Arizona is a mineral collector’s paradise. In the late 1950s when I moved to Arizona I was amazed at the number of options I had for collecting underground, and by the quantity of specimens I often found. Many times I counted the amount of flats that I had filled. It was a great way to get a wide variety of items and trade material.
Arizona’s collecting boom lasted from the 1950s until the 1990s. Many sites produced a large number of specimens of the highest quality. Arizona was no longer open to managed or claimed specimen mining projects, as the value of specimens increased.
Red Cloud Mine
The Red Cloud mine in Arizona is an outstanding example of rock-collecting. In the good old days, you could attend a club gathering on Friday evening and then spend Saturday camping overnight to collect wulfenite. It wasn’t uncommon to descend to 500 feet to collect.
In the 1990s, what could be described as freelance collecting at Red Cloud Mine and other mines decreased due to the increase in mineral values and the fact that collectors took control of mines. One group set up a business and dug an open-pit at Red Cloud. The group hit a bonanza – a seam that was nearly vertical and extended deep into the deposit. The walls of the opening were lined with bright, red crystals. The mining process took weeks to produce a vast quantity of specimens, which ranged from small plates up to thumbnails. They were all covered in crystals. The crystals were usually an inch wide or larger on the edge, and clusters free-standing crystals covered the matrix. The color of the crystals ranged from a good, vibrant red to a brilliant red. The operators allowed organized clubs to collect once this vein of high productivity was mined.
Arizona has always had a great source of rocks. Bisbee is known for its minerals. Copper Queen Mine was operated by Phelps Dodge who allowed the miners to collect while they completed their tasks. In recent decades, the Morenci Mine did allow specimen mining to be done under contract.
World War II Mines
The first big crystal discoveries in Arizona, which convinced the world to start collecting there in the 1950s after World War II when small meal mining was still going on, began in the 1950s. These included the Glove Defiance Holland Flux 679 Rowley Old Yuma and other crystals.
The 679 mine has always been a successful underground dig to find wulfenite and aurichalcite. The 679 mine was always open, even though, like many properties, it was owned by absentee owners. It is now being claimed and prepared to be a mine for collecting specimens open only on invitation.
Near the Mexican border lies Holland, a place well-known for Japanese law twinning quartzes. The largest I’ve seen were found by collectors with crystals each 10 inches long. I’ve never found anything underground at Holland. The host rock at the Holland is mostly solid garnet, and any hammering shattered pockets.
The Flux Mine
The Flux is a rock-collecting story in Arizona. Open pitting revealed huge veins of jackstraw cerussite, which was white and snowy. The veins were several inches wide and extended for many feet. The only thing to be careful of was not damaging the fragile jackstraws crystals.
One of my friends was in trouble for collecting at the Flux mine. Some of my friends were collecting one day and ran out packing paper. One of the guys went to the village down the mountain and bought toilet paper. The sheriff who was in the shop followed the collector to the location where they collected. He believed they were cooking drug. After clearing themselves at the station, the men were released, but the Sheriff kept their samples.
The Old Yuma
The Old Yuma mine is the closest to Tucson of all the Arizona old mines. You can even see the city from the dumps. The mine produced fine wulfenite, vanadinite. The mine is located next to Western Branch of the Saguaro National Monument. The Feds wanted to shut down the mining claims. Dick Bideaux, owner of the old gold mine, set a price that was not acceptable to the Feds. Dick made plans for a cyanide-gold-leaching facility. The Feds quickly settled the matter to the tune over $600,000. Yuma, and all its minerals, are now completely off limits.
Dick Jones, a retired sheriff’s deputy, often collected the Old Yuma and he always carried his pistol with him. One day, he was collecting and decided to stop for lunch. He was sitting on the side of the pit when he saw a bright yellow mark on the wall opposite. In a fit of curiosity, he grabbed his service pistol and fired at it. To his surprise, he found a small pocket filled with fine wulfenite.
The Rowley Mine
I’d only been in rock collecting in Arizona a few months when I made my first collecting trip into the Rowley mine. The mine was awash with water-clear orange crystals arranged in clusters. It was never big, only an inch or so on the edge. But when you collect there, it’s a question of selecting which vein to work, which is not easy because the matrix is a hard solid barite. The mine is only 60 miles from Phoenix and was both easily accessible as well productive.
Although many great localities in Arizona are now commercialized or owned, rock-hunting is still a very popular hobby. The Tucson Gem and Mineral Society and the Mineralogical Society of Arizona organize regular surface fieldtrips. The smaller clubs are equally active. Give yourself extra time to collect if you decide to visit Arizona or move there.
The story of collecting in Arizona was previously published. The following are some examples of how to use Rock & Gem magazine. Subscribe by clicking here. Story by Bob Jones.
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