R2R Travelogue 3: Mogollon Rim, Copper Belt, and Sonora Desert

roleerob @roleerobJanuary 2019 · 11 min read

Day Three: While still very cold, I did not have to clear my truck of snow this morning in Holbrook, before setting off to end the day in Tucson.

Along the way, I passed down through Show Low, the Mogollon Rim country, a portion of the Copper Belt, and down into the Sonora Desert.

Photo: South of Superior along Hwy 77 to Mt. Lemon and Tucson

Ending up this evening in Tucson, what a dramatic change from 24 hours ago. It is in the 60s (°F) here and I don't even need a coat!

A lot of memories went through my mind throughout the day, seeing some areas I hadn't seen in almost 40 years. In a "stroll down memory lane," let's look back over the day ...

High Desert

As I was heading south out of town this morning, looking out over the countryside in Holbrook, you see a lot of wide open, high desert country. Hardly a tree to be seen.

It reminded me of the years I spent working on the high desert terrain of southern Wyoming.

Photo: Five Mile Draw, Hwy 77 South of Holbrook

Here we see a miniature version of what on a much grander scale Canyon de Chelly was yesterday. Not a canyon in the normal sense, coming down out of the mountains, but a channel cut through a plateau.

These little pockets of water are vital to all wildlife in the area.

Following Hwy 77 south, the terrain gently climbed through the towns of Snowflake, Taylor, and on into Show Low, a popular destination for Arizonans in the summer trying to get out of the tremendous heat on the floor of the Sonora Desert.

Leaving Show Low, you begin the descent down through the Mogollon Rim. I had really been looking forward to seeing this again.

Mogollon Rim

The Mogollon Rim is a major topographical and geological feature of Arizona. Rugged high country, it separates the high desert of the northern part of the state, from the Sonora Desert to the south.

Photo: Across the Mogollon Rim to the White Mountains

This region is famous for its Ponderosa pines, but as you are about to see, there is much more to it than that.

Photo: @roleerob's trusty Ford Ranger, about to go 4-Wheeling on the Mogollon Rim!

When I decided to turn off and explore this area, I knew the roads were going to be rugged. As if my truck could talk to me though, I could almost hear it saying, "It's about time! All I ever get to do is make that hop, skip, and a jump trip from the garage to the parking lot at work and back. I was made for this!!"

Photo: Typical Mogollon Rim Hillside

Once well back into the remote country accessed by this road, we see above how hospitable it is. A fine variety of cactus! Along with very hardy types of trees, like desert cedar, well adapted to survive in the area with so little water.

Photo: Lone Bull in the Bush

So, what is the primary use of this land? Cattle ranching of course! Good grief! Poor cows. They probably don't know any better and never "talk" to their cousins in other states, which have far more hospitable terrain to call home.

I'm sure these cattle are every bit as tough as the people who try to make a living off of this land. While I don't know it, I can only imagine the number of acres of this terrain required to support one poor cow.

So, what else lives out in this region?

Photo: Bear "Sign!"

For the scatologists in the audience, the picture above shows a common sighting in the Mogollon Rim - bear "sign." There are a lot of them, although rarely seen.

This country is the only place where I ever saw a mountain lion. Very fleeting glimpse, but unmistakable!

How about the plant life? We saw several types of cactus in the picture above. Any other "warm and inviting" plants?

Photo: A Mother and Baby Shin Dagger!

Pictures are very nice substitutes, in some cases, for being there, but you really have to see a Shin Dagger "up close and personal" to get the true effect of this formidable plant. I can only imagine the damage it has inflicted over the generations, especially when people were travelling by foot and by horse.

Thinking about running into one of these?! I think it would make a lifetime impression and you'd only make that mistake once!

As you have seen in this little sampling, the Mogollon Rim is formidable country. In living around it earlier in my life, I had a great respect for the people who settled this country and worked in it.

And we aren't even to the "fun part" yet. The even more formidable Sonora Desert!

Copper Belt and the Sonora Desert

Many don't know that the largest copper-producing state in America is Arizona. By far. And most of the known ore bodies are in the south central "copper belt" part of the state and have been mined for decades.

I began my career in Tuscon, as a Metallurgical Engineer working for the largest supplier of mining chemicals in the world. I called on several of these mines, so let's take a brief look at some of them.

Inspiration - Miami

This mining operation is based in an area that has been mined, in one way or another, going back into the late 1800s.

This was one of my first customers. I did not develop them as a customer, but simply took over responsibility for them.

Photo: Miami Operations of Inspiration, now owned by Freeport McMoran

Note the hill to the right in the upper picture. Classic "mining town" structure is the higher the person is on the executive ladder at the mine, the higher up on the side of the hill / mountain they live. Looking down on those "below" them ...

Ranchers Exploration - Bluebird Mine

This interesting property was purely a heap leaching operation. I was fortunate enough to get a job here between my junior and senior year in college. Today these positions are referred to as internships.

In my day, they didn't have any fancy title - just a summer job. But ... Hiring for them was a big deal, as engineers were in very short supply. So companies would often create jobs of this type, hoping to entice their chosen candidates to a full-time position later.

Yes, I was offered a job by Ranchers Exploration. As well as with 5 other companies. No, I did not accept the offer ...

Photo: Bluebird Mine Site Today - No Longer Active!

Maxie Anderson was the infamous owner of this company. An excellent and creative engineer, but also a very flamboyant lifestyle. He loved flying hot-air balloons, as one of his many passions. He died doing it, in a tragic accident.

Magma - Superior

Much smaller than their sister operation to the south - San Manuel - this property stood out due to the very high grade of their ore.

It had to be high, as it was very deep in the earth, much deeper than San Manuel.

Photo: Town of Superior, Mine in Background

My first experience underground was here. Offered by the Mill Superintendent, as a token of appreciation for some work I had done, I decided to accept it. Although not without some misgivings.

I'll never forget that day. As the huge manlift sunk us ever so quickly deeper and deeper into the earth, I remember the light of the opening shrinking down to a little pinprick way, way up over our heads. Whoa ... What had I gotten myself into ...

Once the gate opened, my glasses immediately steamed over, as the humidity that deep in the earth is tremendous. Taking them off, I was asked what I might be interested in "seeing." Haha! So dark, I wasn't going to be seeing much of anything.

I had the presence of mind to ask to be taken to an active face with one of the highest copper content minerals - chalcopyrite. Stumbling around in the dark, climbing up ladders that were not exactly straight from one level to another, we finally got to the destination.

While I couldn't see at all, the moment I picked up some rocks, I knew we had some "good stuff!" How? By the impressive density and weight. Once mercifully and safely back to the surface, I cleaned them up. They are beautiful to look at. I still have these rocks in my collection at home!

Magma - San Manuel

This engineering marvel is a fully integrated mining property about 50 mi. NE of Tucson. At the time I was calling on it, they were mining 64,000 tons a day. From underground! Amazing feat of the mining engineers to make this possible.

Once at the surface, the ore was milled and this was where I worked for over 3 years. A lifetime memory was made the first time I walked into the mill at San Manuel. Dozens of massive ball mills were steadily grinding away on the 64,000 tons of ore in the "comminution department." Those thunderous, clanging sounds are why my hearing isn't 100% anymore ...

The discharge from the mills passing the required size specs flowed into hundreds of flotation cells, where the chemicals my firm produced were put into service and consumed in the concentration of the copper minerals.

Sadly, I was unable to get a picture at dusk of this property on this trip.

  • In memorium: I would like to pay tribute to a great man - Gayl Dopson, who was the Mill Superintendent at San Manuel for over 30 years. He played a significant role in my life.

    Early on, as a "young, whipppersnapper," I had the lifetime memory of being verbally lifted up out of my seat by this intimidating man and ever so gently "roasted over the fire" of his expectations, if he was going to give me the time of day in the future.

    Then he verbally sat me back in my seat, with message delivered.

    As I have said elsewhere, @roleerob may be a bit slow, but I do get there. The lessons I learned that day were taken to heart and I got better. Fast! So much so, that 3 years later, Mr. Dopson elected to tell the Executives coming into the area from New Jersey how well I was doing there!

    This, in turn, soon led to my being asked to begin building a new sales territory. In the Pacific Northwest, where I had always wanted to live! I will never forget this man, although long since passed.

Once away from the mills, I chose to follow the route I had always taken so many years before. Not the quick way to Tucson. But, the "back way" on Hwy 77, along the Pinal Mountains ...

Photo: Saguaro Cactus on side of Pinal Mountains

Coming down into Superior and then a short distance south of town, I came upon this view on the south side of the Pinal Mountains. It had been over 25 years since I last saw these magnificent plants. They definitely make an impression!

Closing with a bit about the Sonora Desert. As stated above, I worked down in this country for the first time in the summer between my junior and senior year in college. It was that summer where I learned three-fourths of all animal life in the Sonora Desert is poisonous to one degree or another. And the plants! Almost all of them have thorns, spikes, etc. Yikes!!

Again, I have the greatest respect for the early settlers of this country. They battled all of it and a serious lack of water and inhuman levels of heat ... Tough, tough people!


Another great day in "@roleerob's excellent adventure!" Thanks for going along with me, dear reader. I’d love to hear any feedback you may be inspired to provide.

Until "next time," all the best to you for a better tomorrow, as we all work together to build our Steem Community! 👍 😊

Steemian @roleerob

Posted using SteemPeak and “immutably enshrined in the blockchain” on Wednesday, 23 January 2019!

  • "R2R" Note: My "shorthand" way of referring to what I first wrote about in my Reflections: My "Road to Recovery" Trip post. "Road to Recovery" <=> "R2R" ... 😉

  • Image sources, unless otherwise noted: My trusty smartphone!

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If you liked this post, you might enjoy others in my "Road to Recovery" Travelogue series:

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