Monday, June 30, 2014

Day 7: Kentucky Camp and the Gold Mines

Sunrise! A glorious sunrise!
April 19: Arizona is well-known for it's mineral deposits--especially copper. But there is also gold in them thar hills, and the Santa Rita Mountains have it. One popular way to get to gold back in the day was hydraulic mining where powerful jets of water blast away hillsides to reach the gold deposits. It still happens even today, at least in some places, but the wholesale slaughter of mountains probably isn't as common anymore. But even low-tech gold mining generally required some water. Panning for gold isn't easy if there's no water around!

But in Arizona, water was often in short supply. In these mountains, the gold deposits and ample water did not occur in the same valleys. There are two solutions to this problem: carrying the pay dirt to water, or hauling the water to pay dirt. When gold mining started in these hills in the 1870s, burros packed water to the mining claims which was sold to miners for 3 cents a gallon. I have a hunch that the folks hauling water to the miners probably earned more money than the miners did!

But this was a slow process that didn't scale up very well, and in stepped James B. Stetson in 1904. He was an engineer for the Santa Rita Water and Mining Company, and he pushed an idea to make hydraulic mining a reality. The company would build ditches, pipes and tunnels to carry water from streams and springs near Bear Spring to the gold-bearing gravels at Boston Gulch.

The 1,000-foot tunnel I camped near overnight wasn't the the first evidence of this elaborate aqueduct. The Arizona Trail follows on and along the 8.5 miles of this system. The ditch that carried water 2.5 miles to this location wasn't readily apparently anymore, although I did spy a couple of clearly man-made structures made of rocks and concrete that I suspect were part of the ditch. No signage near them explained their purpose, though, so I only had guesses and hunches. The tunnel, however, had a plaque which explained much about the details. Even better, the trail would pass about half a dozen of these informational signs, and I took photos of them all so I could tell the gold stories in detail later. =)

That's where all of this information comes from. No Google searches needed!

The next historical sign was posted at Stetson's Dam, or at least what's left of it. The miners needed a place to store the thousands of gallons of water that hydraulic mining required, so they build a dam 10 feet high and 100 feet long. Today, it's just a long mound of earth and rocks and holds back no water at all.

See the water cache hidden behind the tree?
The next structure to be featured was the penstock with an intriguing sign about "Making Water Flow Uphill." The sign explained:

From the upper parts of Gardner and Cave Canyons, water flowed gently in open ditches to this point, dropping only about 15 feet per mile. But from here the Santa Rita Water and Mining Company needed to get the water across the broad valley to the northeast.

To do so, the company laid a 24-inch diameter pipe. From this penstock the pipeline drops more than 200 vertical feet to the stream crossing, then gains 160 feet to the ridgetop 1 mile northeast of here.

Because the water entered the pipe higher than the outlet, no pumping was required to make the water flow up the opposite hillside.

The penstock was the structure where water flowed out of the ditch and into the pipe, and the sign included a cut-away diagram of its design. Bars at the entrance blocked larger debris from entering the pipe, and a settling tank at one end helped to remove dirt, leaves and smaller debris before the water finally entered the pipe. It was important to get all of this debris out of the water before sending it down 200 feet through the pipe and back up 160 feet to the outlet. It wouldn't have any trouble flowing downhill, but the debris would have trouble making it back up the 160 feet to the outlet!

A hatch at the top of the penstock allowed workers access to occasionally clear the settling tank of debris.

I checked out the penstock, taking photos of the entrance where water flowed from the ditch into the penstock and through the old hatch into the settling tank, then continued following the aqueduct.

Along this next stretch, I'd often see the 24-inch pipe partly exposed. Sometimes it would cross the trail perpendicularly. And then it had to cross bedrock, for which they provided another explanatory sign. This ground contained some very hard limestone. Most of the pipe was buried so the surrounding dirt could help support the weight of the water in the pipe, but here the construction workers found it easier to elevate the pipe on a massive rock masonry platform than to excavate into the bedrock. Masonry held the pipe in place while short, wooden trestles carried the pipe across small drainages.

Wildflowers of the Arizona Trail!
The masonry was still visible here, although the pipe was long gone.

Further along the trail, another information board explained the small-scale mining techniques that were used before this aqueduct was built. Miners used picks and shovels to dig small shafts down to the "pay dirt," the gold-bearing gravels just above bedrock. The worthless dirt above the gold-bearing gravels were cast aside to form heaps and piles in the area.

I looked around and saw a lot of heaps and piles. Were all of those the leftover worthless dirt from small-scale mining? That's would have been a heck of a lot of dirt to pile up using nothing more than picks and shovels! The heaps and piles looked like they'd been there forever--I wouldn't have given them a second thought if the sign hadn't made me stop to look at them more closely. They did have something of a symmetrical look to them, more than I would have expected to find naturally. After over a hundred years, though, they had grown grasses and shrubs and generally blended in with the environment around it.

The trail continued onward, finally reaching Kentucky Camp. The camp was built as the headquarters for the Santa Rita Water and Mining Company. The aqueduct worked, and hydraulic mining started in 1904. Three hydraulic monitors--essentially giant squirt guns that shot a pressurized stream of water 100 feet through the air--started their assault on the nearby hills. The Arizona Daily Star reported on August 24th of that year that the monitors "tear up the ground with splendid results."

In May of 1905, James Stetson died when he fell from a third-story hotel window in Tucson. George B. McAneny, the president and primary investor, was unable to continue his financial support and died a few years later in 1909. Ultimately, the operation lasted a mere six months and after spending over $200,000 building the aqueduct, it only pulled out a few thousand dollars of gold. The operation was a miserable failure.

After McAneny died, Louis Hummel acquired the property and used Kentucky Camp as a ranch headquarters until the 1960s. The camp, along with most of the Greaterville mining district, then became part of the Coronado National Forest in 1989 where things stand today.

Lest you think nothing happened today except following in the footsteps of old gold miners, you're largely correct. Not much else happened today. =)

All that's left of Stetson's 10-foot high, 100-foot long dam.
I did run into not one, but two backpackers during the day. The first, Day Hiker, was hiking southbound on the Arizona Trail. He had started his hike somewhere near Phoenix and wasn't staying exclusive to the Arizona Trail having wandered out on the Grand Enchantment Trail for quite a ways and looping around to all sorts of places I'd never heard about. I suspected his trail name of Day Hiker was due to his small pack--it looked like he could have been out for a day hike!

The second hiker I met called himself Whitney Houston. I was curious about what kind of self-respecting man would call himself Whitney Houston and where that trail name came from, but I didn't ask. =) He was hiking northbound on the Arizona Trail having started at the Mexican border but intended to stop at the Grand Canyon rather than continue on to the end of the trail.

"But why not do that last hundred miles?" I asked. "If you have the time, you may as well!"

But he told me that he wanted to end at a grand location, and what was more grand than the Grand Canyon? He had me there.... "But you'd be so close to the end of the trail by then!"

The part that really shocked me, however, was that he had started at the Mexican border just two days earlier. It took me a week to reach this location, and he covered the distance in two days! He was doing over 40 miles per day! Insane! And that he expected to reach the Grand Canyon on May 9th or 10th. I figured to be around the halfway mark on the trail by then.

I took this photo the day before. At the
time I took it, I recognized it as being man-made
(that crack in the rock looked a little too straight!)
but I couldn't figure out what it was for until
learned about the gold mining aqueduct. Now
I think it was part of the ditch that used to
carry water to the tunnel.
"Well, I guess I'll never see you again!" Most of the time, when I see long-distance hikers headed in the same direction as me, I know I might see them over and over again, passing each other multiple times. But there was no way in hell I'd be hiking 40 miles per day. Even if I could (and I probably could--if I really wanted to), I had to take photos for every mile of the trail for Walking 4 Fun and therefore couldn't hike through the night like he must have been doing.

I didn't know it at the time, but Whitney Houston would be the closest thing to a thru-hiker I'd meet along the entire length of the Arizona Trail. Technically, he wasn't a thru-hiker since he wasn't planning to walk the last 100 or so miles of the trail, but he would be the only hiker I'd meet that was doing more than half of the trail, and Day Hiker and Whitney Houston were the only two long-distance hikers I'd meet on the trail at all. The only other backpackers I'd meet for the rest of the trail would just be out for overnight or a weekend trips.

But I didn't know that at the time. I thought this was just the beginning of the long-distance hikers I'd be meeting on the trail--not the last of them!

Once I reached Kentucky Camp, the trail follows a series of dirt roads that were shared with more than a few ATVers. But it was Saturday--the roads that allowed motorized vehicles were probably busier on weekends.

Late in the day, the clouds started coming in thick and thunder roared in the distance. Rain seemed like a real possibility. I set up camp next to Forest Service Road 62--which turned out to be a remarkably busy road for being gravel. Seemed like a vehicle would drive down it every ten minutes or so until just after sunset. I set up my tarp again, just in case it rained during the night. It did sprinkle lightly near dusk as I cooked dinner, but nothing more than a light sprinkle.

Entrance to the penstock where water would flow from
a ditch (which I would have been standing in) into
a pipe going out the other end.

Looking through the hatch at the top of the penstock into the settling tank.

There is gold in them thar hills!

The clouds not only made a nice backdrop for my photos,
but it also provided a lot of shade on this otherwise
mostly unshaded area. =)

This 24-inch pipe was used to make water flow uphill. =)

Masonry was used to support the pipe in areas where engineers decided
it was too difficult to dig into the hard limestone.

This illustration on one of the informational signposts shows how the pipe
would have crossed a small creek on a trestle.

Some of the "heaps and piles" of waste dirt from small-scale mining.

One of the three monitors that used to "tear up the ground with splendid results."

I take a break on the porch of the main building at Kentucky Ranch.
Notice that I took off my hiking shoes and put on my crocs. I made myself
quite comfortable here! =)

There is lodging available at Kentucky Camp, but be sure to read
the small print. It's a Bed and NO breakfast!
Ruins at Kentucky Camp.

We've come 79.1 miles since leaving the Mexican border!

I really love the sky in this photo!

Several people in ATVs and other vehicles passed me along this stretch of the trail.

It would seem that there is still some small-scale mining going on around
these parts, but I didn't actually see anyone mining--just the mining claims!

Did you hear that? I heard thunder.... Despite the sliver of sunshine
still glowing on the distant peaks, rain appears to be imminent!

An ATV drives by on Forest Service Road 62.

I set up my tarp using this fence to prop up one side. Hopefully
lightning won't strike the barbed-wire fence. =) That's
the same forest service road as before in the background.


Kristin aka Trekkie Gal said...

I'm kinda fascinated by that mining claim. I had no idea that such things still existed! I like the name too - Gold Father. Although the geek in my thinks it would be funnier if it had been named Oro Dedo (Gold Finger). :)

Unknown said...

Did you ask Whitney Houston if this was his first time on AZT?
GT, you move along at a good clip compared to most of us. At 40 mpd would WH be running or just two very long days?

Sally said...

beautiful photos!

Ryan said...

Oro Dedo would, indeed, have been funnier! =) As for hiking 40 mpd, that could be done as really long days--running not necessary.

-- Ryan

Anonymous said...

Enjoyed the first 80 miles in. This trail looks to be only for the brave.


Ryan said...

Hey Stone! You don't have to be brave to do the trail. There are a lot of stupid people who've done it as well. ;o)

-- Ryan, not sure which group I'm in

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.