Tag Archives: mining

The Superstitions, mining and mayhem

I thought of this twitching prospector and the chicken holding prospector and the dead, headless prospector and said, ‘it would seem to me that the solitude of working in the wild is not healthy for a man.’
–Patrick Dewitt, The Sisters Brothers

The incidental reading of Dewitt actually pales before the sordid reality experienced in Arizona with all of its killings over base metals. They have no grace or humor. Finding out about the history of the Superstitions though…I’m not sure I know of a more sustained story of greed and murder stretching across the years. Those old Wild West ‘antics’ just make you sad even when they have the same veneer as Victorian sepia prints, but they sure ain’t so palatable when taking place in the late 1950s.

All of it is set against the backdrop of the magnificent Sonoran Desert, and part of me just can’t understand how such beauty and its clean, if fierce, struggle for life didn’t straighten all these people out. It’s a particularly human madness, this lust for gold, it doesn’t make sense in the desert.

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Of course the greed and murder all started with the conquest of Arizona first by Spain, and then by the U.S. (stripping both Spanish land grants and ancestral tribal lands) — structural, expansionary greed backed by the geopolitics of nations, a mixture of armies and missionaries and people 1022290desperate to build a better life all come together to conquer and colonise. Any amount of violence occurring after that can hardly be surprising on this bedrock of force used to confer rights.  This is what is left out of most accounts of the west along with Jane Eppinga’s Apache Junction and the Superstition Mountains, upon which most of the following is based. Nothing about this death-dealing race to mineral wealth is natural, it is rather twisted around a sordid history of genocide and a larger seizure of land and resources.

It’s a strange bug, prospecting. One I know well because my dad was always out in the hills with Jim and Harold and Frank and Don, looking for copper and gold. I used to go with them sometimes, I’ve staked claims and filed them with the Bureau of Land Management. It is hard, dirty work. I loved those days, up early and into the truck and out for the whole day in a desert free of other human beings. Of course actually marking our claims once likely places were found always seemed to involve plowing through a whole lot of white-thorn acacias, so we definitely marked them in blood. At least it was always our own.

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For my dad and his friends, it was as much about camaraderie, heading out into the desert in the old 4X4 Ford, exploring old back roads and mining lore. Adventure ahead with every sparkle of epidote and every fault and fracture, and the glimmer of an escape from the toil of working-class life.  They worked damned hard, they deserved an escape. They knew this probably wouldn’t be it. That wasn’t the point.

This is what I have always loved about prospecting, and probably what draws the folks who continue to live in places like Apache Junction, Clifton, Tucson, Miami, Globe (and small towns across Arizona, New Mexico, Nevada), reworking old mines, seeking out new ones, panning for gold. There are still lots of them out there.

Jacob Waltz (probably), and several of those who followed him, were just a bit different. A German immigrant who arrived in the U.S. in 1846, he became yet another lone prospector in Arizona in 1861 in the face of Apaches bravely fighting to keep their lands, as well as other prospectors seeking instant wealth. Supposedly he and his partner Jacob Wieser found a rich vein of gold, Wieser died shortly thereafter. Waltz claimed Apaches killed him, but that sounds quite a convenient story to me. Rumour has it he killed up to eight others.

But then there’s another source states he was harmless, and lived the end of his life in poverty: ‘Contrary to stories of hoarded gold, he lived out his final years on his homestead at Henshaw Road (Buckeye Road) and 7th Street in poverty. He literally sold himself into peonage by deeding his property to a neighbor in exchange for that neighbor’s taking care of him for the rest of his natural life.’

Yet another source has Wieser escaping the Apache attack wounded, being taken care of by a Pima medicine man. Giving him a map to the treasure.

These conflicting accounts and more are from Jack San Felice’s rundown of accounts, which is very thorough indeed. There could be no better testament to the way that the mythical (and violent) west has been spun out over time.

Somewhere in the growth of this myth of the ‘Lost Dutchman Mine’, the German became a Dutchman (or Deutchman?).

Waltz never fully worked his claim or sold it, supposedly he simply lived off the gold. Eppinga follows one thread of the possible story in this, where Waltz was cared for in old age and sickness by Julia Thomas, a baker, who supposedly received a large sum of money from him to save her business and directions to his claim given her just before he died in 1891.

She was an African American woman out here on the frontier, she would have possibly been born during times of slavery, she owned a home, supported herself and cared for others. Yet there is no picture of her, no history. She is a footnote to a quest, and to me far more interesting than a lost mine. Another key storyteller of the Lost Dutchman is Tom Kollenborn, he writes this of her partnership with the Petrasches to find the gold:

Toward the end of the third week, the expedition collapsed from exhaustion and the lack of food and water. The search for the Waltz’s mine was abandoned and the three returned to Phoenix defeated and unsuccessful. A local newspaper, the Arizona Weekly Gazette, noted the expedition with the following excerpt on September 1, 1892, “A Queer Quest, Another Lost Mine Being Hunted By A Woman.”

This prospecting venture reduced Julia Thomas to financial ruin. She and the Petraschs were in a somewhat destitute situation with no source of income or a place to reside. Julia soon parted company with the Petraschs and married a farm laborer named Albert Schaffer on July 26, 1893.

At Schaffer’s encouragement, Julia produced maps with what information she could  remember. She became very resourceful and began producing excellent maps illustrating how to locate the lost gold mine of Jacob Waltz. These fraudulent sheets of paper were probably the first maps to the Dutchman’s Lost Mine.

I love that there is no known picture of Waltz, but a large collection of pictures that could be him. I love that there is not one map, but loads of them. Here they are collected in the Superstition Mountain Museum (so worth a visit if you are in the area, words can’t describe it, and there are even more maps on another wall):

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They are drawn on paper, and incised into clay with sections that are removable like so many mythical map halves to buried treasure.

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Eppinga’s book is quite an amazing collection of  photographs with detailed captions as are most of the ‘Images of America’ series, but there is less introduction here than in others and some of the captions a little repetitive. I wished it had been a little more chronological, instead it jumps around though the content is essentially all the same whether placed in chapters titled ‘Coronado’s Children’ or ‘Miners and Madmen’. There is page after page of weathered old men (and one or two women) who walked the Superstition mountains in search of gold.

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The second murder came in 1931, when another German immigrant went missing. The elderly Adolph Ruth was working off a map received from his son Erwin. According to the book Erwin had been fired from a car-dealership in Texas, worked for the Mexican President eradicating ticks, met a guy named Gonzalez in prison and helped his family across the border. All that resulting in possession of a treasure map. Everything about these stories is hard to believe. Still, an archaeological expedition found his father’s skull a good distance from the body, and the forensic expert stated the hole through it was caused by a bullet from a high-powered gun.

In the 1950s a feud broke out between rival claimants and treasure seekers: Eddie Piper and his army vs Celeste Jones and hers. Amazingly, Celeste Jones was a second African American woman braving the desert and some really crazy white guys to find the Lost Dutchman’s mine, resulting in a fairly brilliant article from Ebony that you can read here. It throws in another popular legend of the mine’s Spanish origins, whereby its initial discovery was by a young Mexican ‘lover’ (Peralta) fleeing his sweetheart’s father who stumbles upon the mine and then he and others returning with him to get the gold are murdered by Apaches. Two boys escaped from the massacre, and were in turn murdered by Waltz.

That’s ancient, and like all of it, quite dubious history. An alternative history from Celeste Jones holds that the gold they sought had been hidden by Jesuit priests in the late 1700s. Real and sordid history? Three more men were killed in 1959 as part of this continuing feud over the gold. The book contains a few pictures of the armies but doesn’t discuss the racial politics (three of Celeste’s soldiers are clearly Mexican (though unnamed), unlike Bill Pipers crew — their names are all known, a microcosm of western historiography). After the murders Eddie Piper died of cancer and Celeste Jones disappeared — perhaps back to L.A. to continue her stated career of opera singer.

I’m so curious to know more about Celeste.

Then there is Robert Simpson Jacob, aka Crazy Jake. His list of crimes include: fraudulent mining securities, prostition and white slavery, pornography, narcotics, extortion, animal cruelty, and income tax invasion’ (42). He was selling shares in a fake company after having claimed to have found the Lost Dutchman, in 1986 he was convicted of fraud.

pbkelyClearly the only fortunes to have been made in these mountains have been those emerging from myth-creation. There is a most impressive chronology/bibliography of the Lost Dutchman Mine to be found here of what must be several hundred titles. This also seems to explain the large number of dubious maps that have never shown the way to anything. It is a puzzling thing, this proliferation of drawings to nowhere. I have never seen anything like it.

LustforgoldposterThe most successful myth-maker was probably author John Clemson, aka Barry Storm, who filed claims in the mountains, took down oral histories, and also wrote Thunder Gods Gold in 1945 (among other books cashing in on these stories). It was made into the film Lust for Gold starring Ida Lupino and Glenn Ford. Obviously only very loosely  based on the story of the Lost Dutchman, but I’m looking forward to watching it.

Eppinga’s book has a section on the Dons founded by Oren Arnold in 1934. Another successful cashing in on the legend through the writing of pamphlets and the creation of a historical society created to keep alive the myths of the Lost Dutchman in which white couples dressed in traditional Spanish clothing, called themselves the Dons and Doñas, and went on a yearly picnic and treasure hunt.

Definitely a slappable offense.

There’s a chapter as well on building the Apache Trail (this title is also a slappable offense, given whites killed most of the Apaches and took this land) and Roosevelt Dam. A final chapter on the Superstition Mountain Historical Society and Museum. More on the Apache Trail later, but here are some final pictures of the beautiful Superstitions:

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The streets and strikes of Clifton

Apart from being the final resting place of Santa Teresita, and an old nesting place of white vigilantism as shown by the case of the kidnapped Catholic orphans, Clifton is a photographer’s delight and full of ever more stories. Here is Chase Creek Street, with my folks wandering romantically hand in hand

They escaped the heat over ice cream while I reveled in it, down one of the more amazing Arizonan streets I have encountered, with buildings well loved (where boarding rooms and banana splits and guns are available) side by side with buildings now derelict. And I have so much love for the derelict

Here there is an opulence of decay I’ve seldom found, as the buildings of old mining towns are usually ruins or rigorously and shinily preserved for the tourists. This place is just itself instead, still standing in spite of everything and even ready to make a come back.

Though there are ruins here too…

And I wondered very sadly when exactly it was that the bar shut down, El Rey, here I am in spirit…

With all the attitude a bar tan cabron requires, I am sure que sigue siendo el rey (aunque no mas adentro, because outside? Oh no)…

I would have a given a great deal to have gotten in though! Even more for a cold bohemia.

I lost all of my attitude in the jail. It was blasted out of solid rock long ago, and sits by the side of the main road with an iron gate swinging open. It is wired for light, but there are no light bulbs, so you go down about 10 steep stairs into a cave of absolute blackness…there is a small room off of which there are three cells with horrible iron doors. Using the flash of my camera I got this picture

Of course, I never saw it like this, just the quickest of glimpses in the camera light, and the fear growing and growing every second. You can see nothing in the darkness, but you know the cells are there, and there is no way to know if they are empty. There is one window in the rock that lights up the cell on the right and I crept over to it, but the fear of what lay behind my back, maybe just the fear filling the whole place up like a well, kept me out…and I fought it and lost and scampered back up the stairs as fast as I could possible go.

The story goes that the man who blasted it into being was the first man locked inside of it, he started shooting his gun into the air at the opening celebration after the townsfolk refused to toast him for his good work. Anyone who could think such a place was a good idea definitely deserved to spend some quality time there.

The employment in Clifton all comes from the earth, from copper and gold, and the huge pit mine in Morenci only a couple of miles away. It belongs to Phelps-Dodge…funny to think that I did a great deal of work for them in the old family business of Orbis Geographics…they even now hold maps I hand colored, and never paid on time if memory serves me correctly!

But here is one of the well-kept buildings along Chase Creek St.

There is a long history of strikes, and a history just as long of atrocities committed by mining companies and local government against striking miners in Arizona…not that we ever learned any of it in school. One of the best resources on this is Copper Crucible: How the Arizona Miner’s Strike of 1983 Recast Labor Management Relations in America by Jonathan Rosenblum, which contains a great general history of labor and copper. There was a strike in Clifton, Morenci and Metcalf in 1915-16 led by the Western Federation of Miners.

Then Jerome and Bisbee, 1917: The IWW organized and called a strike, a very successful strike. President Wilson had refused to send in federal troops at local request, and appointed the Arizona governor to mediate instead, just imagine… In Jerome, where the IWW was striking against PD, over 100 men were kidnapped by vigilantes and held in the county jail, before being moved by train and dumped in Needles, CA. In Bisbee the strike was against the owners of the Copper Queen mine. 1,186 men (some of whom were neither miners nor on strike) were rounded up at gun point by vigilantes and put in cattle cars still full of manure and trucked into New Mexico. Many then continued to be held there by the federal government for months. An IWW organizer, Jim Brew, was shot when he resisted the round up, after shooting one of the ‘deputies’. It is believed that Walter Douglas, president of Phelps Dodge and son of the owner of Bisbee’s Copper Queen mine, orchestrated the actions as a way to break organized labor in the state, which he did. The cattle cars belonged to him, and he probably supplied the guns…he was indicted, but charges were dropped. And armed guards were stationed at the entrances of Bisbee and Douglas, to pass them required a passport signed by Sheriff Wheeler…so almost none of the men ever returned. You can read more here.

Back in Clifton, Morenci, and Metcalf a union was again organized in the early 1940s. Mexicans were still not allowed to hold any of the more skilled jobs. When David Velasquez began helping the Bulldozers shovel what he had once shoveled by hand he became eligible to join the Operating Engineers under the AFL. He tried to join, but they old him that Mexican ‘boys’ would be better in their own union, called the Federated Labor Union. There was no possibility of rising into the better jobs. So he and Andres Padilla organized a branch of the CIO, meeting secretly along the river. After two years they won certification, Morenci Miners local 616 of the International Union of Mine, Mill and Smelter workers. Originally they represented all miners, but racism divided the union and crafts split from it; Mine Mill became known as the Mexican union. In 1946 Mexican American veterans returning home from the war gave the impetus for a strike, seeking health benefits and equal wages for all races. Mine Mill won its first contract. And then followed a long period of strength and broad activist unionism (if only all unions could say the same) in spite of  the witch-hunt for communists, where union leadership was put on trial by the CIO itself. It suffered constant attack from the federal government, as well as hostility from other unions who all looked to appropriate its membership. In 1967 it merged with the steelworkers.

In 1982 PD announced it was laying off 3400 workers in Arizona and Texas. Negotiations began, and in July of 1983 a strike was called, and a picket line formed at the Morenci pit. Morenci is entirely a company town…workers were evicted, harassed, arrested, put under surveillance by the Arizona Criminal Intelligence Systems Agency. Very creepy, but Arizona likes to know what dissidents are up to, particularly when they dare to stop mining. Local government was entirely on the side of PD, putting injunctions on pickets and protests. PD announced it was hiring replacement workers, and 1,000 people gathered at the gate to the mine to prevent it. PD shut down production.

And on August 19th, 1983, the National Guard and state troopers were called in to break the strike. They arrived with military vehicles, helicopters, tanks. They forced entry for the scabs. 10 days later they arrested 10 miners in Ajo for ‘rioting’. And that was really the end, though the strike dragged on slowly until February of 86 when the NLRB rejected the unions appeal to stop decertification.

It is often seen as the great symbol of defeat for American Unions. And here is what the pit looks like now:

It has engulfed the towns of Morenci and Metcalf, swallowed them up and lost them forever in the search for more copper. And I suppose you could say, for a moment, it swallowed the labor movement as well. But just for the moment.

[also posted at www.pmpress.org]

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Santa Teresita and Clifton, AZ

Santa Teresita de Cabora…that is how she was known to the thousands who loved her, and believed she could cure the sick, the blind and the lame. So we went on a quest to find Teresa Urrea today,  one of the more extraordinary figure of the Southwest borderlands. It was inspired by reading Ringside to the Revolution by David Romo (which you should read, without a doubt)…but when we started looking we found so much more.

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Her life defies summary, but I shall try. In 1873 she was born in Culiacan, Mexico, the illegitimate daughter of a Yaqui woman named Cayetana Chavez and the local landowner, Tomas Urrea. She worked with the local curandera…known alternatively as Huila (a Yaqui name) or Maria Sonora (a Yori name, we shall disregard it). While an adolescent she went into a coma, her father ordered a coffin, and the story goes that the night before her burial she suddenly sat up. She said that they should keep the coffin as someone else would die within 3 (or possibly 5 days). She was right, and they buried Huila.

From that time on she was famed for her healing powers, powers both of traditional medicine and faith. She never charged for her service. And the thousands came…so many that Porfirio Diaz feared her powers in leading an insurrection and expelled her from the country…revolution was already boiling along the borders among the Yaqui, the Mayo, the Tomochic. And they revolted up and down down the border in her name, they carried her photograph cut out from the papers next to their hearts. Federales saw her mounted on a white horse leading them, even though she was hundreds of miles away. They were called the Teresista Rebellions, and although I grew up an hour from Nogales, I never knew the Teresistas had risen there.

Diaz said that El Paso was too close, so she moved to Clifton…she traveled, always attracting thousands seeking healing. And she returned to Clifton when she was diagnosed with tuberculosis, she built a house there, and died in 1906, peacefully, she was only 33. 400 people attended her body from the church to the grave.

And yet today no one is sure where she is buried. And that is quite a story.

Apparently in the Clifton area there were three cemeteries. There was the whites only cemetery (known simply as the Clifton cemetery, though now it is officially called the Ward’s Canyon cemetery.) There was the Mexican cemetery. And there was the Catholic cemetery. Clifton is a mining town, only a few miles from Morenci, and the largest pit mine in the country. At some point Phelps Dodge decided that there was copper under the Mexican cemetery, and they wanted it. And so they dug it up and dumped all of the bodies from there into…an unmarked place. Supposedly in the whites only cemetery, though that puzzles me really, it would have made much more sense to have put them in the Catholic cemetery, especially as apparently that now belongs to PD as well. And since it was unmarked…it is hard to say.

It’s unimaginable really, especially given the relationship Mexican families have with their dead. It fills me with a kind of fury. But segregation even in death is enough to do that. And there’s the lovely story in the Roadside History of Arizona (full of interesting facts, though nothing about such things as strikes, civil unrest, Mexican saints or etc etc)… in 1904, 40 orphans were brought to the town by New York nuns, happy that they had found good Catholic families willing to adopt them. Sadly, the children were white, the families Mexican, and the good whitefolk of Clifton couldn’t have that. Vigilantes took custody of the kids, and every court up to the Supreme Court supported them in their efforts. Vigilantes are nothing new around here, nor is government support for them.

And so here is the cemetery that was once whites only

You can see Morenci’s open pit in the background. We thought that Teresa’s grave had been (provisionally) identified and marked, we wandered up and down, and found nothing. The graveyard is on a steep hillside, with many of the graves themselves forming the terracing, and the ultimate disposition of bones over years of torrential summer rains an interesting thought. Below is one of the spots I thought they might have dumped a load of calcium and dream rich dirt.

It contrasts with the more worthy sections…

Even Mr. Greenlee for whom the county is named is buried here. Under a small pyramid of rock. I don’t think he would have appreciated PD’s idea, it makes me doubt that they managed to bury an unnamed load of Mexicans here. But perhaps they did, and the outrage was great enough from both communities (united if only in this), that that is what forced them to relocate graves properly when the towns of Morenci and Metcalf were claimed by the pit as well.

We navigated at temperatures of 103 or so…and even hating the idea of a white’s only cemetery (though it isn’t quite at this point…), it was still haunting and some things were impossibly sad, like this, hid amidst great marble headstones

6 years old, chiseled by unskilled hand…and then I found this one a few steps away

Born and died the same day. And you realize how hard and bleak and terrible life could be, for everyone. But heartbreaking as they are, the Chapmans got to keep their headstones. Teresa Urrea has been erased.

So we headed into town to ask where the grave could be found. We started at the courthouse, moved to the recorder’s office, and there met Berta who was amazing and took us to the library over her lunch break, where she had started a file on Teresa. And all of a sudden I started liking Clifton again. I have photocopies now of the original article from The Copper Era (nice title, no?) from January 18, 1906, announcing her death. And a handful of others published in local papers, and one with a picture of a grave they think just might be Teresa’s.  We returned to the cemetery, to the grave we thought just might be the grave in the picture of what just might be the grave of Teresa Urrea. It was missing the wooden cross though….And we left our flowers, red plastic roses, and fresh white calla lilies, deciding that she would be understanding if we hadn’t found her, and anyone else who might be buried there would be happy.

And then we headed into downtown Clifton, up to Morenci…but more on that later. Another stirring tale of racism, labor strikes, evil mining companies…exciting stuff!

And last thing, a brilliant fictionalized book about Teresa is by Luis Alberto Urrea, The Hummingbird’s Daughter.

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Ammonites and trilobites, oh my!

So what are my current loves? I’ll start with the stone. Labradorite. Every year I’ve said I shall get some, and this year I found The One.

You can see most of the colors, but not the true beauty of it. It is dull gray from some angles, and as you move it, the colors ripple in refractions across its surface. Constantly changing, constantly surprising, they always feel as if they are hiding themselves, elusive beneath the surface, submerged within the stone. You catch one in the light, and then it is gone as another  emerges from the shallow depths. Some stones are deep blue, some green to yellow, a few orange, and a very few show all of these at once. Like mine. It’s very rare I feel such an intense pleasure in possession. I try not to encourage it, but I think after all, it is good to have a handful of things that make you happy just to look at them.

Like ammonites! Not only are the fossils incredibly beautiful, especially the opalized ones from Canada that I cannot afford, but they are also extraordinary creatures. After a series of catastrophic losses, they died out for good in the Cretaceous Period, along with many another very cool yet frightening creature that I am not really sorry about no longer sharing the planet with. Their closest living descendants (or related species sort of thing) are the nautilus, which looks like this

Pure dead brilliant. They are related to octopi, squid, and cuttlefish. They moved by jet propulsion, and were supreme predators, probably stalking their prey silently and then attacking with their tentacles, dragging their meals into the jaws located between their eyes. They had a lot of tentacles, and look at the eyes! (you can tell I am running from the scientific). Unlike nautili, they lived in shallow, warm water, and it is believed that color and light played a large role in their short lives…which means their shells were possibly incredibly beautiful. But in fossils it is what happened to them after death, what new minerals and chemical combinations filled the chambers left by their bodies to form stone. This one is from Madagascar, and looks better in better light I must admit

You can see a bit of the opalization I love…there’s something about iridescence and changing color that parts me from my money. The color is really a deeper red then you can see, it is high in iron, and the patterns are called sutures, formed where the walls of the inner chambers met the shell and folded in on themselves to provide extra strength. The shells themselves are chambered, reflecting the years of life, and in this one from Russia they have been pyritized

I am not usually such a big fan of shiny, but these are incredibly beautiful. This one has been sliced in half of course, but when left in the matrix they are equally beautiful

Once again, more beautiful then the picture, a more refractive red on the outside. There’s no sun today!

So on to trilobites. I got another beauty…wikipedia says 17,000 species have been identified so you’ll forgive the lack of specificity, but this one is also from Morroco

You can even see the little bumbs on his head. They lived, and died, in extraordinary numbers. I was having trouble deciding between this one and another, and my mum bought me the other because she loves me

You can see the…tongue? I don’t believe they had tongues…I couldn’t find out what this thing is but one day I will. There were some amazing specimens from Russia which still had the eyestalks. Maybe next year, they were lovely, and I was spent out.

Apart from fossils, I also love bowls of polished stone. I think perhaps it is the beauty of them combined with functionality. I have one of malachite and another of onyx that have traveled with me for years, and now own several more…Two tiny ones of amethyst and translucent veined jasper, and two slightly larger ones from morocco of stone filled with ammonites and other fossils, one is in the spiraled shape of an ammonite itself, and the other in the shape of a leaf. I keep telling myself that all of this is portable.

Because if all goes well I shall be moving back to the UK…which meant no fragile and glorious mineral specimens for me. In fact, it was my last move to the UK that parted me from the collected minerals and fossils of years. My dad, on the other hand, has a house AND a glass cabinet, so he bought these two extraordinary pieces of selenite. This one is from Winnepeg, Canada, and the crystals are twinned, which is really rare.

And this one from Lubin, Poland

They formed in narrow fissures in the rock, and they were selling many of them in sheafs of interlocking crystals between two very thin slices of stone. Fragile and beautiful…

What an incredible world we live in.

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Tucson Gem & Mineral Show Days 2 and 3

Before I start on the ramble through the highlights, a dignified and slightly scornful nod to Valentines day!

Thought this was pretty sweet, only $15 too, I almost bought it as a valentine to myself. It has hearts and everything. The Chinese bring in an incredible amount of stuff…the most impressive flourite and stibnite specimens you will ever see…none of the really good stuff was out in the sunlight and good pics were hard, but here’s one of stibnite and calcite

This is the beautiful. They also bring the sublime, but even buddha ceases to be quite so sublime when heads are piled up and scattered on the gravel…photogenic though.

And from the sublime you just go to the ridiculous, piled up and scattered on tables.

Happy valentines once again! All the love, money and luck you’ll ever need. And they have the future covered as well…if you haven’t gone blind after purchasing one of the above

I see a couple of dark strangers in your future. One of them looks uncommonly like my father. If you don’t catch him on one of his cranky days, that’s generally a pretty good thing. Just don’t feel obliged to answer any overly personal questions…

The Tibetans are here too, via Nepal and India since the Chinese invaded their country and stayed there.

The weather has been lovely here, if a trifle cold. But sunshine and blue skies make a nice change from the pouring rain of the past couple of years,

So back to one of my favourite things, ammonites! From Morroco, they are incredible. I’d buy one of these after my ammolite, these are also several feet across.

And from the Democratic Republic of Congo

I have loved malachite ever since I was little, it is such an incredible stone, circled and swirled and bubbled and every shade of my favourite green. And I love it most smooth and polished I think, I wouldn’t say that of most stones and I have seen a natural specimen or two that made me catch my breath, but when they combine both…I’m smitten. I remember the first time I saw malachite, I was very small. And loved it most, right away. This is one of the many forms it can take

I took this last year. Maybe one day I’ll just write an ode to malachite…though there a couple of other stones that deserve such a thing. And they would probably be profoundly uninteresting.

From…Montana? Texas?

Buffalo skulls…I don’t know why I love things in rows and stacks, but so I do. I also like skulls. But not as much as fossils. When faced with so much that is amazing, unique, and extraordinary, it really makes you analyze what you like best. But I think I’ll write about that tomorrow.

From India, near Mumbai

Cavansite, it forms these extraordinary little balls of intense blue green, I like this stuff too. The light isn’t the best though. And something we’ve never seen before (rare!)

Okenite. These incredible puffs of tiny crystals, formed in bubbles in basalt (basically magma). They’re building all of these roads near Mumbai, in a thing called the Deccan trap…basically a crap ton of red…hot…magma just poured out of the earth, and kept pouring and kept pouring, stretching miles upon miles across and up to a mile thick in places. And now they’re building roads through it and finding this stuff (though probably blasting most of it into oblivion). My dad bought a smaller piece, and promised that I’ll get it when he’s dead. He’s very cheery.

And the crowds were up a bit more, the news from vendors was better. And another year is finished. Tomorrow…the splendours of the things so magical I bought them.

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Tucson Gem & Mineral Show Day 1

The Tucson Gem and Mineral Show is one of my favourite things in the world…I have gone almost every year for…well. Since I was very small. People come from all over the world to sell unique and beautiful things, rocks and minerals and fossils that are much more impressive than those you could see in any museum. There are geodes of amatheyst twice as tall as I am, crystals that I cannot wrap my arms around they are so big, dinosaur skeletons, glimpses of the creatures that crawled the seas millions of years ago in extraordinary detail, trays of jewels and faceted gemstones ordered by size and weight and color, carvings and artwork in jewelry and gems and stone that make your eyes widen…I cannot even begin to describe it. And I took a couple of pictures to get a sense of the grandeur of it but I am highly unsatisfied with them artistically speaking. Maybe tomorrow. Still, the economy is hitting it with a sledgehammer. Usually it’s so packed you can barely move, but today was pretty empty, and the vendors said that sales were down…over 50% from last year for most. Sadness.

So I shall live for the day, and appreciate everything to the fullest. First, the opalized ammonites from Canada. If I had several thousand dollars of disposable cash, this is undoubtedly what I would buy, hands down. I love the shape of them, the color of them, the age of them, the rarity of them, the impossible beauty of them.

These are fossils, and the ammolite in the top picture is over 3 feet across. As they roamed wild in the oceans they were preyed upon by these huge dinosaurs that were truly the creatures of nightmare (among many other things, the sea is a wondrous but truly nasty place).

It’s only in death that these two could ever meet, as one ravaged the oceans and the other ravaged the land. I am quite thankful, however, to live in an era when things with teeth this size no longer exist. One of the ammolites had rows of holes in its shell almost an inch wide, it didn’t survive the attack. The reason so much of the shell survived is that these things were actually bigger than what you can see, there was a whole additional chamber that held the creature itself. And the attackers? Scientists now think they were warm blooded, which I find extraordinary. Neither reptiles nor fish, but mammals! And closest in structure to birds.

So for today, the only other good shot I took were of these rather random jellyfish…glass ones I believe. But since they’re from China, well, you never know. They were very cool.

They had laser lights however. Which made them cool but also somewhat…er…cheap? I think that might be the word. I don’t buy anything with laser lights. I do, however, have a thing for trilobites. And I bought this beauty from Morroco (Devonian period)

Gorgeous isn’t he?? And I am always torn by the fact that this show is full of incredible things I can afford (barely), though in a just world I should never be able to were anyone along the food chain getting a just wage. Like my trilobite here. But at least he shall be treasured.

So there’s a whole new age contingent present, which affords infinite…and I mean infinite amusement. So I’m going to share one ridiculous description a day I think, they come from the Metaphysical Guide to the Tucson  Jewelry, Mineral, Gem & Fossil Show. This is possibly my favourite annual publication. And actually, the descriptions below are very short versions of the catalog from the Heaven and Earth store, since I can’t be arsed to type the articles in spite of the fact that they are infinitely more amusing.

Merlinite (ahh the gullibility of the American public)

Merlinite is the name given to gemstones, which exhibit the combination of white quartz & black psilomelane. The best specimens, found in New Mexico, sometimes show druzy crystallization.

Mystic Lore: Intuitive sources say that Merlinite is a stone of magic, conjuring the memories of wizards and alchemists. It is said to blend heavenly and earthly vibrations, allowing one access to multiple realms. It can be used to access the akashic records, to draw upon the powers of the elements, to enhance shamanic practices, and to bring magic into one’s life.

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Arizona Ghost Towns

Life seems such an unlikely combination of luck and choice and circumstance…I think it hits me most when facing choices that will send my life down vastly different trajectories. Or is even that assuming too much? It’s interesting to think of life curling back to an original line no matter which direction you go, or this moment as a hub from which extend multiple lines into the future like rays from the sun. In geologic time, I suppose life looks like a tiny pin prick, with no trajectory whatsoever. Or it could be one circle or a series of them or a combination of metaphysical loops and linear time…I like to imagine it as a spyrograph drawing but that doesn’t really mean anything metaphorically without a great deal of mental stretching. And choice itself is something of a luxury…

What if I had been born here?

Gleeson, a mining town that is almost dead, population down from 2,500 to 100, and people leaving via the cemetery. It sits to the west of a town full of adobe ruins and shattered timbers, only a few miles from Tombstone (that has survived only by becoming its own spectacle, a real town turned into Hollywood set complete with fake gunmen in long black coats and tours by stagecoach). Gleeson is only one of so many towns built upon the mineral riches of southwest hills. And I know the myths, the level of violence. I also know Nana and Tata, the parents of my old soccer coach from Dos Cabezas, and they are beautiful people. On Nana’s wedding day she was sitting on the porch with her suegra and when they saw some rabbits, she got the rifle from inside and shot one dead for dinner. I’ve driven past there, and always wondered which of the foundations and shattered walls belonged to them…I know Frank  born and raised in Tombstone, he’s beautiful too, and his dry sense of humor is made up of puns and spanglish wordplay and he tells truly terrible jokes that I love. It’s why in spite of my love of noir, I’ve never liked authors like Camilo Jose Cela where there is nothing to redeem these dusty violent towns. And much as I love Sergio Leone’s westerns, still, I wish they showed some of the warmth and humor that allowed people to survive in these places.

Gleeson still has those 100 people. But there are far more in the cemetary. Most of the graves are unmarked, it appears almost empty from the road, but when you get closer you can see the remnants of plastic flowers, the splinters of broken crosses, crumbled headstones. The grass here is full of such things, hidden from view.

Maximo Rueda, died 1927, who was he and what was his life like? I know it is too far away for me to even imagine properly, though it does not stop me from trying.

Ed Ramirez, who died in 2000 yet his grave appears almost as old as the others, though with flowers remaining intact. Some graves have iron railings to rescue them from being swallowed by time, but even so, most of the names have long gone. For those that remain, you can see the families buried in groups, World War Two veterans, the Mexicans in one area and the whites in another, attempts by family members to rescue the graves of their loved ones from obscurity. One almost fresh grave.

I wonder if they are people who never left, or people who only returned to be buried?

The whole place was eerily silent, broken only by the wind over dry grass and the occasional clear sounding of two different bells, almost like windchimes, too musical to belong to livestock. I didn’t find the grave they belonged to. I’m not usually spooked by graveyards, and the hot sun and blue skies kept fear at bay, but images like this send chills

as I walked across the graves of the unknown to rescue some from total obscurity, to search for signs that they were there at all, to take pictures of their forlorn brokenness, I hope I did not simply take advantage of the picturesque. Seems like you owe something, even to those who are dead.

Gleeson is the third stop on the back roads between Wilcox and Tombstone, the first is Pearse. I read that it had a reputation worse than Tombstone back in the day, but find that hard to believe, especially of a town so tiny. Tombstone is a metropolis by comparison, though perhaps more foundations lie lost to view in the grass along the road. There are two buildings still standing. One belongs to the only residents of the town, though this was the only living thing to greet us

Some kind of miniature donkey? he was as musical as his larger cousins. And there is a beautiful old general store of adobe with a painted metal facade, if you arrange a tour in advance, and pay for it, you can go inside. But we hadn’t…

From Pearse you drive down through hills filled with the multicolored landslides of mine tailings. They are more than familiar to me from my youth, my family spent so much time going over them looking for cool rocks, bits of azurite, turquoise, silver, copper, gold, molybdenum. There was one only a couple of miles from my old home, we’d hike there and eat lunch in the cool shadows of the mine tunnel, which ended in a deep pit twenty or thirty feet back.

Down the road is Courtland, of which I know nothing but the name. There are clear signs that mining is about to begin again, but apart from recently graded roads and white survey flags, nothing is there but more scattered remnants of abandoned buildings and bored youth

Though shooting up street signs, generally while drinking and driving, is to my certain knowledge, not at all restricted to youth. One of my old coworkers used to enjoy such a pass-time. He was my old assistant manager too.

It was a stunning day all round, even before we arrived in Tombstone and Bisbee. The country is extraordinarily stark and reluctant to support human life, but also extraordinarily beautiful. Here is the recently graded road leading into the back streets of Tombstone

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