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Silver Cloud Mine, Dragoon Mountains, Arizona

Last Updated: 8th May 2016

By Rolf Luetcke

Silver Cloud Mine, Dragoon Mountains, Arizona
By Rolf Luetcke
In 2012, my wife Mary and I took our ATV to explore in the Middlemarch Canyon area of the Dragoon Mountains in Southeastern Arizona. There is a long dirt road that goes East from just outside of Tombstone called Middlemarch Road. The road goes for a number of miles as a good and well maintained dirt road to the Dragoon Mts. As you near the mountains the sign states you are now on National Forest land. We usually took our ATV on a trailer to this point and then parked by the road and continued on with the ATV. Before this we had been to a lot of places in the Dragoon Mountains but only had two wheel drive vehicles and didn't get to many of the places on seriously rough roads and places like the Silver Cloud were too far to walk to.
Right at the point where the National Forest land begins is a road that heads north and allows access to a big section of the Western Dragoon Mountains. The access here goes to the West Stronghold where there is a trail that crosses the Dragoons to the East Stronghold , the home of the Apache Indians. There is also an old building at the mouth of the West Stronghold that was part of an old ranch built here back in the late 1880's, one of the first ranches to be built in the area and is now called the Whitehouse ruins. Remnants of the building still stand today.
On this road is a canyon that goes high into the mountains called Slavin Gulch. There once was a road that went up to the Abril mine at the top of the mountains but this road is only a vague trail now. I once hiked the whole canyon to the actual mine at the top, many years ago. At that time the mine had one horizontal tunnel leading into the mountain and that was dammed at the front and full of water. The main dirt road to the Abril mine is now so bad that it is practically inaccessible.
A bit farther up Middlemarch road you start getting close to the mountains. There are a couple of little prospects called Gordon Spring Prospects right by the road with maybe half a dozen minerals but only in micro material. Just a bit past these is the numbered dirt road that goes up to Gordon Camp, which is a heck of a road, even for 4x4 vehicles. It is one of the most scenic roads in the area but takes true guts and skill to drive. In most places the road is only wide enough for one vehicle. The local people call this China Camp because the people who originally built the road were Chinese and not only built the road but worked the San Juan Mine and other mines up on the slopes of China Peak.
Just past the road to Gordon Camp you get to the first crossing of the main wash coming down from the mountains along Middlemarch Canyon and the hills start to the right or South of the road. There is a small dirt road that goes off toward the South here and immediately gets very rough. This is another road for 4x4 vehicles or ATV's. It winds around the bottom of the mountains and meanders back along the foothills of the Dragoons. There are a few gates to open and eventually you come to a section where you can see mines up toward the mountains. The main mine you can see here is the Silver Cloud. The dirt road takes you right up to the mine and crosses the bottom of the mine dump. When looking up at the hill you see numerous mine openings and mine dumps.
We parked right at the place the road crosses the bottom most dump. Getting out and looking at the rock one sees it is mostly a white to pale blue marble or calcite based rock with some shades besides the white. My wife liked the slightly bluish colored calcite and we took a few pieces home for decorative rock.
Clambering around on the dumps one sees very little color at all to indicate mineralization. A few bits of blue-green color turned out to be rosasite. We collected a bag full of rock from the dumps, anything that we thought might contain minerals. Besides the calcite based marble material there was only a bit of yellow iron color and a few that had the copper color.
After looking around the dumps for a while my wife said it was just about the most barren dump she had ever seen. I worked my way up to several of the mine entrances. The dumps are steep and loose and hard to navigate, difficult enough Mary stayed by the small road and let me do the climbing. The main mine entrance was covered at the front by a lot of brush. I worked my way through the brush and stood in an opening that was many meters high. At the top of the entrance was a bee hive with bees flying in and out. Since it was so high up on the face of the mountain and late winter I didn't feel like I was in much danger but was aware that all the wild hives in our area are Africanized and can be dangerous. I didn't stay long, mostly long enough to snap a few photos and notice a few bats also clinging to the ceiling. In Arizona even winter can have bees active. The nights can be quite cold but days often warm up to short sleeve temperatures. Since it is desert bees are out looking for water mostly and if you are working and sweating you may attract bees. They are not normally prone to stinging but are attracted by the moisture. Best to just let them check you out and go on their way. Swatting will only anger a bee and it might just attack. We have never been stung by a bee looking for moisture.
At a later time I entered the mine and saw that about everything was covered in thick dust and dirt and it was impossible to see any mineralization. Much of the dirt on the mines floor contained droppings of various animals and I believe the mine is a refuge to a number of animals of the area, including the wild pigs called javalina, ringtail, skunks, bats, snakes and more so it is always wise to be careful while exploring old mines.
We then continued up the dirt road, which wound its way around the mountain and to the top. At the top we got out and walked to the upper part of the mines. There was one vertical shaft with fencing around it and danger signs. The views from here were very nice and I took a number of photos.
Looking up the hill the road went a few hundred yards up and there were a few more mines here. We explored those mines as well and found the same barren calcite base rock as below. At first I believed this group of mines was part of the Silver Cloud but later became aware that it was a different mine group. These were part of the numerous Escapule group of claims in the area. The one mine had an old wooden ore shoot still mostly standing.
When we returned home and I examined the material under my microscope I found a number of interesting things. As little as my wife had said she saw, the few pieces with any copper color also contained silver mineralization. After breaking up the material to examine under my microscope I found one pocket that contained the most interesting crystals of chlorargyrite I have ever come across. The few pieces with color had rosasite and chlorargyrite with the calcite crystals. The one pocket was the nicest micromount I found on the trip. I also found one piece that had a tiny silver wire. When examined under a black light the material also had some nice color under SW UV.
To Mary's frustration, I wanted to return to the mine to see if I could find any more with the unusual chlorargyrite crystals. Only other place I had seen the cubic and elongated crystals of chlorargyrite were from a German mine. We ended up visiting the mine several times and Mary finally put her foot down and said she was not interested in going back to this barren mine dump again. Unfortunately digging exposes only a lot of dirty rock and it is hard to see any color. Some of the dumps seem to have some depth so there may be more material that is still buried.
After I posted photos of the minerals from there on the internet I was contacted by someone from the Midwest who said he was the owner of the mine and how had I found it. He had apparently purchased the mine sight unseen and asked me about it. I tried to tell him the mine is pretty well played out and there is very little on the dumps. He assumed there was fencing around that area and I told him the area only had cattle fences but nothing at the mine itself and no signs on the mine to keep out or that it was private property. Everything in the area is open to the public when there are no signs to indicate otherwise. I told the fellow if he was concerned about people going onto a claimed property he needed to come out and fence and post it. The property is listed as a private claim but there is no fencing or posting anywhere in the area. The only signs we saw were to please close the gates, which we always do. I told the fellow he needed to come out and have a look at the property before he made any plans to spend any amount of money because we thought it would be pouring money down a bottomless hole. We suggested that he have a geologist do an assessment of the property before investing money in it. He never did come to Arizona, which may have been my telling of the rattlesnakes that he had to be very careful of when he came out. It seems he had a fear of snakes and that may have convinced him to stay where he was.
The man told me a story of how he had read an article about how much silver had been taken out of the mine and he was hoping to reopen the mine. I talked to him on several occasions and tried to convince him that the mine had been mined out many years ago and to my knowledge not much had been found there. The story he had either read or heard was a complete exaggeration and may even have been about another mine with the same or similar name. Apparently it was in an old newspaper and could have been used in the sales pitch to sell the mine. He seemed to have believed the story. It is possible that the whole story was made up. I never did see indication that it was any kind of bonanza discovery when we visited the old mine. In the study of the material from the Silver Cloud Mine I found 20 mineral species, pretty much all in micro specimens.
We have been to the mine once more with a friend to show him where it was. Mary still says it is a completely barren mine dump and on the last trip I went into the mine and explored all the tunnels. Nothing of any interest was to be seen through all the dust and dirt.
I never did find any more of the interesting chlorargyrite crystals. I guess I should be happy with the one I did find.

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