This quick zip through the state’s mining highlights includes everything from Old West towns that rose and fell by their mineral wealth to today’s thriving museums and exhibitions.
Mining in Southern Arizona
The legacy of the silver vein that established one of the world’s most notorious western towns lies mainly in the town’s name: Prospector Ed Schieffelin was warned that venturing into Apache territory would earn him only his Tombstone.
Prosperous for far longer was nearby Bisbee, offering tours of the Copper Queen Mine with the miners who once worked there, vistas into the gaping Lavender mine pit and the Bisbee Mining and Historical Museum, a Smithsonian Institution affiliate. Many mine executives bedded down at the Gadsden Hotel in nearby Douglas, which smelted the ore from Bisbee’s mines.
In Tucson, the University of Arizona Mineral Museum is among the top in the country, and the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum features excellent earth science exhibits.
Ajo, a trim mining company town near Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument in the southwest, has two small museums and one large open pit mine overlook.
But mining is far from being history in “The Copper State.” At Asarco’s Mission mine, just south of Tucson, visitors can learn about the industry and see modern copper strip-mining in action.
Nearly a million visitors descend on tiny Quartzsite, just east of the California border, for the Pow Wow - Gem & Mineral Show in late January. And that’s just a prelude to events in Tucson, where the Tucson Gem and Mineral Show and dozens of smaller shows around town draw national and international throngs during the first two weeks of February, outdoing every other gathering of its kind.
Mining in Central Arizona
Northwest of Phoenix, Wickenburg once hosted the Arizona Territory’s richest gold mine. Now you can visit Robson’s Arizona Mining World, which re-creates an old mining camp, or take a self-guided tour of the abandoned Vulture Mine.
Drive the winding mountain roads from Wickenburg up to Jerome, where sights include Jerome State Historic Park, a former mine owner’s mansion, the Jerome Historical Society and Mine Museum and the Gold King Mine and Ghost Town. In nearby Clarkdale, the Verde Canyon Railroad runs along tracks once used to haul minerals from Jerome.
Mining-related attractions along the spectacular Apache Trail east of Phoenix include the rare ore specimens at Superstition Mountain Museum, re-created Goldfield Ghost Town and the Lost Dutchman State Park, named for the world-renowned gold mine that prospectors are still trying to find.
Other institutions devoted to rocks include the Robert S. Dietz Museum of Geology on the Arizona State University Campus in Tempe.
Mining in Northern & Western Arizona
In the northwest, off old Route 66 near Oatman (an abandoned boomtown popular for its resident burros), the Gold Road Mine offers underground tours and gold panning. The Museum of Northern Arizona in Flagstaff highlights the geology, fossils and minerals of the Colorado Plateau.