Sunday, March 1, 2009

Jerome, Arizona

Perched on Cleopatra Hill around the site that was once Arizona's largest copper mine is the former mining town of Jerome, Arizona. Though prostitution, gambling and substance abuse once earned it a reputation as "wickedest town in the west," a tourism web site touts Jerome as "America's most vertical city" and also "the the largest ghost town in America." Other literature refers to it as "the most unusual and interesting town in Arizona." Otherwise, Jerome has become best known over the last 20 years as an art town.

Founded in 1876, Jerome's population ultimately grew to 15,000 by the 1920's. Mining operations slowed thereafter first during the Great Depression and again after the end of World War II. By 1953, all the copper, silver, lead, zinc, and gold mining operations had closed. Though approximately 50 souls remained, many buildings (including the jail) had succumbed to the town's steep slope, and Jerome became best known as a ghost town.

By the 1960's, Jerome became a popular destination for hippies and artists. Their presence began to attract new inhabitants, who along with those few remaining mining era holdovers, were eager to see the town preserved. Through many of their efforts in conjunction with the Jerome Historical Society, Jerome became a National Historic Landmark in 1967.

Notwithstanding the preservation, enough old buildings continue to dislodge and slide downhill to keep alive the legacy that continues to attract ghost town aficionados, history buffs, ever more artists, a few eccentrics, and plenty of just plain tourists. So why not more rockhounds?

Mineral collecting is not among the myriad activities that Jerome touts to visitors. Except for a few ore samples in Jerome's Mining Museum, minerals don't seem to be a very big deal here. Regardless, the museum is a must-see for any visitor whose curiosity is at all aroused.

Of just as much if not more interest to rockhounds should be the mile or so drive heading north to the Gold King Mine and Ghost Town (once the “suburb of Haynes). On either side of the road, the tailings and dumps are everywhere and often appear to be quite accessible. The Gold King attraction itself is the bastion of Don Robertson, its eccentrically colorful, engaging and opinionated caretaker and his wife. Don pursues a mission of maintaining and keeping running as many as possible of the area's abandoned vehicles and machinery with help from the proceeds of tourists.

"Don was glad to share with me that directly downhill from the parking lot, where the dirt road becomes paved, the rockpiles along the side of the road could prove interesting to rockhounds. I checked them out and found plenty of “peacock ore (bornite, chalcopyrite, chalcocite and whatever else)” malachite, and some small drusy quite oxidized nodules that suggest austinite or conichalcite. At left are images of either side of a rock that bears a maximum of all the characteristic material.

After heading on to Tucson for two weeks and not observing a single rock from Jerome, I ran an Internet search and found two pertinent items. Listed on eBay from a seller in France was a cab referred to as “Eternalite,” the description of which somewhat described the aforementioned "peacock ore." More interesting to me was a micromount of cuprite (var. chalcotrichite) offered by Dakota Matrix Minerals for $3.50. Sight unseen, I ordered it, and paid twice again the cost to cover the shipping component. It awaited me upon my arrival home from Tucson and is pictured at right. I'm delighted with it.

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