The Big Eye Mine is an abandoned gold mine deep within the southwestern portion of the Kofa National Wildlife Refuge. Located in the historic Castle Dome Mining district and the scenic Castle Dome Mountains, this site offers visitors a unique look into a well preserved mining area in a rugged location.
The Castle Dome Mining district began production in 1863. Numerous mines in the region, including the Castle Dome Mine, attracted many businessmen and miners to the region. An entrepreneur by the name of William Miller arrived in the Castle Dome area in around 1870. He opened businesses at Castle Dome City and other productive mines in the area, and is claimed to have discovered the first gold veins at the site of the Big Eye Mine.
The most productive period of the mine was from 1910 to 1951. During this time, the mine changed hands many times and was run by the Big Eye Mining Co. and several other stakeholders. The name of the mine itself is derived from the nearby Thumb Butte (to the south). The notch in the middle of the butte is known as the ‘big eye’ and became the namesake for the mine.
The main cabin that remains today used to house miners working the area. The cabin featured bunk beds, a stove, and other amenities including a shower and running water from a nearby well. The mine produced 2,370 tons of ore over its life time most of which was gold (which was found at about 1 ounce/ton). Silver, copper, and lead were also produced in smaller quantities.
Ore from the mine was hauled by truck to the nearby railhead in Roll, AZ to the south of Big Eye and to the east of Yuma. From Roll, the ore was shipped to El Paso, TX where it was smelted. In the 1950s, many of the mines in the district began to play out. The Big Eye Mine was abandoned except for two watchmen who lived in the cabin for unknown reasons.
Today, the main cabin and several other structures remain in good shape at the end of the 15 mile long, rugged Big Eye Mine trail. A ½ mile uphill hike into the Kofa Wilderness is required from the end of the vehicle trail. The main cabin is open and available to use on a first come, first serve basis and features two beds, a guestbook, and several mining artifacts throughout. The mine itself can be found further north along the trail where an ore chute, old machinery, ore tracks, and the mine portal can be accessed.
Due to its remote location and lack of easy access, the Big Eye Mine offers visitors a unique look at a well preserved gold mine. Entering the tunnels isn’t recommended although no physical barriers are present to stop you. Definitely make the trek up to the old cabins and ore chutes for a fun day of exploring.
Armstrong, Allen and Stephanie. "The Big Eye." Historical Overview of the Castle Dome Mining District 1864-1979. Yuma: Castle Dome Enterprises, n.d. N. pag. Print.
"Big Eye Mine Group, Slumgullion Pass, Kofa Game Range, Castle Dome District, Castle Dome Mts, Yuma Co., Arizona, USA." Mindat.org. N.p., n.d. Web. 11 Dec. 2016. <http://www.mindat.org/loc-33291.html>.
Massey, Peter, Jeanne Wilson, and Angela Titus. "Big Eye Wash Trail." Backcountry Adventures Arizona. N.p.: Adler, 2008. 350-51. Print.