Gold Road

 

The Gold Road mine is the next stop eastbound from Oatman, two and a half twisting miles down Old 66.

Heading out of Oatman, you'll pass another 800,000 ton pile of milled ore on your right. On the left, as you drop down and cross Rattlesnake Gulch, you can see the west branch of the gold vein topping a low ridge, like a mohawk, with a six-foot hole blasted through it.

The vein splits in town, and its two branches run right and left of the road for the next mile, with several shafts dug down to the ore. The United Western mine goes down 850 feet, with tunnels extending hundreds of feet along the vein. Its operators expect to recover 20,000 ounces of gold a year for at least three years, but 1998's sharp drop in gold prices has put their plan on hold for now.

Old 66 heads into the west face of the range. You can see the highway curving around at the right.

Past Silver Creek Road there's a fast series of swooping esses and a beautiful view along the west face of the range. One short straight will give you a brief chance to enjoy the view before you start snapping left and right through the bends. For the next eight miles, blind curves and decreasing radius turns are the rule; rockfalls and stray burros are only two of the surprises you might suddenly find in your way. It's wild and beautiful, and it can be brutal to unwise or unlucky riders. Enjoy.

At 2.6 miles out of Oatman you'll come out of a blind curve and see the gates of the Gold Road mine ahead. From here, the road climbs and switchbacks to Sitgreaves Pass. Don't stop at the mine just yet: there's something up the road you'll want to see first.

Hammer it throttle and brakes through the curves and the double hairpins; we'll get to the scenery in a minute. 400 yards past the second hairpin there's a large turnout on the right. Pull in and park for a prospector's view of the Gold Road vein.

The massive Gold Road vein. The open cut is closed by an iron gate.

Since it was first discovered by an old Mexican prospector 99 years ago, this vein of quartz, calcite, and gold has given up over 700,000 ounces of bullion; over 24 tons of gold.

The vein occupies a fault that runs up the gulch. You can see where the early miners dug the rich ore out from the surface, leaving the slick sides of the fault like bare walls. They could only dig so deep, though, and before long they had to go underground, driving shafts and tunnels through the solid rock to hit the vein from below.

If you cross the road you'll see the top of Number 3 shaft, sealed off with steel plate. Walk up the road a few dozen yards and you can look down on a remnant of the old road twisting steep and rocky at the bottom of a deep, narrow gulch. Imagine white-bearded José Jerez leading his pack burros along this trail, an old desert-rat prospector in the Old West.

Early one morning in May of 1900, José was here, camped along this trail on a prospecting trip financed by a $12 grubstake from his friend Henry Lovin, a Kingman businessman. In the cool hour of first light, José sat by his campfire, sipping hot coffee from a tin mug and wondering how far his burros had strayed overnight. Not far, he thought. The rough gulch was full of the thorny brush his burros loved to eat.

The old man sat closer to his small fire and held the hot tin mug in both hands. His eyes peered over the rim, looking down the gulch, across the rolling desert foothills and the jagged veins to the green valley of the Colorado, far away and far below. Harsh, rugged country, but already men had made fortunes here. Incredible fortunes. Any desert-worthy man could do it.

He swirled the dregs of his coffee and emptied the mug with a quick flip. Time to round up the animals and get on the trail.

José looked around for sign of his burros and spotted one foraging near the head of the gulch high above. Of course the burro would make him climb the steepest, roughest, thorniest ground in these mountains, he thought. He cussed the burro tribe for the millionth time and started up.

The going was as hard as it looked, and José was 64 years old. "Only a crazy man or a burro would climb up here", he muttered to himself. Besides the cactus and catclaw, the steep slope was covered with loose rubble from a decomposing ridge of quartz that humped and buckled up the center of the gulch.

Suddenly a loose rock gave way under José's foot and he fell forward onto his hands, his face inches from the ground. What he saw made his eyes pop and his jaw drop. It was gold, a big chunk of rock speckled and streaked with shining gold!

José grabbed the heavy rock and stared at it. It was real! His heart pounded and the blood roared in his ears. "This damn gulch", he thought. "It's so mean and rough nobody's ever been here before! It's mine!" The old man felt a new life in his legs as he sprang up the hill to catch his burro.

Turn around and look up the gulch. This is where it happened.

Gold Road Gulch, and the open cut made by the first miners.
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joe@gazette9.com

 

The Gold Road Mine

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