Outfitted with overlarge Wellington boots, a hard hat with a flashlight and a self-rescue device, which would give us breathable air in case of a fire, Walter and I are ready to descend 1100 feet down the hoist located at the Audrey Shaft in Jerome, adjacent to the Douglas State Park.
In 1984, Budge Mining Ltd. leased mineral rights from Phelps Dodge and United Verde Exploration and sunk quite a few bucks into fixing up the Audrey Shaft and elevator of the old Little Daisy Mine and fixing some of the tunnels. Mining, albeit on a small scale, threatens to come back to Jerome.
The new mine is after red- and black-banded jasper and other types of quartz chert and intend to haul the ore to New Mexico. There it will be crushed and used as a flux to process copper. The flux is heated and the gold will float up as a byproduct.
The gold is electron gold, microscopic and invisible. The only way geologists know it is there is to assay the rock. Paul Handverger, who was managing Verde Ex’s properties, was excited because he discovered the new prospect.
I’m there as part of a newly formed organization called the Jerome Protection Foundation, which is objecting to the proposed mining. Too noisy, especially at nights with dumping and sounds of trucks backing up, too disruptive to tourism that comes to the State Park, too much wear and tear on our already damaged roads, and so on. The road from Highway 89a to the State Park (Mine Road) is narrow and twisty. We’ve seen drivers who can’t always see around the curves drive much too fast and not quite on their side of the road.
The mine personnel are trying to appease us and have invited me to go into the mine. I’m all smiles and charm. I’ve always wanted to see the inside of a mine.
Pete Flores, mine foreman, reassures me that it’s perfectly safe. “You’ve been seeing too many movies. It’s not too bad at all down there. I even took my wife.”’
“How much gold is in the ore?” I ask. “Oh about .2 percent to a ton of rock,” says Flores. “I’ve been mining gold for 4-5 years and the only gold I’ve ever seen was in my teeth.
Down in the big tunnel, Flores shows us the safety rules, the emergency stretcher, the stepladder that would allow us to climb out if the elevators have a problem, the pneumatic tube that flows and circulates air. “I never had an accident and none of my men have either,” Flores says.
My big surprise is how roomy, high and long the tunnels are. My two-story house would hardly touch the ceiling. The ceiling of the tunnel is netted with wire mesh and embedded with bolts that go five feet into the rock. Flores also showed me some soft spots that could possible lead to cave-ins, which he likens to rotten apples.
We’re slowly walking in muck towards the high school. The muck is from water that needs to be used in diamond drilling through the hard rock jasper. We’re also shown two types of ores that hold massive amounts of copper—one a black schist that looks like coal and is very dense. I’m told it assays out at 30% copper to the ton. In the other or type, you can see copper seams—Jerome’s Apache gold— that assay out as 50-70% ore to the ton. They’re part of the extremely high concentrations of copper that are common to Jerome’s massive sulfide deposits.
I ask Flores what he likes about mining.
“The temperature,” he says. “My first job out of school was doing surveys in Grants New Mexico. It was windy, cold and miserable. Then I got a job mining. Down there the weather’s always perfect, an even 70 degrees all year round.”
While walking around, Flores told us about old mining superstitions.
“The miners of Arizona’s copper districts belong to many different nationalities. If they worked as miners in the Old Country, they bought their superstition with them. Many nationalities believe that mines are inhabited by impish “little people” called kobolds by the Germans, duendes by the Mexicans and tommyknockers by Cornish miners. They like to play pranks, like carrying carry off small tools. In the old country, miners kept them appeased with food offerings. The superstition that lingers on is that a woman will invariably bring bad luck into any mine. So whether true or not, it is very difficult for women to go down into the mines.
Anti-Mining Activism: The Jerome Protection Foundation
Barbara Blackburn, who had a level head and was a great organizer, started the Jerome Protection Foundation in the late 80’s. I was secretary. We were the black hippie crows creating as much an uproar as we knew how. Joining us was Mayor Francesca Segretti, who became livid when she had to drive to work at a crawl behind eleven ore trucks. Our members called and wrote a barrage of letters to officials at ADOT, the State Preservation offices, Historic Preservation in Washington, D.C., UVX; Phelps Dodge, Budge Mining. We flew off press releases, held meetings, got residents of Jerome engaged in doing something with their anger besides spouting off.
John McNerney, founder of JErome Instrument Corporation, which manufactured mercury detectors, used a noise detector to take formal measurements. “You need a baseline, something to compare potential noise levels to,” John said. Joey van Leeuwen made a list of trees along Mine road that might be cut down if the road was widened. The strategy was to create a big bother along many fronts.
In one rancorous town council meeting, one mining geologist shook his fist and said, “You’ll see big mining return here in the next century. The biggest zinc deposit in North America is right underneath Jerome.”
There is a lot of zinc up there near the open pit and underneath the Company Hill houses, but it’s low grade and so far there doesn’t seem to be a lot of interest in mining it.
Fortunately, although four different mining companies professed interest as buyers of the chert, contracts for the ore were not forthcoming. Then there was an accident down in the mine, which nobody could get any details about. A big hush-up. A first for Flores. The mine shut down for repairs and never reopened. Today, the Historical Society constructed The Audrey Headframe park.
Would our protests of the Jerome Protection Foundation have amounted to anything? Maybe a few small concessions by the mine. At best. we probably did little more than spook them. Mining is a big Goliath. We were saved by either fate or serendipity.
It did not give us much hope against successfully protesting against an even bigger mining Goliath that may loom from discoveries of new massive sulfide deposits. (See a previous post: “The Future of Mining in Jerome.”)
The Audrey Headframe Park
In 2010, volunteers led by Allen Muma, President of the Jerome Historical Society, and Mayor Jim Kinsella, constructed the Audrey Headframe Park. The big draw is not just the restored headframe, but a glass platform where visitors can walk and peer down into the shaft—the same one that held the old elevator that took us down into the mine. Special zenon lighting and mirrors heighten the effect of looking down into the tunnels. The shaft is surrounded by old mining artifacts, such as ore cars, drills, water cannons, and an old mining cage. http://www.jeromehistoricalsociety.com/projects.html
The mirror walk was built by the same company that built the spectacular glass skywalk on the portion of the Grand Canyon owned by the Hualapai nation.