Friday, November 7, 2014

The Historic Camp Verde Salt Mine

I was flipping through a brochure about the Camp Verde area when I came across a mention of the historic Camp Verde Salt Mine. It is not a tourist attraction and doesn't even have a sign marking it. It is located about 2 miles west of Camp Verde on Salt Mine Road.  To locate it just watch for the salt mounds and a small dirt lot for parking.  If you have GPS, here are some coordinates I came across: 34.5833N, 111.8944W.  The area appears to be fenced off, but there is a gap left in the fence for people to enter on foot.  Along Salt Mine Road there is this large mine area and a smaller mine area. We didn't find the smaller one. On Google's satellite map it appears to be down a dirt road farther back off of the paved Salt Mine Road.
The Camp Verde Salt Mine is one of the oldest known mines in the United States! Anthropologists have determined that the mine has been worked for nearly 2,000 years!  The Spanish first recorded its discovery between 1583 and 1598 AD. The establishment of Fort Verde in 1871 brought attention to the salt deposit. Some of the salt was used for human consumption, but the majority was used as stock salt. In the 1920's the Western Chemical Company operated an open pit on the property.     
In the early 1930's the Arizona Chemical Company employed underground mining techniques. Fourteen tunnels were driven in horizontal strata for several hundred feet following rich layers of salt. At that time about 75 men were employed. The mine produced nearly 100 tons of "salt cake" daily, making the Camp Verde Salt Mine the most productive in the country. This success was short-lived as duty-free purer German ore entered the market in 1933 and brought about the closure of the mine.
Attempts were made as late as the 1960s to market salt from the Camp Verde mine, but the market demanded 99% purity and the Camp Verde salt deposit is limited to 92% purity. Additionally, much larger deposits in the US and Canada exist and the mine has been dormant ever since.
The underground mine tunnels have been imploded for public safety. You can see remnants of the old wood structures piled up around the site. Even though the mines have been collapsed the crevices that can be seen make it appear best not to be hiking too close to them!
The incline to the front of the picture that looks like a hill of sand is really pure white salt covered by a thin layer of sand that has blown onto it.
I don't know if the stakes in the ground were supports for an underground mine or possibly an above ground transport system.
Check out the salt in the hillside!
This is interesting! If you enlarge this picture you can see where the salt mound in the center of the circular area seems to have been dug from the ground around it. This whole pit seems to have been dug down. Hopefully there was excavating equipment beyond men with shovels! This large pit seems to represent a whole lot of work! 
The salt in this ravine is an interesting sight! There appears to be a wood structure of a mine or building down in the ravine. Curiosity makes one want to explore, but common sense says it's best to stay clear of it!
Here are some salt crystals protruding from the ground!
While hiking around you'll come across places like this where there are noticeable crevices, soft dirt, and pieces of wood indicating there may have been a mine there. Notice the small stream bed where it appears water may flow from the hillside at times. I got a good scare when hiking up a hill and came within a few feet of this spot accidentally. The ground went from hard pack to soft and I had visions of disappearing underground! In hindsight it probably wasn't a good idea for Roy and I to go exploring separately. My advice when hiking this mining site is to stay with your group and hike in the open hard pack areas. Don't get too curious or close to questionable things!
Here is some old equipment.  This was my exploration off the main ridge that ended up giving me a scare on my walk back to the top!
One more look! Roy and I found it interesting that in hiking around for less than an hour we could taste the salt on our lips and feel the sting of of it in on our skin. We both felt the need to get the salt dust rinsed off right away! The funny part of taking a shower was the water softening effect the salt had! It was almost as though our skin and hair had a spa treatment! As anxious as we were to get the salt dust off us after just a short exposure from what blew in the wind, we can't imagine how unpleasant it must have been to work in the mines!  The Historic Camp Verde Salt Mine is fascinating and well worth seeking out.  If you follow Salt Mine Road to its end you will wind-up in Beasley Flats along the Verde River where you can see numerous ancient cliff dwellings.