This was not my first ride to the Grand Gulch Mine. I wrote an article about a trail from St. George to this place two years ago. (In Search of the Grand Gulch Mine, Standard-Examiner Jan. 18, 2018). We trailered 65 miles on dirt roads to a staging area near Poverty Mountain. We then rode to the mine and visited several points along the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. That ride was 109 miles without counting the 130 miles we had trailered.
This was 2020 and my friends Willis and Scott were bound and determined to ride to the mine from Mesquite. “It will only be 75 miles on easy trails. You will like it,” they said. Nothing was mentioned about the 75 miles it would take to make the trip back.
I did my best to talk the others into taking a shorter ride, but no, they were all duped by Willis’ sweet talk. “You guys are crazy,” I said, “We won’t be back until 9 p.m.” I was the crazy one, I guess, because I went with them.
Staging on the south side of Mesquite, we climbed up through Lime Kiln Canyon on the Lyme Kiln Road into the Arizona Strip. The morning was chilly, but the sun was bright with the promise of a warmer day.
While the canyon road was rough, we came out on smoother trails as we passed Red Pocket Tanks and Cow Canyon. I have ridden a lot of trails in Utah past canyons with the word “cow” somewhere in the name.
Turning onto Nuttal Twists Road, no one questioned the name of this trail. We were skirting the north edge of the Grand Wash Cliffs Wilderness Area on a very twisty road. The sun had done its job; the day was now comfortably warm.
We were oblivious to Hidden Canyon as we passed it for obvious reasons. Other canyons we passed included Last Chance, St. George, Rattlesnake, Gardner, Coyote and Dry. I couldn’t find any information for these canyons on the Internet.
Finally dropping down into a little valley, we came to the Grand Gulch Mine. It wasn’t 75 miles like Willis and Scott said it would be. It was 90 miles and now it was 3 p.m. and we still had the return trip to make. I knew this would happen. I just knew it. I also knew that it would not do any good to talk to smiley Willis because by now, we were all in this together.
It just served to remind me of how isolated this mine was from civilization. It was one of the richest concentrations of copper ore to be discovered in Arizona and yet the remote location required expensive logistics that drastically reduced the value of the ore. Even water had to be hauled into the mine site to serve the needs of the mining operation and the workers who lived there.
According to the Library of Congress, the Grand Gulch Mine depended on the expansion of the railroad for any hope of increasing the value of their product. While a smelter was built on site to process the ore, the nearest rail spur in 1899 was 175 miles away. That was reduced to 75 miles in 1906 and to 45 in 1912. The mode of transporting copper to the rail line improved from horse drawn wagons to large haul trucks.
This mine site is different from the others I have visited, because this site is located in the desert and the structures were built of stone. Those I have visited in the mountains made of wood have little left but the tailings as evidence of their existence.
There is still much to see here. Two of the large haul trucks remain on the property and because this is the desert, the stone buildings are still standing. The smelter still towers over the complex. I could close my eyes and almost hear the noise created by the mine when it was in full operation.
Back to reality, it was now almost 4 p.m. We had taken seven hours to get here and now we faced the prospect of getting back. However, smiley Willis found a shortcut that would cut 20 miles off the trip back.
If you are crazy enough to take this route, take plenty of water, keep the rubber side down, and check in next week – you won’t want to miss the rest of this story.