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Mine Along Tres Alamos Wash

Last Updated: 22nd May 2016

By Rolf Luetcke

Mine Along Tres Alamos Wash NE of Benson Arizona
By Rolf Luetcke

It was back in the late 1980's that a friend invited me to go to a small mine he had found about 20 miles northeast of Benson Arizona. There is a road that goes north out of Benson toward Cascabel that first goes past the little town of Pomerene. Past Pomerene a few miles is a sharp turn to the left and just before this is a small dirt road that goes to the East and up to the plateau and a mile or two until it goes down into a big wash called Tres Alamos Wash. If you stay on the main, paved road you cross a big bridge over the Tres Alamos Wash. The highway department had planned to pave the road all the way between here and Mammoth Arizona but funds dried up and the road goes for many miles as a dirt road. Usually passable, it can get flooded in Summer when heavy rains make the many washes run.
On the first trip up Tres Alamos Wash we took three vehicles. Two were four wheel drive and I had my VW bus. It was not four wheel drive but I had taken it just about anywhere a four wheel drive could go. Only problem was that in sand, which we were driving in, I had to keep moving or I would get stuck. The VW had great ground clearance since I had the largest tires the wheel wells allowed. I could go over a rock nearly a foot tall and have no trouble.
On the way up the fellows in the other vehicles were going ahead and of course they forgot about my request not to stop in sand. They stopped and of I got stuck when we tried to go on. After that I kept way back and had no more trouble.
The wash was one that ran heavy rain water just about every year and there was no actual road, you just followed the wash up by the easiest means. Lots of locals used the wash on weekends with their off road vehicles and there were always tracks you could follow to find the best way over rocky areas or around old trees the floods had torn up. I have gone up the wash as the first vehicle after a big flood and it was always interesting to find the best route up the wash. I often had to back up because the wash ahead was blocked by rock or brush debris. Since the bottom of the wash is alluvium it allows any water to soak in quickly and only an hour after a flood the wash is no longer running. If a Summer flood ever comes down the wash while one is out, it is important to get out of the wash and to higher ground. Floods normally don't last more than an hour or two and then one can go again. It is always important to keep ones eye on any storms in the area because the rain that can make the wash run can be miles away.
The wash narrowed and widened for miles and it was a wonderful drive if you like off road travel. There was a small side road that went to the north and up high into the mountains called the Johnny Lyon Hills. I took this road a few times with my VW, Jeep and later ATV. It was even rougher than the wash but with the ATV it ran all the way to the other side of the mountains and came out again on the main road. Up high there were a few mines but none you could drive to, only hiking over steep terrain allowed you to these old prospects. In the small prospects here there was lead and copper mineralization. There are supposed to be rare mineral species at a prospect or two but the places are very hard to pin down. One search for a particular prospect that only gave a mileage from Benson we searched for and took over a dozen trips to try and locate this prospect but never found it. There are many dirt roads crisscrossing the area and with nothing shown on a map, those small places can be very hard to find.
Driving up to the prospect in Tres Alamos Wash one time with a friend in his four wheel drive we came upon a huge bull standing in the middle of a narrow spot. The land out here is open range and the local ranchers run cattle on much of the land. The friend I had gone with had heard of the big bulls wrecking peoples trucks and he was worried about this one. The range cattle are not normally aggressive so I told him to just drive toward the bull and as we got close it did just what I had hoped, turned and went the other way. It was a big bull and if it had decided to go after the truck, could have done a lot of damage. We were a bit farther up the wash and right next to the wash was a cliff face with a big hole in it. Lars stopped to look into the hole from the truck as I saw bees coming and going from the hole. I told Lars it had a bee hive in it and he was thinking of the possibility of getting some honey. I then informed him that pretty much all the wild hives in Arizona have been taken over by Africanized bees and he probably shouldn't be sitting with the windows open right next to where the bees were flying. He didn't stick around there after that and even closed the windows until we were quite clear of the bees. There is a lot of wildlife in the area and one can come across Javalina's, Coyotes, Foxes, Skunks, Snakes and much more, even an occasional Gila Monster, a rare poisonous lizard of the area.
Up the Tres Alamos Wash were several side roads that went back up to the higher country to the south and I have taken those roads with my ATV. On this early trip I didn't have that capability to go up these side roads and we finally found the small side dirt road that was more of a track than a road. At one time there had been a road up and down this part of the wash but it had mostly been washed away by floods. We parked below a 25 foot ridge that was a steep and brushy climb and at the top of this I could see the small pile of rocks with an old wooden pole that marked the mine. The mine was not easily visible from the wash as you drove up it and knowing where the mine is makes a big difference.
We walked up to the little prospect and there is a small lower hole about 12 to 15 feet deep that you can see copper color in but it had been pretty well mined out. The surface showed a bit of copper color but not much to collect. About a hundred feet farther up was the main mine. There was a shaft which is not possible to see how deep it was and it looked dangerous. There were small bushes and mesquite trees near the mine and they obscured the hole so one had to be careful. These small prospects mostly have no signs or fences around them to show where they are. The dumps spread out a bit here with lots of white quartz with blue color of chrysocolla in much of it. Behind the shaft were a couple of shallow trenches that had been dug and more color. The dumps of the prospect were full of color and it was fun looking for the pieces with the most color.
I took home a batch of rock from the mine. After looking around I found three pile areas that seemed to have slightly different rock. I don't know if any ore was ever shipped out of this prospect since getting to this spot was not easy and I thought that was probably why there was so much still in the dumps.
After looking through the material at home under my microscope I found lots of different minerals. Over the years I have identified about 40 different species of minerals from this small prospect. It is fairly rich since it has copper minerals, lead minerals, vanadium, barium, iron, antimony, silver, zinc, arsenic, chromium, molybdenum and more. There is quite a rich chemistry so a number of mineral species are possible.
After the first trip I took a trip out to the mine often over the years and with our ATV the trip is easy and fun. The wash does change every year and it is part of the fun of going up to see how different the floods have left the wash. There are many interesting sights going up the wash and the flowers and wildlife often give good photographic opportunities.
There is another mine about a quarter mile up the same wash and right near the wash. The dumps are large but I have never seen color at this spot and wondered why they had dug such a huge amount with no color showing in the tailings. At later times I also took a few of the side roads and several went to old mines that are mostly not shown on topographic maps. It is hard to trace the mineralization that was at these small prospects since they are rarely listed in the literature.
The area has been prospected extensively over time and small diggings can be found here and there. The little prospect on the northwestern banks of the Tres Alamos wash is one of my favorite places to collect because the minerals are tiny but well crystalized. It is a place rarely visited because of its remote location and difficulty in spotting where it is. The literature lists one small prospect that people believe was mined because the people who found it full of green thought it was a copper prospect, only to discover that the green was actually a green mica.
When we go up to the little prospect we have gone a few times in the summer when rains have been good and when we try to collect there is a tiny insect that drives us away. They are called a no seeums and are a tiny biting fly that some people have a severe allergic reaction to. Even if not allergic the bites are enough of a bother that it makes collecting impossible. The flies can be there in great numbers when the conditions are right and if that is the case we just leave and come back after a few weeks when they have run their life cycle. The flies seem to love going for one's eyes, the moisture must attract them. They end up biting on one's head and this alone can drive one away. This prospect is not the only place we have been chased off by the no seeums, all it takes is the right time of year and the right amount of summer rain.
The collecting at this small prospect is not as good as it once was because the people who have been here have picked up the material with the best color but there is still lots lying around. I have taken several other friends to the mine and they have picked up material as well. I have to admit that I am one of the people who have taken a lot of material home.
I have taken our ATV much farther up the Tres Alamos Wash and it goes many miles beyond where the little prospect is and one could keep going way past the area of the Johnny Lyon Hills. There are fences in the area and in some places gates that are locked and posted. Much of the land here is open to travel but one needs to respect signs and gates. I have told people that when they go to places like this it is always a good idea to not go alone. The desert can be brutal in the hot time of year and there are a lot of dangers. There are rattlesnakes in the area and the mines often have perfect places for the critters of the desert to hide. One visit we saw a ten inch centipede while rolling over one of the larger rocks to get a better look. Bats and owls use the old mines for hiding places so be careful not to disturb them.
The small prospect is one of about three small unnamed prospects we have enjoyed collecting because they have great micro specimens. None of these mines have the potential for larger specimens but for micro mounters th it.ey are nice places to vis

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Another great article Rolf-Maybe we can get together soon when we get settled.

Brander Robinson
24th May 2016 7:48am

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