Grand Gulch Mine is a former copper mine and abandoned site in the far northwestern corner of Arizona. The mine sits in the Grand Wash Cliffs of the Arizona Strip. The lack of easy access, even by today’s standards, would prove difficult throughout the history of the mine and keeps Grand Gulch fairly well preserved and undisturbed to this day. Numerous buildings in various stages of decay remain today as well as other artifacts and equipment left on site. The scenic beauty and historical value draw visitors to this remote but rewarding site in Grand Canyon-Parashant National Monument.
The story of Grand Gulch begins in the mid to late 1800s. Copper deposits in the area were originally discovered around 1871 by Paiute Indians in the area. After revealing the location and value to residents of St. George, Utah (about 80 miles to the north), a party was put together to visit the location of the mineral wealth. This party included five men of which the most enthusiastic was a blacksmith by the name of Samuel L. Adams. In March of 1871 the party visited the site and took samples. They happily reported back to St. George that their findings were better than expected.
Dubbed the Adams Lode, a claim was filed on June 23, 1873. By September of that same year, a wagon road had been cleared from St. George to the site, a distance of about 80 miles over rough terrain. In June of 1874 a shaft had been created to a depth of about 100’. Three tons of ore were taken out of the mine to Salt Lake City (400 miles away).
After demonstrating the success of the new mine, Adams and other associates, including Richard Bentley, incorporated the Grand Gulch Mining Company later in 1874. The company was based out of St. George. The ore coming out of the mine was surprisingly high grade with some estimates at nearly 50 percent copper. Silver was found in lesser qualities. The closest railhead was still 180 miles away. The lack of easy access challenged the success of the mine. The high transportation cost of bringing equipment in and hauling minerals out limited the profits of the mine.
In late 1875 a smelter was constructed by the company in St. George to cut down on haulage costs. The smelter wasn’t big enough though and high-costs coupled with low productivity saw the closure of the mine for a short time. To reduce costs further, a smelter was built on the mine site and was functioning by May 1878. However, again, lack of success at the mine resulted in on-and-off working for several years.
This site was well studied and documented by the Historic American Engineering Record. They have a 57 page document which goes into even more depth on the mine and has numerous great schematic drawings of the site. This document was used for majority of the research for this article: http://wchsutah.org/mining/grand-gulch-mine12.pdf
In 1882 the Grand Gulch Mining Company was purchased by the Jennings Family of Salt Lake. The mine didn’t reopen until 1898. A new main shaft was sunk with drift tunnels extending out every hundred feet. By this time, the nearest railhead had moved closer (to Modena, Utah) but still remained 130 miles away from the mine. In 1900, the Jennings Family built a new mine office, machine shops, and a blacksmith shop on the property. However, even producing ore that was above 45% copper, the cost of the mine was just too great and the site was shut down again in 1903. A more economically feasible option was needed.
With the construction of an even closer railhead in Moapa, Nevada, the mine opened in 1905. The railhead, located only 70 road miles to the west, meant that ore only needed to be about 35% copper to turn a profit. Mining operations continued for many years. The main shaft reached the 500’ level and additional buildings were constructed. In November of 1907 a 3-room bunkhouse was constructed for miners. The nearest railhead moved even closer in 1912 when the line extended to St. Thomas, only 45 miles from the mine.
The onset of World War I saw the increased need for copper. The Grand Gulch Mine upped production and from 1916-1918 were the busiest and most successful years of operation. Population peaked at around 80 people. Because there were no other towns nearby, the mine itself actually served as a polling location and draft registration point for Mohave County. The quality of the ore began to drop dramatically as most of the high-grade ore was now gone. After the war, the prices of copper dropped massively and this hurt the mine even more.
The geologic occurrence of high-grade ore here proved to be limited and after brief exploration of deeper levels of the mine, it was determined there was nothing else to be salvaged. In the fall of 1919 the mine closed, with only a watchmen being left to guard the property.
Like other mines, Grand Gulch was reworked occasional in the 1940s following World War II. In the late 1950s-1960s the mine was reworked by the Signal Oil and Gas Company who brought in nearly 30 people and re-processed numerous tailings. Chemical leaching was briefly used but nothing worthwhile was ever found. Large dump trucks made during WWII were likely brought in at this time to help move ore around and even dismantle the mine. This same group are likely the ones who created an airstrip just to the southeast of the mine. This airstrip proved helpful when the mine was shut down permanently and much of the equipment was flown out to another mine nearby.
Today, much remains of the Grand Gulch Mine. The bunkhouse, office building, dump trucks, and numerous other cement foundations and equipment liter the property. The difficult access to the mine, which ended up leading to its downfall, keeps the mine well preserved today. The easiest way to get to the mine requires navigating about 80 miles of dirt road from St. George, Utah. Follow BLM Road 1069 south to BLM Road #5. Then continue southwest onto Road #103 past Poverty Mountain. The trail gets rougher as you split off onto Road #1002. High clearance is required on 1002 and 4WD is recommended. More specific directions from Mt. Trumbull can be found on our trail page here. The mine can also be accessed from Toroweap to the east or the Virgin Mountains to the west. Both are substantially more difficult and longer drives than the route from St. George.