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Middlemarch Mine, Dragoon Mountains, Arizona

Last Updated: 2nd Apr 2018

By Rolf Luetcke

Middlemarch Mine, Dragoon Mountains, Arizona
By Rolf Luetcke

It was in about 2010 we were exploring literature on the Dragoon Mountains in Cochise County Arizona and came across the Middlemarch Mine information. We have done this with many a small mine with very little information on it. We located the particular mine, found it, collected minerals from the mine, studied them and were able to make a nice list of minerals we found there and I made a folder of photos of minerals from each one. The Middlemarch Mine was not a mine we had been to and we decided to drive over and find the mine. We had been to a number of mines in the Middlemarch Pass area of the mountains, mostly on the west side but had not explored the east side of the pass area. Middlemarch road is a dirt road that crosses the middle of the Dragoon mountains from west to east and the west side begins a couple of miles north of Tombstone and is a wide and well maintained road until you reach the mountains themselves. From where the National Forest begins the road is not as well maintained and although one can drive the whole road with a passenger car, an SUV or pick up is the desirable vehicle, especially if one likes to explore side roads. The dirt road continues all the way to Pearce on the east side of the mountains, down in the valley. At the pass is a small side road that is now impassible to the top, where the Abril Mine is located. I remember taking this road back in the early 1970's with my VW bus and it was in good shape and maintained by the Forest Service. Too rocky now and one place a totally off camber wash out keeps even experienced drivers away. On this road I have seen the high rocks in the road covered in oil, not a good sign for those who left it. The east side of Middlemarch road is steep and as it gets to the lower areas of the mountains you cross a big wash and here is a numbered side road. I can't find the number on the maps but it is a dirt road going up a big wash that actually goes up the canyon called Middlemarch Canyon. One trip with our friend Phil, the Nissan Xterra I was driving started swaying a bit when I was driving up the wash and I stopped and one of the rear tires was flat. That was the third time driving the Middlemarch road I got a flat tire. Lots of sharp rock and things were not good on tires. The road going up the wash is the road that goes back in a westerly direction toward the mountains again. It is a few miles up this road to the Middlemarch Mine. There is a split in the road and one stays on the left side road. As you enter the forested area of the canyon the road comes to a mine area with a large open cemented foundation and stone wall. This is the Middlemarch Mine. There used to be a crusher and other equipment at this spot.
The Middlemarch mine is a copper, zinc, silver, gold, lead, molybdenum and tungsten mine. The mine was first discovered in 1895 and work began that same year and it was worked off and on until the 1950's. About 5,000 plus tons of ore were mined until the 1950's. I had heard the mine was still under claim but the dewatering was what kept the mine from being worked again.
The first time I came to the mine I was exploring and stopped at this spot and started looking around. There were metallics, mostly lead-zinc ores in the dump but nothing one would want to display. I filled a few bags of the old ores to study later at home. At the large open area where I had parked the canyon dropped off and this slope had what looked like slag. When I climbed down the one steep part I saw it was slag and it showed that at one time the early owners had tried a small smelting operation here. There was not much slag and I assume the operation didn't pan out. I did later find some post mine minerals in the slags which also showed me that the smelting was not very efficient. One specimen had nice light blue crystals of serpierite in it.
The small road just past the cement area went in two directions. One went down steeply to the canyon below and another dirt road that continued up the canyon. A second road went up quite steeply for only about fifty feet or so and at its top went in two directions. The left direction went to an open area that was above where the cement foundation was and just as you got to the open area was the actual entrance to the Middlemarch Mine to the right, at the base of the hill. A tunnel went straight into the side of the mountain. There was the typical keep out sign from the State to warn against entering any of the many mines in the area. The State posted many of the old tunnels and shafts after a number of accidents had happened with people getting hurt. The mine tunnel had water running out of it that was a couple of inches deep as it ran out and then soaked into the dump. There was an old track that had been used for the ore cars still in the mine and some relatively new looking plastic pipe running into the mine, on the ground and the ceiling. Apparently the owners had attempted to work the mine but had given up.
On this first visit I didn't enter the mine and only explored the various roads of the area. The open area went downhill a bit to a steep little canyon and then ended. The other direction of the road went farther up the canyon and high up onto the side of the hills. At a later time I did take this road with my ATV and it went way up along the hills. From up on the side of the hills one could see way up the canyon and see several smaller mines down in the canyon. I took the very steep road down to a small mine below called the Pit Prospect on the ATV trip with my friend Phil. The same kinds of polymetallic ores were to be found here. The assemblage was of lead, zinc, copper and more. There were supposed to be a few interesting minerals in this area but they were just metallic spots in the host rocks in what I had read and not distinguishable without analysis so I gave up on trying to find them. Since there were a number of metallics here I thought that trying to find a mineral that resembled the more common things was a wild goose chase.
The next trip to the Middlemarch Mine I was with Phil and we decided to enter the tunnel and see what was inside the mine. I had read about chalcomenite and had wanted to find it in one of the levels of the Middlemarch called the Missionary Shaft so entering the mine was more than just exploring. I had hoped to go down into the lower parts of the mine and possibly find this mineral. I had read it was found in a portion of a lower part of one of the tunnels. When you got about a hundred meters in the mine came to a junction. Here the tunnels went in several directions. A short tunnel to the right didn't go in very far. By the left wall were old wooden shelves with a few remnant core boxes still lying about. At the junction there was the main shaft going down at an angle with a well preserved set of wooden steps. Only problem was the mine below the tunnel level was completely under water. Above this set of steps was a framed wooden structure that led to the above areas and later I discovered, where the hoist motor and cable had been situated. The water was so clear it looked like one could just walk down into the mine but of course that was not possible. If one went around this framed area the tunnel continued on into the hill. It was not far though until the tunnel dropped off into a big mined out area. This too was filled with water and it looked like a lake underground inside the mine. I had read that a lot of the mines in Southern Arizona had water troubles. When you drive through the area very few streams actually ever have water in them but underground there seems to be plenty of water. I have seen many mines with plenty of water in them. Tombstone, Bisbee and a number of other mines had a lot of trouble with water flooding the mines.
At the junction, right next to the old wooden shelves with the cores was a side tunnel that went back at a sharp angle, almost in the same direction we had come in. This was the way we went and the tunnel went up to another level and another large open mined out area a bit above the main tunnel level. Here was a lot of rubble lying about and I looked for mineralization I could identify. Everything was dusty and it was hard to see minerals with just our head lamps. Toward the upper area on the ceiling about 25feet high were blue minerals hanging down from the roof of the mine. I could tell they were chalcanthite but they were too high to reach. I saw that people had tossed rocks at the ceiling and knocked a number of the blue pieces off the ceiling. When I looked at the mine floor below the chalcanthite I saw a lot of smaller pieces had fallen between the rocks. I collected an egg carton of the material to take home and hoped it would be stable. I later found the chalcanthite to be quite stable. Some I had collected in Bisbee turns to powder quickly and some holds its form quite well. This material I have had in perky boxes for a number of years and it has not turned to a powder at all. One thought I had about seeing the chalcanthite was that the copper ores must still be above this area since to form chalcanthite there should be copper ore nearby. Since it was a high ceiling and not very stable looking it would not be good to try and dig the ceiling to see what was still there.
Continuing along the one level the mine again went up and I could see a wooden platform here. When I climbed up I saw the large spool of cable that was on the wooden platform and had been used to hoist ore and miners when it was in full operation. This is where the framing below had led. There was another open wooden area that had once housed a motor to work the cable. Here, to my left a part of the mine went up at a steep angle where ores had been mined out. I saw light toward the top and decided to see if I could get out of the mine this way. Right at the platform with the cable was a ladder that went up a very steep part along one wall and I saw a lot of blue azurite along the walls. The azurite went in at cracks which continued into the wall. I climbed the ladder to the top and then was able to work my way up a very steep system of rocks and outcroppings to the outside. Since climbing up is much easier than down I went back down the mountain to the mine entrance and back to where I had been by the ladder. It was a surprisingly long way back down. The long tunnel into the mine and the several levels up took one much higher up on the main hill above the tunnel entrance than one would think.
From the area of the ladder was another tunnel that went to the right and this tunnel was not long before it dropped to the workings below. Along here was also azurite in the walls. My friend Phil and I worked the walls to collect azurite. I worked the area at the ladder and Phil worked around the corner at the material showing there. We took the boxes we filled with specimens and we carried them back out the entrance. On the way out to the chamber with the chalcanthite I saw a layer in the wall that was quite white and broke off some of this. It turned out to be wollastonite with a nice fluorescence.
I went back to the Middlemarch Mine a couple more times, the last time with Mary going along. Mary is not fond of underground since her asthma makes any moist and moldy air hard on her. She wanted to see where the azurite had come from and the mine had good ventilation since there was the upper opening where the azurite was. We again collected azurite by the tall ladder and then decided we had enough material and left the spot for other collectors. It seemed to me that if one worked deeper into the wall, more azurite would be exposed since the cracks with the mineral went in at many spots.
A friend went to the Middlemarch within the last three or four years and walked into the mine and said he never did find azurite on the walls. I don't know if he actually got to the place where we collected but it seems he did and said the only decent material was below, where things had fallen from the above collecting. I found it hard to believe that people had worked out all the azurite since it went into the wall at a number of places and there was quite a bit of rock between the area I had worked and where Phil had worked and it seemed to go into this area in all the fractures.
I have not been to the Middlemarch mine in a number of years now but a friend just went in March 2018 and said the front of the mine had collapsed in quite a bit and he was not sure about going in since he was by himself. I remember there was a sheet of plywood over the entrance to catch loose debris filtering down from the hill above. There was not a dangerous looking rock area by the entrance but the wood had kept the smaller debris from blocking the entrance. He also went up to the top entrance but didn't have a rope along and didn't go in.
At the mine 35 mineral species have been identified and I have found 24 of them in our collecting. The list is andradite, azurite, calcite, cerussite, chalcanthite, chalcocite, chalcomenite, chalcopyrite, chamosite, chlorite group, clinozoisite, covellite, epidote, galena, garnet, goethite, grossular, gypsum, hematite, hydrozincite, limonite, malachite, phlogopite, prehnite, pyrite, pyrrhotite, quartz, rosasite, scheelite, serpierite, smithsonite, sphalerite, wollastonite, jarosite, augite and possibly diopside. I was even able to add a few to the list when I studied all the material we had collected. Our main collecting trip was in 2011 and we have not collected much on later trips. The chalcomenite still remains elusive and I wondered if the flooding destroyed the mineral in the flooded tunnels or allowed for more to form. For collectors to this area one needs to be aware that most of the specimens here are micro, except the azurite, which was found in hand size and larger pieces with good luster. The crystals were mostly small but quite lustrous. My favorite finds were a few small pieces with very elongated azurite crystals scattered on a malachite coated by some other minerals but these were micro specimens.
Mary and I took our ATV to a couple of the other small mines in the area and the ores were very similar to the Middlemarch. I believe the smaller diggings were extensions of the same underground formations that formed the ores of the Middlemarch. Not much that was different was to be found at the other small prospects. This area of the Dragoon mountains is very scenic and we enjoy driving Middlemarch road several times a year just for the scenic nature of the area and to see the wildflowers since we live with the Dragoon Mountains in view from our house this area is close to home. There is always a lot of wildlife in the area here too, deer, javalina, birds, insects, reptiles and many more. The Dragoon Mountains have a lot of Native American history also and Cochise Stronghold is only a bit NW of the Middlemarch area. The Dragoon Mountains are in the National Forest and there is access to most places.

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Thanks Rolf. Very interesting and enjoyable read! DKJ

David K. Joyce
5th Apr 2018 2:23am
Good article-Good to read about a location that is so close to home! Good to have you in the neighborhood !!!

Brander Robinson
16th Dec 2018 12:35am

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