A New Life For A Mine With 9 Lives

 
 

The destruction of the town of Gold Road in 1949 was the last organized activity at the mine site for 43 years. Occasional tourists and treasure hunters prowled the site; buzzards drifted silently overhead. And tens of thousands of ounces of gold still remained underground.

Addwest Minerals acquired the site in 1992, and after three years of development work, the Gold Road mine began producing again: 16,000 ounces in '95; 40,000 in '96; and 36,500 in '97. Hard-rock miners worked three shifts a day, drilling, blasting, and hauling out the ore. They had years of work ahead, when the bottom dropped out of the gold market in 1998.

It seems some whiz-kid young economists decided gold was obsolete in the modern age. They'd never experienced a world war or a global depression. They'd never had to pay foreign soldiers or partisans with gold. They'd been raised on intrinsically worthless paper money, and embracing the even more vacuous "digital economy" came naturally. In this state of blissful ignorance, England decided to unload its gold reserves - some 700 tons. To avoid destroying the market, they gave out that they would only sell 400 tons. Clever, those whiz kids.

Their ploy fooled no one, and gold prices dropped from an average of $385 an ounce in '96, to $256 an ounce at the time the Brits were auctioning off some 51,000 pounds of their reserve in July '99. Fiendishly clever, weren't they. God bless 'em - they're running the world's economy.

In mid-1998 gold production costs averaged $214 an ounce in Nevada; $261 in Australia; and $301 in South Africa. Cost per ounce at Gold Road was $271. In the Spring of '98 low prices forced the mine to close again. The workers were laid off and most moved away.

The new crusher and cyanide plant at Gold Road. The entrance to the modern underground works is on the right.

Mine engineer Larry Gier was assigned to put the mine and its extensive new works on standby. After 30 years on and off in mining, he envisioned a peaceful semi-retirement watching over an inactive mine. But soon after the hectic work of shutting down ended, Larry discovered being on "standby" didn't suit him at all.

Larry was intimately familiar with the mine, and mining. He knew people would enjoy an entertaining and educational experience, and he was itching to get to work on something. He picked the Line Road tunnel for his project.

Miners with ore cars chock-full outside the Line Road tunnel.

The Line Road tunnel was one of the earliest underground workings at Gold Road. By 1907, it ran 1,200 feet directly along the vein. The miners worked up on the ore from below, "overhand stoping", and sent the broken ore down through chutes to the cars in the tunnel. The ore cars were then trundled over to the mill.

Entrance to the Line Road tunnel.

Larry cleaned up the old tunnel and set up electric lighting. There's also a mine telephone system with handsets at close intervals. It all took a lot of work, but by May of '99, the Gold Road Mine Tour was open for business. So let's take the tour!

There's plenty of parking inside the front gates. The ticket office is on the right - $12 for adults, half price for kids under six. The tour starts with a ride in a miner's wagon, 500 yards up to the mouth of the tunnel. Kick back and enjoy the scenery. Underground, the tour continues on foot - but it is accessible to wheelchairs and strollers if the occupant is game for a little adventure.

The first stretch is cut through a rubble of tightly packed volcanic fragments, but soon the tunnel runs through the solid rock of the mountain, and then into the Gold Road vein itself. The outside light is lost; bare bulbs throw long shadows across the rough rock walls. There's a slight steady draft of air toward the outside, so there's no feeling of claustrophobia.

Larry shows a jackleg drill to three underground explorers.(The third one's in the stroller at left.)

A few hundred feet in, the tour turns left into a large chamber blasted out of the solid rock. Miner's drills are set up on display, and miners who guide the tours explain how the tools were used to drill holes for the explosives.

Number 3 Shaft, 150 feet underground. It goes straight down another 900 feet.

Just past the drills, the Number 3 shaft used to carry miners, ore, and equipment up and down from the surface to the deeper workings of the mine. You might remember seeing its surface opening covered with steel plate next to Route 66.

The tour heads deeper into the mountain, following the vein under Route 66. The ore chutes that loaded the cars are still there, some still full of broken ore. The rich, banded rock of the Gold Road vein is directly overhead.

What you're seeing and walking through is the product of volcanic activity that occurred tens of millions of years ago. These mountains are extensive lava flows that erupted from the earth. When the enormous underground pressure that caused the eruptions was released, the surface collapsed like a punctured balloon. Great blocks of the volcanic crust slid down, grinding like huge wedges against the adjoining sections. Hot gold-bearing solutions of quartz and calcite were forced under great pressure into the breaks, or faults, and these are the rich veins prospectors searched for.

Look at the thick vein that still fills the fault overhead, and the wall, smoothed and slickened as the blocks ground against each other:

The lighted area in the background is directly under the gated open cut in the vein that you saw at the surface on Route 66.

At the far end of the tour, you'll get a close-up view of the Gold Road ore, and see how ultraviolet light makes the gold-bearing quartz and calcite stand out.

Click here to see the ore glow under black light. Hit the "back" button to turn the lights back on again.

This is where the tour turns around and heads back out. People are encouraged to use their cameras and camcorders, so keep an eye out for good shots in the unusual lighting. You'll see a lot more than what's covered here.

And there's a lot more to see at Gold Road, for explorers who have real stamina. There's an "Extreme Tour", with miner's lights and helmets, that spends four hours underground. You'll get dirty and work up a gold miner's appetite, but you'll get way further and deeper than the standard tour, down underground another 300 feet and covering some of the new diggings.The Extreme Tours will get underway in January 2000.

That's the Gold Road mine, yesterday, today, and even a little ways into the future. Check out the Gold Road Mine website for current information on the various tours available, special events, and prices. And if you're ever tempted to go exploring old abandoned mines on your own, be sure to read Larry's "Mine Safety" page before you step off into the unknown - it's what you need to know, straight from an expert.

Gold Road phone: (928) 768-1600

e-mail: goldrd@ctaz.com

Larry Gier passed away suddenly on March 5th, 2002. His constructive energy and hard work made him a most valued member of the local community. He'll be missed. His family and friends have the sincere condolences of everyone in the Oatman Mining District.
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joe@gazette9.com

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