As part of our annual ranch trip, we took a quick detour to the Grand Gulch Mine on our ATV’s.
The Grand Gulch Mine is located in the South West portion of the Arizona Strip. It is approximately 80-90 miles south of St. George Utah and part of the Grand Canyon-Parashant National Monument.
Getting to the mine takes a bit of work. From the main road (County Road 103), your drop into Pigeon Canyon 11 miles to the Lower Pigeon Tank.
I’ve been down the Pigeon Canyon road more times than I can count and have seen it in various states of disrepair. This time it was in pretty good shape, but after the canyon has flashed it can be pretty bad – especially when you are in an old cattle truck with bad shocks.
I’ve always made it a game to count the amount of times you have to cross the wash. I tend to lose track after a while, but counted 43 times on my way in and 40 times on my way out. This doesn’t include the 10-15 other tributary washes you cross that feed into the main wash.
So yes, it can be a very bumpy ride.
You can make it down in a truck without problems, but I highly recommend a vehicle with high clearance and 4×4 capabilities particularly if it has rained recently. ATV’s make the ride significantly smoother.
Once you hit the Lower Pigeon Tank it is an additional four miles to the mine. This portion of the road is pretty decent with one slightly sketchy spot as you drop into the mine. I would feel comfortable taking my Murano on that portion of the road (not that I would want too).
This was my third trip to the mine over a 10-12 year time period. Each time I go there is a little bit more deterioration and more stuff missing from the houses.
Information on the Grand Gulch Mine is very spotty online. According to the BLM Page at one point it was the most profitable copper mine in Arizona and was in operation until 1918.
The original operation began shortly before the turn of the century. I’m not sure which buildings are from the original operation, but there is a decent amount of the newer looking buildings still around.
My Dad who has been ranching in the area since he was a small child remembered a trip he and my Grandpa took the mine in the late 70’s or early 80’s. They were driving up the road and ran into three men in suits who had flown in for the day. I can just imagine what these men thought of the area in their nice little suits. It isn’t a suit type place at all.
Over the years various promoters have tried to restart the mine. All of the attempts have failed and my understanding is that the copper mine is completely played out.
At this point, all that is left is a lot of old rusted out machinery and buildings.
The actual mine shaft is to the NW of the buildings and is fenced off. Of course, the fence is in pretty bad shape and easily bypassed if you are crazy.
These pictures were from my trip in 2005. I was feeling lazy and didn’t take any newer pictures of the shaft.
I believe the shaft is around 500 feet deep. We tossed in a few rocks and could still hear them banging against stuff after 5-10 seconds, so yeah, it is deep. Personally, I stayed back behind the fencing.
There is now a metal ladder across the shaft. I’m assuming it was used to lower someone into the mine. We talked a bit about bring out some of our climbing gear and giving it a try, but none of us want to ascend such a long rope. We are kind of lazy and ascending rope is a lot of work.
My Dad remembers a horizontal shaft that they were able to enter when he was younger. We found what we believed to be the shaft, but it had been collapsed.
One of my favorite parts of the Grand Gulch mine is the old furnace.
My Grandpa, Buster Esplin was one of the old timers on the Arizona Strip. He began working on various cattle/sheep ranches when he was 13 (around 1934) and worked on the Arizona Strip the rest of his life except during his military service in WWII.
He passed away in 2002 – I still miss him to this day, particularly during our ranch trips.
Shortly after his passing, we had made a trip to the Grand Gulch Mine. While we were looking at the furnace we noticed a Bridlebit 3 brand carved into the rock.
At some point, my Grandpa had been there and carved his brand into the rock.
I don’t advocate carving in rocks or trees, but would love to know when he carved his brand. I can just see him wanting to leave his mark.
So if you ever make it down to the Grand Gulch Mine make sure and visit the furnace and take a picture of the brand.
If you are in the area, I highly recommend a quick side trip to the mine. On ATV’s it took us approximately 3 ½ hours to do the round-trip. We weren’t rushing at all and probably would have stayed longer if it weren’t in the high 90’s at the mine.
On a side note, if you do choose to visit the mine, please be aware that the cattle and water tanks you see are my families. We’ve seen an increase in vandalism over the years. Ranching is a very difficult business and when someone shoots a hole in a tank they are endangering the lives of all the cattle and other wildlife in the area.