February 2000

     At the time my friend Ray and I were exploring the Providence Mountains, in the early '70s, there were no freeways cutting across the wide, flat, desert. There were a few dirt roads here and there, and the famed Mitchell Caverns State Park not far away. This would not be our first visit, but for me, certainly the windiest trip into this area. Our destination was the Bonanza King, a silver and lead mine of prodigious wealth. At least in the past. It was discovered in the 1870s and developed in the early 1880s. The Providence Mountains are a "marbled cake" of minerals that range from iron to gold, silver, lead, and carbonates. Most of these are located on the Western and Eastern flanks of the mountain.

     We left the National Trails Highway at the tiny town of Essex and angled Northwest up a good paved road toward Mitchell Caverns. Now you can arrive by Interstate 40, which cuts the distance from Essex in half. Climbing all the way, we eventually reached a major crossing, part of which is pipeline road, the road to Foshay Pass, and Kaiser's closed Vulcan Mine (iron). In other directions the junction will take you Northeast up the Black Canyon Road to other interesting areas to explore.

      "Our" road was to be a dusty dirt road, heading almost North into the depths of the Providence Mountains. Steep in places, and barely maintained, our vehicles raised clouds of dust. The last part of the road, revealed now the abandoned collection of stone buildings, roofless and falling apart. This was the town of Providence. Late afternoon. We set up camp on flat spots in front of some of the crumbling buildings hoping the wind would die down. Up the dirt road we could see the massive headframe of the Bonanza King mine, crouched right up against the mountain. We walked up the road to the mine. It was quite a view. The remains of Providence, roofless, partly vandalized, below, and the long shadows of early evening moving out onto the still sun-lit plain. The wind was increasing and thoughts of supper hastened our walk back down the rocky road to our camp. That which still remained of Providence were the stone builings made of tuff, a fine-grained volcanic ash that is strong enough to support the building's roof, but soft enough to be sawn from a ledge in the area using a wood saw!

     After supper prepared on my truck's tailgate, we sought the protection of the inside of a tuff-walled ruin and built a small fire from the debris left by other people. Even here, the wind rushed, twirled and scattered sparks in all directions making it rather unpleasant. Off to the sleeping bags. Sunup came much too soon for our hardy band of two. Before breakfast I fired up my Honda Trail 70 and camera around my neck, rode up to the mine to take a few pictures of the impressive headframe lit up by the early morning sun. The wind had blown itself out during the night leaving almost crystal-clear air. It felt good to warm my bones in the sunlight.

     Tuff was used everywhere, it seemed. Even the location of the draw-works was walled with the useful stone. From the base of the headframe one could look around and see other stone houses that hadn't been totally destroyed. However, looking over the side of some tailings down the other side a mill that had served this and some of the other mines was pretty much destroyed. A few empty tanks still stood but it looked like everything else was flattened.

     Returning to the truck, Ray and I prepared the motorcycles, canteens of water, snacks, cameras, and topographic maps and set out to look over the other clusters of prospects, small mines, and scenery. Using the dual purpose motorcycles let us cover a considerable amount of scenery from the gas bubble pocked walls of Hole in the Wall to our North, now an established campground with all its humanity, back down and over Foshay Pass, visiting the Vulcan Mine, operated by Kaiser Steel during World War II. All that is left there is a deep pit with a pool of seepage water in the bottom. In the distance, down the back (West) side of the Providence Mountains, from the Vulcan Mine road, you can see the small railroad town of Kelso now fenced-in and awaiting negotiations from several interested groups who want to presrve the historic building that long ago served food at both a cafe for the railroad men and in the middle of the Depot building served the passengers in a formal dining room complete with table linen and crystal chandeliers, while extra steam engines were coupled to the train to help it climb the grade to Cima and beyond.

     Back in the Providence Mountains once again, we explored Southwest along the Eastern side until we came to the Bighorn Mine. A caretaker lived there, but did not respond to our call. We spent but a few minutes there taking pictures of this spectacular headframe. It was a curiosity, well built and heavy, the headframe was designed for two ore buckets. At the time of our visit, only one part of the headframe had been in use as suggested by the protective sheet iron on the dump chute. Even though it was not operational at this time, the grounds were tidy.

     After we took a few pictures, we returned to our base at the Bonanza King, and soon on the way home. A final note. A later return trip to the Bonanza King shows the devastation to it's headframe and grounds until nothing remains but some piles of tuff. -- Jerome W. Anderson