourage private contributions that can be used directly to abate public safety risks on State Lands and leverage legislative appropriations to increase funding for this work. Money placed in the fund is limited to covering the direct cost of work and cannot be used to cover administrative costs. The bill passed through the Senate and the House, and in a formal ceremony in September 1998, the Governor signed the bill into law, formally initiating the Abandoned Mine Safety Fund.

In September of 2007, an all night search ended tragically Sunday morning near Chloride, a small town in northwest Arizona, after two girls, one 13-year-old and one 10-year-old, fell into an abandoned mine shaft. The girls were riding an ATV early Saturday evening when they plunged into the 125-foot-deep mine shaft. One girl was found dead in the shaft and her younger sister survived.

In January of 2008, a 19-year-old young man died after falling into an abandoned mine shaft. His death marks the second deadly accident at an abandoned mine shaft in Arizona in the past five months.

The primary concern of the Arizona State Mine Inspector is to the State's citizens, tourists, hunters, hikers, rock hounds, campers, off highway vehicle activities (OHW) and others who will explore the state of Arizona. The Arizona State Mine Inspector is not only prompted by the recent death and injuries which have occurred, but also by those in the past.

The Arizona State Mine Inspector believes that if the life threatening problems are not addressed, there will in fact be incidents of more innocent persons being killed or injured in abandoned mine shafts, and injuries and deaths will increase at an alarming rate. Our cities and towns have and will continue to spread out, encroaching upon old mining properties.

"The dangerous shafts and portals of yesterdays' mines are now literally in our back yards".
In response to the increasing number of deaths by non-employees at both active and abandoned mines, the Arizona State Mine Inspector's Office (ASMI) and the National Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) have declared the week of April 27-May1, as Mine Safety Awareness Week. The week is designed to raise awareness among children and adults that mines are not a place to play. The theme for the week is when it comes to mines Stay Out, Stay Alive!
ASMI created the Abandoned Mines Educational Program. The objective of the program is to introduce students to the topic of Mine Safety; teaching of what accidents can happen to people who try to explore, enter a mine or trespass on mining property.

How many mines are there in Arizona?

A: Based on our work we estimate there are 100,000 abandoned mines in the State of Arizona

Who is responsible for all those mines?

A: Many of the old mines were worked in the late 1800's through the 1940's. When the mines played out, or the market for metals got bad, the miners simply walked away in search of richer finds elsewhere. Even on mines that were patented (sold to the miner by the government) the original owners are long dead. Their descendents often don't know what they own or the mine has been sold for taxes or repossessed by the state.

How many mines have been inventoried?

A: Since 1992, over 10,000 mines have been inventoried and mapped. Many of these openings are shallow prospects, but many others are dangerous shafts and tunnels.

How many mines have been fenced?

How many have been permanently closed?

A: Several hundred mines have been fenced by the abandoned mines program since the late 1990's. In addition ten openings have been permanently back filled and five bat gates have been constructed by the program.

How many of these abandoned mines are actually dangerous to the public?

A: Given the right circumstances, any mine, no matter how shallow, can be perilous. The hazardous rating of an inventoried mine is based on summation of sixteen ranking parameters. If the resulting score of a mine is over a certain level, then the mine is deemed a "Significant Public Hazard." Roughly 13% of the mines inventoried in the last eight years have received this designation. This means approximately 1,200 of the mines assessed pose an extreme risk to public safety.

What is being done to safeguard the public at these abandoned mines?

A: Field personnel carry warning signs and tape and post them at mines whenever possible. Deputy Mine Inspectors visit all unprotected abandoned mines reported to the office. They post warning signs and tape off dangerous openings. The owners are then notified of their responsibility for keeping the mine fenced to protect the public. If no owner of record is found, the Deputy Mine Inspectors will erect a fence around the opening.

What steps are necessary in closing a mine?

A: Prior to closing a mine the following must be determined with the help of the State Land Department:

Is the mine on State Land?

If not, it is referred to the proper federal agency if it is on federally managed lands or, if on private land, the owner is ascertained through federal and county records.
If the mine is on State Land, does it have an active lease or claim
If it does not, the closure may proceed. If it does, the lessor must be required to fence the mine and post warning signs.

What is the history of the mine?

The Department of Mines and Mineral Resources (ADMMR) must be contacted for a copy of the mine's history.

The State Land Department arranges for the State Historical Preservation Office to assess the mine site. This agency also has their archeologists conduct a study of the site, and determine the impact of the closure on the cultural resources of the mine.

Are there any endangered species living in or around the mine that would be impacted by a closure

The Arizona Fish and Game Department must be contacted to assess the mine openings for bats and other endangered species. Endangered and threatened plants must also be assessed for possible impact by mine closure.

Is there any potential for future renewed mining of the site

ADMMR's history files and a site investigation by a geologist or mine engineer is the best way to determine future potential.

Given the above considerations, what is the best type of closure for the mine

A mine with sensitive species or potential future use should be closed using a bat gate or other semi-permanent closure. Mines without these can be filled or capped to fully protect the public

Never to play or explore abandoned mines;

Never to play around active mines;

Never to jump into quarry pits or ponds in or around mines;

Never to swim in rock quarries or gravel/sand pits;

Never to climb on rock or gravel piles in mining areas; and

To notify authorities if a mine site is found unmarked.
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A concerned mother said...

My son's friend showed where an abandoned mine is. He thinks it's the coolest thing. I tried telling him how dangerous they can be. He won't listen to me and unfortunately he is over 18. Is there anything I can do to keep him from going back there.I am not sure where the cave is. On South mountain, somewhere.

A concerned mother said...

My son's friend showed where an abandoned mine is. He thinks it's the coolest thing. I tried telling him how dangerous they can be. He won't listen to me and unfortunately he is over 18. Is there anything I can do to keep him from going back there.I am not sure where the cave is. On South mountain, somewhere.

Jim said...

Quite frankly, if one takes reasonable precautions, entering abandoned mines is no more hazardous than any other outdoor activity. Issues arise when uninformed individuals attempt to enter the mine without knowledge of possible hazards, or proper personal protective equipment.

I've gone underground quite a few times across the US, and have probably passed on entering unsafe workings more times than I have made the decision to enter.

If you see large amounts of material fallen onto the floor of the mine, GET OUT. The structure may be unstable. Watch the floor and be sure of what you're standing on; what appears to be solid rock may actually be a wooden false floor over a stope or winze several hundred feet deep. If you smell intense rotten eggs, it's time to leave that area- you just encountered hydrogen sulfide gas in limited quantities. Likewise, do not disturb stagnant water in mines with sulfide ores- hydrogen sulfide is water-soluble; disturbing the water may release the gas into the mine's atmosphere in hazardous or even lethal concentrations.

If all of these points make sense, you may be up to safely exploring a mine. Take it seriously and be extremely observant.