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Thursday, September 17, 2015 : Queen Mine, Bisbee


Starting from today, we are beginning a series of slightly longer stages that will gradually bring us back towards Dallas, which we left already three weeks ago.


Here is our program for today :



After 11 days, today, we will be leaving Arizona for New Mexico.


After breakfast and our usual Skype chat with the family, we leave the Sierra Suites towards Bisbee, about 25 mi. away.


Inside Queen Mine, Bisbee, AZ

Inside Queen Mine, Bisbee


Queen Mine is just outside Bisbee, very easy to find. The parking lot is undergoing renovation, so we have to park downtown and walk, which is not very far.


We are going to visit a former copper mine. Needless to say, all safety precautions are taken. We are equipped with everything necessary : hard hat, headlamp, belt. Since the temperature in the mine is in the mid-50s °F year-round (it is already way above 80°F outside), we are also lent miner's coats.


We are a group of about a dozen visitors, supervised by a guide, a former miner in Bisbee, now retired, who obviously knows very well what he is talking about, and another person. The group gathers outside and we take place on a very narrow small train. We are sitting astride on the seats.


The train sets in motion, the gate of the gallery is opened, and we go in. A short stop allows the guides to make sure nobody is scared of being confined, and the visit proceeds.


Already, on the sides of the gallery, several reconstitutions showcase miners at work.


Utility trolley, Queen Mine, Bisbee, AZ

Utility trolley


At next stop, we get off the train and climb 36 steps, up to a larger space. Our guide takes all the time to tell us what kind of minerals were mined here : mostly copper, but also lead, zinc, and even some silver and gold. This mine was once considered one of the most productive in the United States.


During its activity, from 1880 to 1975, Queen Mine produced about 4 million metric tons of copper, from an orebody containing up to 23% copper, a grade professsionnals consider huge by any standard. Most copper mines extract ore with a 3-4% copper grade.


Ore was shipped outside mostly by train, so we have to assume that the self-propelled trolley on the picture was used for other purposes, likely bringing food. Indeed, miners spent the whole day at their workplace, they did not take time to go back outside for lunch.


Our guide is telling the story of the mine, Queen Mine, Bisbee, AZ

Our guide is telling the story of the mine


The two chutes on the picture were used to transport ore mined from the upper galleries of the mine to the station where it was loaded on trains. Copper veins being anything but horizontal, there had to be galleries at various levels.


Of course, those chutes were not used by the miners themselves. They had stairs or lifts.


Trolley for tools and explosives, Queen Mine, Bisbee, AZ

Trolley for tools and explosives


Miners used all sorts of tools and hardware, that was transported with trolleys like the one on the picture.


Left of our guide, the red box contains an emergency telephone used for warnings : gas leaks, collapses, flooding, hazards for workers, and so on.


Usage of explosives, Queen Mine, Bisbee, AZ

Usage of explosives


Here, our guide explains us how a new gallery was started in just one operation.


First, with a pneumatic drill, a crew would bore twenty-odd holes. Then a specialized powderman would put a dynamite stick into each hole, with a fuse whose length was carefully calculated. Then all fuses would be linked to an ignition box. All that remained was to carefully shelter everyone, press button, and wait for the explosions to happen.


To my question about fuse length, our guide replies that it would have been careless and very hazardous to have all explosions occur at exactly the same time. Fuse lengths therefore slightly varied, to introduce a short delay between explosions.


Once the dust had settled and the gallery had been ventilated, the crew came back with spades and cleared debris, and the start of a new gallery was opened.


Access shaft to lower mine galleries, Queen Mine, Bisbee, AZ

Access shaft to lower mine galleries


We already mentioned there were several layers of galleries in Queen Mine. To reach lower levels, miners used lifts like the one on the picture.


We can see that there are no rails in the cage, which is anyway too small to contain a trolley. Ore was not transported thru this shaft, it used another way.


Latrines, Queen Mine, Bisbee, AZ



Days were long, inside the mine, and workers had no time to walk outside to answer nature's callings. So at several places, there were latrines on wheels, that were periodically changed. Let's face it : those latrines were short on hygiene and even shorter on gender privacy.


Oddly enough, those latrines are found in the room where workers also took their meals.


I am carefully listening to our guide, Queen Mine, Bisbee, AZ

I am carefully listening to our guide


We are here in a larger room, where trolleys and other equipment are stored. To adequately support the ceiling, the size of the room has mandated specifically thick wooden beams, which we can clearly see on the picture.


Our guide takes all necessary time to answer all my questions, with a luxury of details. We are treated to an extensive story covering many topics, like mine work and its hazards, tools, miners' life, and the history of the mine. The whole story is extremely educational.


This was our last stop inside the mine. We climb on the train again, and go back outside. At deepest, we were about 1,500 ft from entrance.


The mine's narrow gauge train, Queen Mine, Bisbee, AZ

The mine's narrow gauge train


We are back outside. Marie takes a picture of the train we used to visit the mine. We can see the plastic-covered benches we used as seats. The gallery is not very wide, so the train can't be too wide either, and visitors are seated behind one another.


For obvious ventilation reasons, I assume the train is powered by electric motors.


Main gallery gate, Queen Mine, Bisbee, AZ

Main gallery gate, Queen Mine


This is the entrance of the gallery we have just visited. Apart from the brief moments when a train comes in or out, the gate is closed. The green light above the gate means that there is nobody inside and that another train is clear to drive into the gallery.


Queen Mine was opened in 1880, but the present entrance was only built in 1915. Production ceased in 1975, and the mine repoened in 1976 as a tourist attraction.


Bisbee is located in the heart of Mule Mountains, a quite hilly district, particularly rich in all sorts of minerals, copper, but also lead, zinc, silver, and even some gold. At the turn of the 20th century, Bisbee mining district was one of the most prosperous in the United States.


There are still mines in activity around Bisbee, but not in the city itself, and no longer underground, only open-pit. The most famous open-pit mine was Lavender Pit, just outside Bisbee, out of which mostly copper was extracted, until 1974.


Episcopal church, Bisbee, AZ

Episcopal church, Bisbee


After visiting Queen Mine, we go for a walk in Bisbee. Let's face it : we are kind of disappointed. We expected to see a vibrant city (after all, it has been Cochise County seat since 1929), and we are crossing an almost lifeless town.


Bisbee seems to have attracted misfits of all flavors. The explanation is straightforward. When mining activity began to dwindle in the 1950s, residents left to seek fortune elsewhere, and real estate prices crashed. Since the climate is attractive, at the same time warm and dry, all counter-culture trends in the 1960s, hippies and others, relocated in Bisbee. Indeed, there seems to be many artists' workshops.


Unfortunately, the same reasons also attracted many junkies, and we crossed quite a lot. We got sort of surprised to see sports shoes hanging from phone lines. Odd, but logical. They are used to hide drugs.


Mach 1 Ford Mustang, Bisbee, AZ

Ford Mustang Mach 1


The city of Bisbee is not ugly, it is just rather common and, during our stroll thru town, nothing much is reminiscent of its industrial past.


We nonetheless see a 1969-70 Ford Mustang Mach 1, which we can tell from its wild mustang on the left side of the radiator grille. In later model-years, it logically came back to the center of the grille. The car looks in perfect condition.


Bisbee Mining and Historical Museum, Bisbee, AZ

Bisbee Mining and Historical Museum


Eventually, the only traces of Bisbee's mining past can be found at Bisbee Mining and Historical Museum and its surroundings. In the gardens around the museum, we can see many historical objects : trolleys, metallic structures, tools.


The museum was built in the former headquarters of the company that ran, among others, Queen Mine.


Bisbee, a very quiet town, Bisbee, AZ

Bisbee, a very quiet town


It is early afternoon and, though we are about 5,500 ft high, the heat is searing, almost without the slightest wind. That might explain why it is so quiet downtown.


We have a quick snack in the Chamber of Commerce building, where street level is used as a shopping gallery. We then leave Bisbee towards Douglas. Just outside Bisbee, we pass close by Lavender Pit former copper mine.


Chihuahuan Desert, New Mexico

Chihuahuan Desert, New Mexico


In Douglas, we are little more than 1 mi. from the Mexican border but later on, we drift away from it. We are still on Arizona SR-80. Shortly before the New Mexico state line, we pass by the monument erected where Geronimo, the famous Apache chief, surrendered for the third and final time to Federal troops.


We cross Chihuahuan Desert, which straddles both sides of the border, Mexico and United States. We take Interstate 10 again from Steins to Las Cruces, NM, where we arrive at the end of the afternoon. Our hotel is good but not stellar, and the hostess looks overwhelmed by whatever little activity she has. After a chat with two couples we met while waiting at the reception desk, we can enjoy the pool and jacuzzi, which Marie considers cold, compared to those of the last few days.


When we go out again looking for dinner, we quickly realize this city was absolutely not designed for pedestrians. There are no sidewalks, and pedestrians crossings are non-existent.

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