Sunday in Crown King
October 5, 2003
Travel time 1 way: 2 hours with no stops. Click here for topo map of Crown King.
After passing by the Bumble Bee/ Crown King turn off on I-17 hundreds of times, I finally decided to find out what was up there. The turn off is just north of Black Canyon City and heads west of the highway into the Bradshaw Mountains of gold lore. Knowing some of the history of the area, I thought I was set for the experience however, this whole area is one surprise after another.
All of you know by now that I really love both geology and history. Throw an adventurous moment into new territory and I'm enthralled.
This was Jack Swilling country and I strained to see and understand what he saw as he rode horseback across this country in the 1860's. Swilling owned "The Crowned King" mine (now shortened to Crown King), Tip Top and others in the area...and I'm a "Swilling fan".
The road's paved for a brief distance before you hit desert dust, chugholes., rocks and normal 4 wheel conditions. ATV's, motorcycles and jeeps were packed into Horsethiefif Basin recreational area. Beyond this point, traffic thinned immediately.
Bumble Bee had its share of tourists roaming the grounds and looking at the old river stone covered general store that had supplied the miners and prospectors of long ago.
Cleator's a bar..as in drinking establishment. A few bikers were standing out front enjoying the great weather and warm temperatures.
Beyond this point, traffic was limited to a dozen vehicles heading back to the valley and no one behind me.
The terrain starts with Sonoran desert, quickly moving into the highlands. On the north side of the road, I noticed a mammoth quartz vein heading straight for the Crowned King area. I hadn't seen a vein like that since living in the Sierra Nevada's in Motherlode Country near Lake Tahoe. Only three times have I ever seen that kind of quartz...west of Colorado Springs between Lost Creek Wilderness and Cripple Creek; Motherlode country near the Sixteen-to-One Mine on the Yuba River in California..and now. I understood what caught Swilling's eye. I traced it up the hill to the outskirts of the old mining town.
I got so caught up in tracing it, I almost ran into a granite boulder sticking out in the road. The higher I drove, the more interesting the roads. They're rock-studded dirt. As I started up the switchbacks, granite outcropping on either side had been cleverly handled by creating one lane narrows. Think of brackets ( ) ( ). The road etiquette was to pull to one side while the other vehicle came through. Very polite. I quickly discovered at about 5000 feet to pay attention to the traffic.
The views from this road are fantastic. You can clearly see the Basin and Range butt up against the highlands. Over the top of the first hill, the road dips and curves on the backside of the mountain. Ponderosa pine forest starts at about 6000 feet covering all the hills from that point as I entered Prescott National Forest. Bark beetle damage is enormous. The hills are covered with large stands of dead trees making forest fires a real possibility.
Just inside the pine forest, Crown King appears. A bar called The Mill is one the left, a nice rustic hotel on the right. The dirt road leads around a corner to the shortest Main Street in my experience. There's a general store on the left and a cafe/saloon just north of it. Two burned buildings are on the right. Parking for a dozen vehicles was tight.
To get to the cafe, I walked through the large dark bar.. out the back door..across a porch...in through another door to find 2 booths, 1 small and 1 large table next to the kitchen. Two maps were on the wall..Arizona Territory 1881 and Ghost Towns. The young waitress was doing her best to run between the bar and the small dining area, visibly overwhelmed.
After having a bite to eat, I asked the waitress what she knew about the old mine. "Oh, I'm new here. Ask the bartender. She's been here longer." I had made the classic tourist mistake when in unfamiliar territory. In Colorado, they're happy to give you tours of old abandoned mines. In California, we actually had a couple invite us to go gold panning with them and spent several happy, congenial weekends pursuing our passions. Arizona is not that way.
I asked the bartender about the location and she gave me a wide-eyed look while mumbling, "I don't know." The smile on my face apparently hit home. "Well, I know but it's on private property. No one can go there." I chuckled. They're still working the mine. Played out, my foot! We parted with knowing glances. When I got home, I simply pulled up topozone.com, zoomed in...and voila.. there "she" was a couple of miles on public roads just over the next hill. The mine wasn't a mystery at all. But the incident was memorable.
The road I came in on had numerous signs .."road not maintained", "dead-end"..you get my drift. That should have been my first hint. This is a very private community still in the mining business..a little secretive..a little withdrawn..and that's okay.
My curiosity solved, I headed down the hill, enjoying the views, thinking about Mr. Swilling's adventures, smiling about the "incident"and the $6 hamburger.
Next time, I'll take my topo map...and pack a peanut butter sandwich!! Oro Belle beckons.
March 14, 2004
Here's the sequel.
Click here to see the Crown King Mine topo map.. just to prove a point. By pass the bartender (big smile)
With my topo map in hand, we returned to Crown King, determined to find the elusive mine...and we did. Not only do we have pictures which I will post in the near future, in front of it but we made a delightful discovery just north of there: Bradshaw City. It was just before sunset so our visit was brief but we will be back. The Arizona adventure continues...