The Golden Standard Mine in the South Mountains

Last weekend was a nice, clean, crisp, blue-sky Sunday morning - the kind of winter day Arizona is famous for... I was invited to participate in an easy hike to see the Gold Standard Mine, or rather, the remains of the Gold Standard mine, in the South Mountains on the south (duhhh) side of Phoenix. The mine is on the south side of the South Mountain close to the end of Chandler Blvd.

I also had a change to meet Rolando and some of his friends. Rolando has a rather interesting hobby: he collects old mines, or better, he works to preserve and explore - using robots - a very important part of Arizona history: the mines. This is done in an educational and historical context. He has a great website that I highly recommend: click for site. To give you a better idea of the program I will quote, if I may, from the main page of the Discovery Miner site:

Discovery Miner is developing programs that excite the elementary grade schools about Arizona's mining heritage-historical mines. The programs lead to the actual participation of entire classes imaging mission pack shafts using robotics and old maps from the major Arizona Mine Museums. The Discovery Miner Program works with Arizona mine museums, mining corporations and companies, local law enforcement, city and state government agencies, and federal mine agencies in pursuit of the historic mine mapping mission. This allows educators to become an important part of teaching children an exciting new program of mining discovery and Arizona mining history.

The Hike

This is a photo journal of our 2.5 hour hike. Besides Rolando and myself, there were Rick, Baron and George - our guide. George is a Miami native (Arizona, not Florida) that knows the South Mountains has well as anyone, I guess.

click for image 1. Starting at the West end of Chandler Blvd in Awatukee, we head north past the last subdivision. The Gold Standard is fairly close just over the hill and up a small valley. At the top of the hill I pause to take a picture, showing the view to the south and west. Directly below are the houses at the west end of Chandler Blvd. To the far south one can see Pima Butte (in the mist) on the road to Maricopa. To the west the Estrella Mountains dominate the view. It had been raining off and on for the last two weeks so the desert is very green.

click for image 2. Looking to the northwest from this same spot on the top of the hill we can see the remains of the mine buildings in the distance, about a mile away. Rolando, George and Rick are in the picture.

click for image 3. First we walk to the mineshafts, which are about 500 yards above the buildings. Basically, there are two diggings. Indiana Rolando is sitting in front of the entrance to the lower (and larger) shaft. The first 10 to 20 feet of the mine ceiling has collapsed, leaving the mound of debris below him. One of Rolando's objectives is to educate people about the dangers of old mines. I think I remember him saying something about "only a fool" would go in to an old abandoned mine.

click for image 4. I had no choice. This is a view from about 30 feet in. For the most part the entrance is clear. As far as old mines go, this is about as easy as any I have ever been to. I am surprised that the Phoenix Park people have not closed down the entrance. I hope not!

click for image 5. Rolando, George and Rick standing beside the second entrance - which is really two shafts: the one on the left (behind Rolando) is basically a small cavern about 30 feet deep and the one on the right (in the shadows) is totally blocked. I am guessing that this was at one time the biggest of the shafts of the Golden Standard.

click for image 6. This is a picture of what remains of this second entrance - an opening about 20 inches high with 12x12 inch support timbers that disappear into a deep black hole. It is totally inaccessible. I don't think Rolando could even get one of his robots down there.

I want to pause here and say how common mine shafts, holes and diggings are in Arizona. There are tens of thousands of sites around the state, and some of them are very dangerous. Many of them have been closed, gated, boarded up or even dynamited to keep the public out. Making a record of this bit of Arizona history is one of the reasons of the Discovery Miner program. Beside the issue of public safety, there is also the fact that people are pigs - and I probably should apologize to the javalina for saying that. The damage, destruction and devastation of both nature and history by mankind are unbelievable. If a wall is there, they will kick it over. Put them on an ATV or behind a 4x4 and no plant is safe! They throw beer cans everywhere and they leave their plastic bottles in every wash and ravine. They have no respect. If they were in the Louve and had a can of paint, they would probably do graffiti on the Mona Lisa. I despise these people.

Getting back to the subject... BE AWARE THAT ALL MINES ARE DANGEROUS! Mining is one of the most dangerous jobs on earth. Abandoned old mines are even more dangerous. There are small open pits, usually ventilation shafts, which go straight down into the bowels of the earth. Mines are basically unstable, because of the geological pressures of the earth. All tunnels and shafts will disintegrate and collapse; it is just a matter of time. The weight of the earth above and around, the effects of water and moisture, heat and cold, and the natural faults and cracks in the rock itself, and a combination of all of these, are a recipe for disaster. My Dad would often tell me how 12x12 timbers used as supports to shore up the shafts in the Magma mine (Superior, Arizona) would snap like toothpicks. Mine tunnels also have jagged rocks and sharp rusty metal pieces everywhere. There are also insects and SNAKES that inhabit tunnels; not to mention the fact that POISONOUS GASSES are common in mine shafts. Oh yes, tunnels are very dark and both the floors and ceiling are uneven, and there may be a pit in the middle of the shaft. I hope you get the idea!

click for image 7. This is a picture of the small cavern at the second, upper entrance. As you can see, very sophisticated and elaborate safety precautions have been taken to keep the roof from falling. This place is probably a javalina lair; at least it smelled like it.

click for image 8. Of course, if it looks dangerous, you can always ask somebody to hold up the ceiling. This is Baron in the back of the lower tunel, keeping South Mountain off our heads, about 100 feet from the entrance. Just behind him the shaft cuts to the right, but we didn't go. It was very, very dark and the growling sounds from down the tunnel didn't sound friendly.

click for image 9. This is a view of the entrance from where Baron was standing, taken with the zoom. There is an old iron pipe running along the floor, maybe used for pumping air or water. Who knows?

click for image 10. After 'exploring' the mine itself, we sent down to the mine buildings below. Only a few years ago some of the wood and brick walls were still standing, but vandals have knocked them all down.

click for image 11. The only things left standing in the building complex are the two stone fireplaces. I guess that at one time there may have been 5 rooms and some kind of outdoor area with a cooking space (the smaller fireplace in back). It is kind of hard to tell.

click for image 12. All in all, it probably was a pretty fancy place, for an Arizona mining building that is. My theory is that the mine was never profitable, and the whole thing was a scheme to take in investor money. The mine is easy to get to from Phoenix (maybe a little over an hour from Union Depot by Model A) and has a couple of deep shafts and a nice building. All you needed was an ounce of the real stuff and a shotgun to seed the mine and really impress deep-pocket visitors from back East. This is idle speculation on my part, of course.

The fact is that the rocks and ore in the South Mountain don't look like they're worth much to me. In the 1950's my Dad worked in the Magma mine in Superior, and I have seen rocks brought up from 4000 feet down. There were dark and heavy, with spots of gold, silver and copper that would sparkle in the light, and the green copper tint in the rock was everywhere. The rock around the Gold Standard looks nothing like the rich mineral rock from other parts of Arizona. Of course, maybe at the bottom of the mine there is a vein of pure gold a foot thick. Yeah, right!

Few people now realize how common mining was in Arizona. Remember the 5 or 6 "Cs" every school child learned up to the 1960s: Climate, cotton, cattle, citrus and copper. Did I miss a "C"? Up until World War II, the search for gold and silver was practically a required hobby in Arizona, surpassed only by the hunt for lost and/or buried treasure. I kid you not! It was something a lot of people did; almost all pioneers dabbled in mining at one time. My Dad used to tell me of old miners coming into the town of Maricopa in the 1930s, with a string of mules. They would spend a few days in town, find a few people to grubstake them for a few bucks each, buy the necessary supplies at Burkett's store, fill up with water and then disappear into the hills for a few weeks. Even later one would come across old timers out in the desert hills, worked their claims. Most of these folks didn't much like company, either. Visitors would be received with a warning shot in the air, and at that point they would usually decide that a change of direction would be prudent.

click for image 13. Time to head back to civilization. We walk down the wash, around the mountain. Back at Chandler Blvd I pause and take this second picture of the Estrellas. What a nice day!

click for image 14. One last picture for the journal. The Salt River is flowing and this is the way it should be. The two weeks of rain have filled up the damns on the Verde River and they have to let the water out. You can see the water pouring over the City of Tempe rubber ducky damn, from what is called the "Town Lake", an euphemism for "Big Ditch". This is the first time water has come through since they built the thing (for $50 million) six years ago. I always thought it was was a stupid idea. In fact, the whole Salt River, as it is today, is a crime against nature in my opinion.