Monday, May 27, 2013

The Vulture Gold Mine, Maricopa County, Arizona

Geologist and author Dan Hausel is presented a trophy
to decorate his tent while working at South Pass,
Wyomingin the 1980s. This trophy was proudly
displayed in his office at the University of Wyoming
 for many years - until it was passed on to the
director of the Wyoming Geological Survey
still attached to plumbing so it would appropriately
accept what the director used for brains.
The trophy originally read "Welcome Back Dan,
 District Geologist's office"
When prospectors and treasure hunters discuss gold prospects or mining in Arizona, the Lost Dutchman or Vulture is usually the central topic of conversation. But the Lost Dutchman gold mine, in my opinion, was never really lost. If it's not just a myth, I'll eat my ....  Well, what should I eat? Hmmm, I only have one hat and it is likely not tasty after traveling with me to the field for so many years; so let me think about what I'll eat just in case I'm wrong.

Anyway, gold mine legends are just that - legends perpetuated by old timers who usually initiate legends in the dark corners of local bars. They search for listeners hopeful of getting enough facts, so they can sneak out and get some of the old timers gold - but they always need another detail or two. So they buy the old prospector another beer hopeful of loosening his tongue just a little more. This goes on all night until the prospector or the listener finally passes out. Its a great way to get free beer and free dinners. 

I know what you're thinking - nope I never tried it. I don't need to make up a story. There are too many good gold prospects already out there so I don't need to make up one. And I already found more than $60 billion in gold (but didn't receive a dime of gold for the major gold deposits I found in the Rattlesnake Hills of Wyoming or the co-discovered monster gold deposit in the Kuskokwim Mountains of Alaska. Yep - more gold than was mined from the Homestake mine during its 123 year mining history - and I didn't get any of it! And this doesn't even include the diamond and colored gemstone deposits I found over the years (and didn't receive anything more than a salary). So, I'm not sure why anyone bothers with myths - there are too many real gold deposits out there to be found. But I've known characters who have perpetuated a story or two.

Years ago, while mapping the 250-square-mile South Pass greenstone belt and its mining districts and mines, I would spend evenings in the local bar - the Atlantic City mercantile and sometimes the TNT cafe, just to listen to the old prospectors. I would later head off to my tent to do some work under a Coleman lantern before heading back out to the field the next day. 

A 20 stamp gold mill on display near Apache Junction, Arizona
One prospector nicknamed 'Shorty', was just that, short. I really enjoyed talking to him as he had been a miner and prospector in the area for decades and even worked on the old Rock Creek dredge. I forget who told me the story, but Shorty had another nickname 'Wet Pockets'. I was puzzled by this nickname until it was explained Shorty worked in the Rock Creek washing plant when it was recovering gold in the 1930s until the outbreak of World War II. Apparently, it was discovered that his pockets were wet from high-grading gold off of the concentrating table, and he was dismissed. I don't know how much of that story was true, but Shorty was a very interesting character. Personally, I had a lot of respect for him. Even so, this could have been a start for another lost gold mine. How else could one explain finding those nuggets?

When I met shorty, he lived in a small, single wide trailer on the main drag of Atlantic City. He also owned a nearby gold mine. One day, he invited me in to talk about gold. At first, I couldn't quite tell, but there seemed to be a distinct odor. What was that smell? It reminded me of the building where my trophy came from, but I kept it to myself (not too long after this conversation, Shorty had a heart attack and passed on - many of us will miss one of the great prospectors of South Pass. His trailer was moved out of Atlantic City and sitting under the residence, right where he had cut a small hole in the floor, was a honey pot).

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'. 
Shorty was not the only character I met at South Pass. One of the great ones was Barbara. A tiny lady of possibly 90 pounds soaking wet. Barbara was a prospector who mined people's pockets and wallets at the Mercantile. If she could see you had gold fever - watch out, she would sell you just about anything. One poor sucker was looking for gold, so she sold him a bottle of gold. He was quite impressed at his investment until another prospector pointed out that his jar was filled with mica. Not sure how he took this information, but the Atlantic City volunteer fire department was called to put out a fire in Barbara's old Cadillac.

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).
So, back to the Lost Dutchman mine. In my opinion, the Lost Dutchman is just that, a myth chalked full of holes that has been embellished over time as any good legend should be. According to the legend, a rich gold vein was discovered by Jacob Waltz, a German immigrant, while prospecting in the Superstition Mountains east of Phoenix Arizona. If you’ve never been to Phoenix, the Superstition Mountains are the impressive volcanic dome that rises from the valley floor at an average elevation of 1,120 feet to vertical cliffs that reach a maximum elevation of more than 5,000 feet above sea level. From Apache Junction, the Superstitions rise as very impressive and rugged precipices.

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. 

The Lost Dutchman's match box with inlay of milky
quartz filled with visible gold along the fractures.
The match box is described to have been made from
 Lost Dutchman gold mine ore (photo by the author). The
original photo is on display at the Superstition Mountains
Museum in Apache Junction.
According to historical documents, Jacob Waltz (the Dutchman) prospected the Bradshaw Mountains north of present day Phoenix from 1863 to 1867. When he later died at his home in the Salt River valley (Phoenix area) in 1891, legend claims a box was found under his death bed that contained 48 pounds of high-grade gold ore consisting of milky quartz with considerable visible fracture filling gold. An alleged sample of this ore was made into a match box and the woman who provided care to Waltz in his last days came into possession of a map of the gold discovery, which some sources report she sold copies for $7 each (a relatively high price in 1891).

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).
The history of the Vulture mine began with discovery of a vein along the southern flank of the Vulture Mountains in 1863 by Henry Wickenburg. The mine is situated 15 miles south of the town that bears his namesake. To see the mine and ghost town on Google Earth, search for ‘Vulture Gold Mine, Landing Strip, Wickenburg, Maricopa, Arizona 85390’. The mine is located west of the landing strip.

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).
In 1868, the western extension of the vein was mined by a separate operation known as the Smith group which built the Smith mill 10 miles east of the mine to process their ore: this mill had 20 stamps. At least three mills were initially constructed because of divided property ownership. The third mill was constructed 3 miles north of the Smith mill at Seymour (Hutchinson, 1921). In 1870, it was reported 300 miners were employed by mine operations and Vulture City had about 500 residents in total.

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.
In 1872, the vein appeared to pinch out in the eastern portion of the mine and operations refocused on the western portion of the vein. In 1879, the Arizona Central Mining Company purchased the property and constructed a 16-mile long waterline from Wickenburg to the mine site and expanded mill operations with 80-stamps. Mining continued on the western vein extension until the eastern vein extension was rediscovered at depth.

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
Vulture Mine.
Regional Geology. The Vulture mine sits at the southern edge of the Vulture Mountains 50 miles west-northwest of Phoenix. The basement (oldest exposed crustal rock) in this area is Proterozoic (2.5 to 0.6 billion year old) metamorphic and igneous rock (schist and gneiss) intruded by Cretaceous (145 to 65 million year old) granite and granodiorite that are all unconformably overlain by lower to middle Miocene (23 to 5 million year old) volcanic (rhyolite and andesite) and sedimentary rocks. All of these have been tilted by rotational (normal) faulting such that the original bedding is now near-vertical to overturned (Spencer and others, 1989). The Vulture vein is associated and related to the granite pluton. The mineralized zone at the Vulture mine is fault controlled with the vein trending east-west nearly parallel to foliation with a dip of 42oN.

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.
Glory Hole open cut at the Vulture gold mine looking to the east towards the ghost town.
The rocks are stained with limonite giving them a slight yellow appearance,
while along the right side of the photo is part of the exposed Vulture vein with
bluish-green chlorite schist.
Pervasive wall rock alteration adjacent to the vein resulted in replacement of feldspar and mafic (dark) minerals by sericite, hematite and clay. The gold was reported to be 760 to 780 fine (White, 1988).

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
considerable gold.
This happened in Wyoming. The Wyoming state legislature purchased the principal historical gold mine in the South Pass region without consulting the Wyoming Geological Survey. The Carissa mine was incorporated into the South Pass City historic site essentially taking a sizable ore body from the public sector. The Carissa likely has tens of thousands to a few million ounces of gold. Work by mining companies and the author showed the presence of a ore body that was a minimum of 1,000 feet long, 300 to 1,000 feet wide and more than 970 feet deep (likely a few thousand feet deep) that may have provided jobs and attracted gold exploration in the region (Hausel, 1991, Hausel and Hausel, 2011).

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
shear zones.
Conclusion. The Vulture mine never reopened after the Second World War leaving one to wonder how much gold remains unmined. There appears to be very interesting connection of the Vulture mine to the Lost Dutchman mine. Some reports suggest that Jacob Waltz (the Dutchman) worked as a miner at the Vulture for several years. Could he have been one of the many high-graders who collected gold specimens from the mine? Could this be the source of the legendary Lost Dutchman gold mine in the Superstition Mountains (Johnson, 1985)?

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.