Clockwise from top: Getting hung up on a rock is a good reason to walk; wildflowers grace the Big Bug mine site; tour members explore the Republic II mine; a thumbnail-size horned lizard tries to hide along the road. Photos by Cheryl Hartz
I'm too lazy to move tons of rock to mine gold, but not too lazy to boulder-hop straight up a mountain through prickly scrub and cactus in the blazing sun to explore a played-out mine. Actually explore isn't quite the word, as I merely followed in experienced guide Kevin Leonard's footsteps. Abandoned mines are too dangerous to mess around with, if you don't know what you're doing. It was the first mine I'd entered in 26 years living in Arizona.
"On my (horse) pack trips I see a lot of mines, but I go into very few of them," Kevin said.
With Kevin leading members of the Dewey-Humboldt Historical Society, I took a trip to the abandoned Republic II gold mine near Poland Junction this past Saturday, Aug. 4. It's one of many old mines dating back to the 1800s that now is on BLM land in the Henrietta Mountains near Poland Junction.
We met at Main St. in Humboldt and carpooled down Hwy 69. We turned right on Breezy Pine Rd., opposite the turn to Poland Junction, and drove a few miles of dirt road to Forest Road 9270N. Kevin said the extremely rocky path barely wide enough for a 4-wheel drive vehicle once was the main freight wagon road to local smelters.
I was ready to walk, but everyone else in the group of about 15 seemed to think their Jeeps and pick-up trucks could navigate the "road." When the truck in which I was riding got hung up on a rock and for a split second tilted precariously toward a sheer drop-off, I opted to hoof it the rest of the way. I trust shank's mare much more than any steel steed.
While some of the menfolk worked to free the truck, I hiked up the road, past the old Big Bug Mine - a formidable dark hole enclosed by a barbed wire fence - and saw remnants of the mine's stamp mill. Farther up, the road crested, allowing views north toward Humboldt and Mingus Mountain.
Then it was time to head back down the road, where a few other folks were climbing toward me. They turned around, too, and we returned to the parked vehicles to bushwhack up to the Republic II mine as best we could along game trails that crisscross through the mountain's dense vegetation. We tried to use switchbacks, but basically took the most direct - and very steep - route, taking frequent water and rest breaks in the 90-degree heat. My ski pole walking stick came in very handy.
Kevin posted a "sentry" with a cell phone at the mine's entrance, in case of emergency, and the rest of us ducked down one by one to enter the much cooler mine. After a few feet, the tunnel ceiling was high enough that we could stand.
Kevin and a couple of experienced miners cautioned us against entering the main thoroughfare's offshoots, which could hold mountain lions, javelina, and other wildlife that take advantage of such ready-made shelter.
Kevin told of being chased out of a mine by javelinas.
I kept shining my flashlight in their eyes and backed all the way out," he said.
The guides also said be careful where you step, as miners might have left sticks of dynamite - now very unstable.
This particular human-excavated shaft seems relatively safe.
"It's been over a hundred years, and you don't see much in cave-ins," Kevin said.
According to the goldfeverprospecting.com web site, "In central Arizona, Yavapai County ranks first among the gold producing counties, having produced over 3,500,000 ounces of lode gold and over 300,000 ounces of placer gold."
It's amazing to me that a person would haul tons and tons of rock to follow a narrow vein of gold deep into a mountain. That's truly "gold fever."
It's an illness I won't catch. But the mine was intriguing, and I'm curious to see more.
By Googling abandoned mines in Arizona, I came across a map nearly covered with dots. Looks like the whole state should be caving in from the tens of thousands of sites, both on private and public lands.
Hiking to remote historic mine sites is good exercise. But exploring on your own is not the way a heads up hiker rolls.