Three Days Underground

Most times when we are traveling we see and think about the sights that are above ground, the ones that are right before our eyes. But, after our three days underground, we now wonder what’s below the ground that we are missing or has yet to be discovered.

First Day Underground

Our first day underground was at the Good Enough Mine in Tombstone, AZ which was founded by Ed Schieffelin in 1878 and production started in 1879. The area was originally called Goose Flats but Schieffelin changed it to Tombstone. The name Tombstone came about because soldiers continuously told Schieffelin that “the only stone you will find there will be your tombstone”.

Boy were those soldiers wrong! The Tombstone Mining District is 40 square miles and there are 320 miles of documented mine tunnels and many more that aren’t documented. The mines produced $40 to $85 million in silver and were the largest productive silver district in Arizona.

Before we went below ground we had the opportunity to see some of the original tools used for mining. Once underground we walked through narrow tunnels currently lit with electricity and imagined what it was like to work by candlelight while yielding the heavy the tools needed to break away the ore.

This sluice box is used to separate gold from the rock.
This is an original ore car.
Our guide, Hunter
This is a honey car “for nature’s necessities”
the miner in charge of this was paid an extra $1 a day.
Stairs into the mine, imagine climbing in and out of there every day before there were stairs.
The black streak is the silver. When they told us we would see a vein of silver, we thought it would be silver in color. We had no idea that it was black and that it had to go through such a scientific process to become the silver that we know.
This is a tunnel created for the less desirable miners to get to one of the local bordellos. The owners did not want to ruin the reputation of their establishment by allowing dirty, drunk and disheveled miners through their front door.
Exiting the mine

We were also very interested to hear about how the mine shaped Tombstone. When Schieffelin first made his claim there were about 100 people in Tombstone and over seven years it grew to around 10,000 people. It wasn’t just miners that came to Tombstone.

The soiled doves, performing the oldest profession, were an integral part of the building and funding of Tombstone. Prostitution was legal and in 1881 the mayor allowed brothels to exist in residential areas and not just in the red light district. In its heyday there were about 3,000 working girls. We found it quite amusing to hear that the Catholic Church was built through donations from the prostitutes.

Second Day Underground

When we told our friends Brenda and Wally that we were going to Tombstone they said that we had to visit Kartchner Caverns. The caverns are in Benson, AZ and are only 30 miles from Tombstone. Knowing that they like to hike and explore like we do, we took their advice and I’m so glad that we did. Brenda said it is amazing, and she was right!

They don’t allow you to take photographs (or anything else) in the caverns so the only way I can show you what’s there is to give you the link to the website: https://azstateparks.com/kartchner/. I can say that we learned so much about cave formations, it was fascinating! Did you know that they have bacon underground? And, Kartchner Caverns has the longest soda straw I’ve ever seen, it was 25 feet long. Soda straws in caves on grow on average, one tenth of a millimetre per year. I’ll let you do the math on how old the 25 foot one is (my daughter is the math whiz, not me, especially when it requires conversions from the metric system). It’s safe to say that it’s a really, really, really old soda straw. We saw draperies and so many other cool things. Here are some photos that were taken by professionals.

If you are ever in the area, do not miss these caverns. They are still active which means they have a water source so the formations continue to grow. We could only go into one of the areas because the other area is being occupied by bats and can only be visited from October to April.

Third Day Underground

I have wanted to go to Bisbee, Arizona for years. I have heard from friends that it is an eclectic, artistic community similar to Santa Fe so I knew we would like it. And, we definitely did. We are going to plan to go back and stay for at least a week sometime so we can explore it more. We only had a few hours there so we decided to continue our underground exploration by taking the Queen Mine Tour.

I was so excited when I saw that we would be riding a train into the mine because it reminded me of going to the Berchtesgaden Salt Mine in Germany with my Mon and brother when I was a kid and in 1988 with my first husband and 18 month old daughter.

Everyone received a helmet, safety vest and flashlight. You’d think that some of the people on the tour had never used a flashlight before, watch the videos to see the lights flashing all over the place.

Our guide was an 82 year old man who used to work in the mines 60 years ago (not this one but one close by). He gave us so much information about how they built the structures that support the mine shafts, the tools they used and generally what life was like in the mine.
When a charge didn’t detonate, it was recorded so that another team could extract it and disposed of it.
Our guide explaining how the charges are put into the rock.

The train in the salt mine was gravity driven so the climb in was slow but the ride out was like a fast enclosed roller coaster. I was expecting the same thing with this train and was so excited. Silly me, I didn’t realize as we were going in that we didn’t go up, we just went in, so it was as slow coming out as it was going in.

Our three days underground in Southern Arizona were so much fun and very interesting. To think about the caverns and its millions and millions of years of history makes our lifetime seem like the proverbial drop in the bucket. Learning about the lives of the miners and the history of mining which was less than 150 years ago puts into perspective how far our society has come in such a short time.

We highly recommend spending time underground!

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