More mining camps could add to Nugget Trail

By Gary Dillard

There are several loops you can make around Arizona that will show you the state’s mining heritage and will also give you many more “nuggets” of excitement.

The initial Nugget Trail, which is just getting under way, is a loop that takes in several cities in central and eastern Arizona. It starts at Globe, and heads either up to the Mogollon Rim or down to Safford and up Highway 191 to Clifton/Morenci and beyond to the Coronado Trail. (See the May Clarion for details.)

But there are other loops that could be added to this trail, which will show off much more of the region’s mining heritage, in addition to Superior, Globe/Miami and Clifton/Morenci.

Western New Mexico

What, for example, if another loop took off from eastern Arizona into western New Mexico? The Silver City area is home to Freeport-McMoRan’s Chino and Tyrone mines, which are the lifeblood of that area, just as with Greenlee and Graham counties. The mines generated some $158 million in economic benefits for Grant County ad $370 million for the state of New Mexico in 2016.

Chino mine

Freeport’s Chino mine near Silver City.

As well as the Chino mine viewpoint, Silver City offers other nuggets as well, including a history museum at Western New Mexico University, another museum in the city and the Gila National Forest, home to the Gila Cliff Dwellings and the half-million-acre Gila Wilderness, the first such designated area in the world. It also is home to the Cosmic Campground, with some of the darkest skies in the Southwest.

A southern loop

A southern loop, south of Safford and further down 191 is Cochise County, and an area once known as the Copper Horseshoe. Willcox and Benson were the heels of the shoe, with Bisbee and Douglas, the copper cities, were at the toe. In the middle of the west sidewall was Tombstone, a silver camp.

Today, there is no mining in those areas, but along the route between Willcox and Benson are the Johnson Camp mine, a historic producer that is expected to have new life, and across of the interstate is the Gunnison in-situ leaching project, expected to come into production this year.

Along the border, at Douglas, the smelter and the railroads that once defined the city are gone, but the fabulous Gadsden Hotel, with its Tiffany stained-glass window, and a museum which tells the area’s rich history still stand. A few miles west of the city is the ranch of Texas John Slaughter, looking much like it did a century ago.

About 25 miles west is Bisbee, where a legacy reclamation project is run by Freeport and where a large, low-grade reserve promises mining in the future, is a tourism industry that tells the story of the rich mining district, including a major museum exhibit designed by the Smithsonian Institution, and an underground mine tour.

Up Highway 80 another 25 miles is Tombstone, whose fame is based on the infamous 1881 gunfight, but which was started because of silver mining. That city actually produced “nuggets!” It has a great museum at the old Courthouse and an underground tour of its own, as well as the Wild West stuff.

silver nugget from Tombstone

A 31-pound silver nugget from Tombstone.

South of the Border

This Nugget Trail loop could be extended into Mexico, as well. South of the border at Douglas and Bisbee are two major modern mines run by Southern Copper Corp. Nacozari is about 65 miles south of Douglas and the Buenaventura mine, at Cananea, is about 40 miles southwest of Bisbee’s crossing at Naco.

Nacozari once was owned by the Phelps Dodge interests and has an annual festival honoring the Hero of Nacozari, Jesus Garcia, who piloted his burning train, laden with blasting explosives, out of the city to save untold lives.
Cananea was home to the 1906 strike that many consider the fuse that ignited the Mexican Revolution. It is remembered at a museum built at the jail where many strikers were held.

As with Arizona and New Mexico sites, the Sonoran cities have many other attributes of interest as well, and an extension of the Nugget Trail could document them for those interested in extending their adventure into Mexico.

The Nugget Trail, existing and conceived, offers considerable opportunity for regional tourism promotion, reaching both the millions who reside year-round in Arizona’s metro areas and the millions more snowbirds who winter here.

After all, who isn’t looking for more exciting things to see and do throughout Arizona and its neighbors?

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