|A 20 stamp gold mill on display near Apache Junction, Arizona|
While talking to Shorty, he told me, he was the only successful prospector in the South Pass region over the past 60 to 70 years (I believe he was in his mid-80s at this time). It was apparently obvious I wasn't buying this, especially when I started looking around his tiny trailer thinking to myself - and why are you here? As if he could read my mind, he stood up and reached in one gopher hole and pulled out a ball jar full of gold (now I wish I would have carried a camera). Then went to another cubby hole and pulled out another, then another. Wow! Now he got my intention. But do you see what could have happened here? He claimed to have mined all of that gold, but didn't make up a lost legendary mine.
|The rugged Superstition Mountains, home of the Lost Dutchman legend, are|
visible in the background. This rhyolite dome is the site where many people
end up being found by Search and Rescue because of the rugged hills and
intense desert heat. In foreground are the authors of the book 'GOLD'.
One day, a gentleman walked into the Mercantile dressed to the 9s. He apparently just got off an airplane in Riverton and drove to Atlantic City. Barbara thought she had recognized an opportunity and sat down with this well-dressed gentleman to try to sell him a gold mine - that's right, she was offering him a great opportunity to purchase the Mary Ellen gold mine at a bargain. However, Barbara took another shot from the bar after the gentleman told her that he already owned the Mary Ellen mine. Barbara too passed away a few years ago. Not sure if anyone knew her age, but she had lived a long time and, for those of us who did not fall for her scams, we all miss her and her antics.
|Superstition Mountains in the background |
from Goldfields, Arizona
(photo by the author).
The volcanic dome can be viewed on Google Earth: search for ‘Superstition Mountains, Arizona’. These rugged mountains are part of a 25 million year old, resurgent, rhyolitic dome and caldera. As you back out of Google Earth to an eye altitude of 30 to 35 miles, you should see evidence of an 8- to 10-mile diameter, circular structure: this is the dome. The dome is formed of rhyolite a volcanic rock that is the fine-grained equivalent of granite that occurs in a variety of colors, most notable light gray to white and reddish-brown to pink due volcanic rocks with abundant fine-grained pink feldspar.
Is there any truth to the Lost Dutchman legend? I’m no expert on the legend, but as myths go, they should be left to treasure hunters, used car salesmen, the Obama Administration, parapsychologists and brothels. The Lost Dutchman’s mine has never been found, but a rich quartz vein was discovered at the other end of the Phoenix valley in low-lying hills known as the Vulture Mountains. Records suggest the Vulture mine may have been the largest gold producer in Arizona in the historical past. And there may have been a connection between this and the Dutchman.
The Vulture mine became known for its high grade gold ore. Various reports suggest many thieves made a living high-grading ore from the mine (today, we call these people politicians). The problem was so rampant that some thieves were hanged at the mine site.
|The Hanging Tree at Vulture City (photo by the author).|
Henry Wickenburg and others were prospecting along the Hassayampa River (a dry river much of the year) to the east of the mine when they spotted a dark, iron-stained outcrop on a hill to the west. On close examination, they found visible gold in the outcrop. All of the prospectors except Wickenburg, were apparently unimpressed as only Wickenburg decided to file a claim on the vein.
|Part of the Vulture quartz vein showing gossan (iron-stained rock) (photo by the author).|
Johnson (1985) reports some of Wickenburg’s initial samples assayed 6 ounces per ton gold. But instead of mining, he decided to sell ore to local prospectors for $15 per ton. These miners hauled ore to the Hassayampa River where the rock was processed in many arrastras set up wherever water could be found in the intermittent drainage. In 1866, Wickenburg sold his vein to the Vulture Mining Company and the company constructed a 40-stamp mill near the present town site of Wickenburg and gold was recovered from high-grade ore that ran 1.2 to 4.5 ounces per ton.
Early mine development focused on the western portion of the vein. Since the only water to be found was 15 miles from the mine, the site of the mill was based on the presence of water. The high-grade ore had to be hauled by wagon to the mill and high-grading occurred in the mine, mill and on the haulage wagons.
|View of the old head frame at the Vulture mine (right) and vein (left).|
When the mine reached the 240-foot level (240 feet deep), a rich pocket of gold was intersected where the vein swelled to 47 feet wide. This shoot produced ore that contained 7 to 12.5 ounces per ton gold, suggesting a possibility of supergene enrichment, something common in many Arizona districts. Supergene enrichment occurs when oxygen-rich meteoric water leaches metals from near surface and transports the metal down through fractures by gravity until fluids lose oxygen (typically at groundwater level) and precipitating valuable metals to produce a zone of enrichment.
|Remains of the Vulture mine and city powerhouse.|
Nine years later (1888), the vein was again lost. The vein was cut by a fault known as the Talmadge Fault that sliced the vein on the 300-foot level and the vein had been down-dropped to an unknown depth. At this time, mining operations were very limited and restricted to the western portion of the vein above the fault zone and it wasn’t until 20 years later (1908) that a comprehensive geological study was conducted that led to the discovery of the vein offset. The mine reopened and ore was again processed to recover gold on amalgamation plates while tailings were stored for later cyanide treatment. A new mill was constructed in 1910 that had 20 stamps with a capacity of 100 to 120 tons per day. Water wells were also drilled. One intersected groundwater in a gravel lens beneath a lava flow at 400 feet depth. Another well was drilled to 1,000 feet before hitting water (Hutchinson, 1921).
The mine operated until 1917 when the vein was again lost. This time it had been offset along a second fault (Astor Fault) on the 950-foot-level in the eastern portion of the mine. The Astor fault cut the vein also displacing it somewhere down dip.
Exploration for the offset vein began with the sinking of a 500-foot winze (an underground shaft) sunk from the 1050-foot-level. The vein offset was discovered on the 1,550-foot mine level and operations continued until the mine was closed by the War Production Board in 1942. At this time in history, the War Production Board closed all non-essential gold mines in the US to ensure maximum energy was directed towards the war effort. Many mines that were closed by this order never reopened, suggesting at today’s gold prices, many of these likely have commercial ore.
|Tightly folded Proterozoic basement gneiss exposed at the |
The vein was traced 1,000 feet on the surface and is 32 feet wide on the surface. It is a complex of quartz and schist, such that mineralized quartz (about 6 feet thick) lies adjacent to footwall schist. This is overlain by chlorite schist followed by a large 30 to 50 foot thick quartz vein that includes low-grade white quartz and quartz with brecciated schist. The hanging wall is composed of chlorite schist and granite porphyry while the footwall is sericite schist. The vein was quarried on the surface in two, small, gossan-stained small open pits (Hutchinson, 1921; Wayne, 1985).
Vulture Vein. Gold mineralization occurs within and adjacent to a north-dipping quartz porphyry dike that extends eastward from the granite pluton. Gold is concentrated in quartz veins and in silicified and altered rock within and adjacent to the dike. The precious metal occurs as native gold or electrum and is also associated with pyrite, galena and minor chalcopyrite and sphalerite. There is a positive correlation between gold and secondary silica and sulfides. Granitic breccia clasts become progressively more common to the west in the vein. Where the vein extends into the granite pluton, it splits into smaller veins prior to pinching out.
The geology suggests ore shoots occur en echelon in the vein Another undeveloped shoot is proposed to occur further east and at greater depth that those mined in the past. In the area overlying this proposed ore shoot; surface rock exposures include Miocene volcanic tuffs and lavas which cover the old schists and gneisses. The metamorphic rocks are again found 3,000 feet further east where they show some evidence of mineralization (Hutchinson, 1921). The faults which offset the Vulture vein are not exposed at the surface and are buried under gravel and lava.
Production. Production figures are incomplete. Available reports indicate the mine produced at least 340,000 ounces of gold and 260,000 ounces of silver from ore that had an overall average grade of 0.35 opt gold and 0.25 opt silver (Spencer and others, 1989; White, 1988).
Current Activities. In recent years, there was an effort by preservationists to push the State of Arizona into purchasing the Vulture mine and ghost town and withdraw the property from mining. Such activities tend to set a dangerous precedent in letting government nationalize private property and control private land and businesses. Such activities lead to corruption and mining companies avoiding some states and regions.
|Old assay lab at the Vulture gold mine. In the upper part of the wall, one can |
see the old bricks used to construct this building. Legend suggests it is
constructed from rich quartz vein ore from the mine and contains
Purchasing a commercial ore body by the legislature with taxpayer funds stymied gold exploration throughout South Pass. Previously, the Willow Creek placer adjacent to the Carissa mine was taken by the State under the guise it contained abundant toxic chemicals. Now the preservation effort is spreading to the nearby Duncan gold mine.
Mine adit at the Vulture mine dug into fanglomerate. I could not find any reports of gold mined from this conglomerate or from nearby drainages, but it would be one place I would look for gold since it sits adjacent to the Vulture vein.
For now, Arizona’s Vulture mine appears to have weathered the effort to have the State of Arizona purchase private property and more recently, the property was optioned by a Canadian company: Source Gold Corporation.
|A real 'LOST' gold mine. The Carissa gold mine sits on a major gold-rich|
shear zone that likely hosts several million ounces of gold. The mine was
lost in a legislative takeover of public property. The Wyoming legislature
purchased to gold mine and incorporated it into the South Pass City historical
site so it could never be mined again. This purchase followed research by the
author that showed a mineralized structure that is about 970 long by nearly
1,000 feet wide that likely continues to several thousand feet deep that
contains gold. Drill intercepts to more than 900 feet intersected rich gold
Hausel, W.D., 2012, Arizona's Vulture Gold Mine and Lost Dutchman: ICMJ Prospecting and Mining Journal, v. 81, no. 9.
Hausel, W.D., 1991, Economic Geology of the South Pass Granite-Greenstone Belt, Wind River Mountains, Western Wyoming. Geological Survey of Wyoming Report of Investigations 44, 129 p.
Hausel, W.D., and Hausel, E.J., 2011, GOLD - Field Guide for Prospectors and Geologists. CreateSpace, 366 p.
|Gold vault at the Vulture mine, Arizona.|
Hausel, W.D., 2019, Gold in Arizona - A Prospectors Guide: GemHunter publications, 350 p.
Hutchinson, W.S., 1921, The Vulture mine, Engineering and Mining Journal, v. 111, no.7 p. 2-12.
Johnson, Wayne, 1985, The Vulture: California Mining Journal, Oct., p. 8-11.
Spencer, J.D., Raynolds, S.J., Grubensky, M.J., Duncan, J.T., and White, D.C., 1989, Geology of the Vulture gold mine: Arizona Geological Survey, Arizona Geology, v. 19, no. 4, p. 1-4.
White, D., 1988, Geology of the Vulture Mine Arizona: AIME Preprint 88-44, 5 p.