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Collecting at the Reef Mine, Huachuca Mts. Arizona

Last Updated: 5th Mar 2018

By Rolf Luetcke

Collecting at the Reef Mine, Huachuca Mts. Arizona
By Rolf Luetcke

The Reef Mine is in the Huachuca Mountains in Southeastern Arizona above the town of Sierra Vista. The road to the Reef Mine is one I discovered before I knew about the mine. My story starts in Carr Canyon on the Eastern slope of the Huachuca Mountains. The Carr Canyon road is paved at the bottom where there are a few ranches and houses but when it reaches the National Forest boundary the road is dirt.
When I first found the road it was about 1970 or 1971. I was living in Bisbee and with my old VW bus was exploring lots of dirt roads in the area. I loved hiking and there were numerous trail heads at the top of Carr Canyon that gave access to the peaks of the range. There are three main peaks of the Huachuca Mountains, Ramsey Peak is the one furthest to the North and is accessed through Ramsey Canyon but can also be reached from Carr Canyon. Carr Peak is the closest from the top of the Carr Canyon Road and is a wonderful summer hike. The highest peak is Miller Peak and reaches about ten thousand feet.
Over the years I had hiked to both Carr and Miller Peaks. Both were bald on top and the views were spectacular. There was a small patch of wild onions at the tops of both peaks and they were quite tasty. The other unusual feature of the mountains of Southeastern Arizona was the gathering of lady bugs in huge numbers. The few small trees near the top were nearly red with all the lady bugs. They gathered for mating on top of the higher peaks and then spread out afterwards to lay eggs and thrive in the surrounding countryside and people’s gardens. I have seen lady bugs near the peaks of many of the mountains I have been on in Arizona.
Carr Canyon road is one of the steepest roads I know in the area and it is only open in summer. In winter the tops of the mountains are snow covered and often blocked by slides. In the 1970’s the road was open year round and if you could drive it in winter you could. In recent years the forest service closes the road in winter at the place where the creek from Carr Canyon falls crosses the road with a locked gate.
The road to the top is not many miles, I believe only about 8 miles from bottom to the top but the views from the many switchbacks are spectacular. There are a few places one has to back up if another vehicle comes but most places one can pass easily. The road is not for the faint of heart and in some places it drops hundreds of feet with no guard rails anywhere along the road. About two thirds of the way up is Carr Canyon falls and when there has been a lot of rain or good snow melt the falls runs. The top of the falls is a section of very smooth polished granite and numerous people have died over the years by playing on the slick rocks. The forest service put cables across the creek near the drop at the falls but that only made people think they had a safety catch at the end when they were sliding down the rock. Sometimes they missed with fatal consequences. The top area near the falls is fenced off now with numerous signs of the danger of falling.
The road was quite rough in the early days and four wheel drive capability was useful. I made it with my VW but there were places the tires spun in the loose rock. In those years the people who drove the road were the ones that did repairs on the roads, removed fallen rocks and tree branches or filled water cut spots. At the waterfall there was a small mine that went into the side of the canyon. When I was running a nature class a young couple came up to me because they heard me talking about the history of the area. They pulled me aside to show me the gold they had been picking up in the small creek below the mine. I tried to tell them that the golden material they were picking up off of the sand was actually golden mica but they were so convinced it was gold I finally gave up. The small mine is a tungsten mine and I did walk into it to the end recently but not much is visible in the walls. If I had taken my portable black light there may have been scheelite in the walls.
As the road levels off after the last climb it enters a bowl shaped area of the mountains. There is a small mine dump as you get to the first level area and after a bit of exploration I realized it was not a mine dump but a spot they used to load their trucks from the mines above. In loading the trucks ore often fell off in the process and it is a spot to look for specimens.
A bit farther on the road you saw lots and lots of white quartz everywhere. There was a second road which left the main dirt road going south, that went to the various workings of the Reef Mine. The mine had been worked in several ways. There were underground tunnels, mostly filled in now and many areas where the quartz veins had been worked directly at the surface by trenches and cuts.
There is still much quartz lying about and some shows mineralization. My wife and I have gone up here to collect numerous times and always brought back some promising ore to check out under the microscope.
A bit farther along the main dirt road was the original town site of Reef which had numerous buildings when the mine was in operation and even had a post office. Now it is a campground and little is left of the original town.
The side road that goes through the actual mine area goes about a mile up to a steep cliff area where hang-gliders like to take off. I even went up on one weekend to watch them take off. From what I have heard, the hang gliders are the only ones allowed a key to drive up the side road besides the forest service. It is not posted so walking in is fine.
One visit to the mine my wife and I both took rock hammers and slowly walked our separate ways, breaking rocks along the way. I had sat down and was working on a promising looking piece of quartz as my wife called out to me that the rock here sure looked like great gold ore. Just as she said this I was looking at the piece I had just broken open and there was a pocket with flakes of gold. I called back to her that I had just found some. Mary had often gone out to collect minerals with her father when she was young and he often took his kids to look for gold so Mary had a good idea what good gold ore looks like. The timing was what was funny. I still have that piece of gold in my collection and a photo of it is posted for the site.
Friends I have talked to said they had gone underground when the mine shafts were still open and taken black lights in since the mine is known for its scheelite. I heard stories of columns left to hold up the ceilings that were aglow with all the scheelite. My friend, who had gone into the underground mines with his portable black light said the best scheelite was in those columns but he resisted collecting on the columns since they held up the roof of the mine. Others had not been so careful and he said the columns looked like an hourglass where people had chopped away at the rock.
There have been some rare tellurium minerals found in recent times in this area but I don’t think the site is at the main Reef Mine. There are many small prospects in the area and I believe they were found in one of these and not the main Reef Mine area. In all the looking under my microscope I have never seen any of the tiny tellurium minerals in the material I have collected at the actual Reef Mine.
In the many times I have gone to collect at the Reef Mine I have collected Gold, Scheelite, Stolzite, Anglesite, Galena, Jarosite, Hematite, Pyite, Goethite, and Quartz. Almost all the specimens are in micro size.
There are a few smaller mines in the area but the main area to collect is at the Reef Mine itself which covers several acres in disturbed rock.
In recent trips up the road we have seen not only hikers but people who ride the road in bicycles. Since the road is just outside of Sierra Vista, there is a good population base for people who like rugged off road driving. There is hiking to the bottom of the water fall from near the bottom of the road and that is always a fun hike and during times when there is water in the creek, it is a nice place to wash or even swim in a few pools especially in summer, when it gets quite warm here. The canyon is often full of wildflowers and a number of bird species people come to look for. There are also a number of reptile species here, including a rare rattlesnake that is seldom seen. In summer there are the more common rattlesnakes here as well and it is always a good idea to watch out for them. A bite high up on the mountain would not be a good thing. Skorpions and spiders are also abundant and rock collectors have to be especially careful since under rocks is a home for them in the wild.
We like to drive the Reef Mine road as much for the scenic nature of the views as for the rock but when I have come all the way up the mountain I can’t help but stop and fill up a bag or two of rock to look at when I am back home. If you are ever in Southeastern Arizona in summer I highly recommend the road up Carr Canyon but be sure to have off road capability since the road is not for the faint of heart. Bring a camera because the views of Southeastern Arizona from the road are spectacular.

Update on the Reef Mine minerals.
After writing my article on the Reef Mine in the Huachuca Mountains I received a contact from Robert Walstrom about the study he and Eckhard Stuart did at the Reef Mine. They visited the various benches at the Reef Mine on nearly a dozen occasions and found mineralized areas in some the exposed quartz benches.
At the beginning of their in depth study there were only 11 mineral species listed for the location but after their study, where they sent off material to be analyzed, the end result was over 4 times the species with 45 as the end result.
The material they found is all microscopic and needs a good microscope to view anything one might find. The species are not only unusual but many are firsts for Arizona.
I have to say the areas they collected were places I had been near but never found any of the rare species they found.
In several emails with Robert he allowed me to use any of the material he sent me in updating my article. I mostly wanted to say that in all the times my wife and I had been up to the mine we never saw the fascinating variety of minerals they found during their study.
It adds tremendously to the knowledge base on this mine and I want to thank Robert for sharing his find information with me.
I will have to look at the Reef mine on future trips with new eyes on places I had never looked and for species that I had so far never found.
Thank you Robert Walstrom.
There is another update on the minerals of the Reef Mine. In 2018 we had Eckhard Stuart stop by and we then met again at the Tucson mineral show. Eckhard offered to trade with mineral he had as duplicates from his andn Robert's trips to the mine and their collecting efforts. We did the trading and the specimens he sent I was able to get photographs of and add to the pages on mindat. Thank you so much Eckhard for the kindness and it allowed me to put a photo to so many of the species that we had not ourselves found.
In the CD that Robert had sent we also realized where the micro minerals had been collected since we know the Reef Mine quite well. The minerals were not found in any quantity in the dumps but were still in place at the edges of the originally mined seams. The problem would be to identify the species compared to the common minerals that are also found there. The samples Eckhard sent allowed us to be able to compare with material I already had from the mine and none of the species were in our material. It showed how difficult it would be to actually identify the minerals from self collected material without getting them analyzed. I wanted to add a few lines to the original article to thank Eckhard and Robert in their assists in adding to our knowledge of the mine and now the addition of photos to the mindat site. The other addition I wanted to repeat here is that another collector friend had wanted to visit the mine during the Tucson mineral show and found the gate closed and locked for the season. This is still the case during Winter when the road to the upper Huachuca Mountains is closed.





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Comments

Another wonderful collecting trip!!! Thanks!!

Brander Robinson
21st Mar 2015 4:16am
! enjoyed your article on the Reef Mine. However, I would like to comment on the statement that the rare tellurium species probably came from other than the Reef Mine. I first visited the Reef Mine on February 14th 2004. In the ensuing 9 years, I returned to the area, most with other collectors, and spent 29 additional collecting days at the Reef and Big Dipper Mines. This is no mean feat, as I live in New Mexico a fair distance from the locality. On February 15, 2013 I gave a lecturte at a Tucson, Arizona venue titled New Localities for Tellurium Minerals, Huachuca Mountains, Arizona. Included in that presentation was careful documentation, photographs of every locality, the results of PXRD and / or EMPA of each Te and other rare minerals. All of the information on these rare species found at the Reef and Big Dipper Mines have been summited for inclusion in the future update of Minerals of Arizona. These species did not come from eleswhere, but rather as I have stated in my extensive and complete documentation.

Robert E. Walstrom
walstromminerals@gilanet.com

Robert Walstrom
15th Apr 2015 7:12pm

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