Bisbee exists because of copper mining. Between 1877 and today, some 8 billion pounds of copper was taken from beneath the mountains of the Warren Mining District. Also won from the complex mineralization were millions of ounces of silver and gold and tons of lead and zinc and a host of other minerals, including some of the most fabulous display pieces the world has ever seen.
More than a century of active mining leaves behind its remnants, though many of these are disappearing as the district’s environment is cleaned up. But throughout the district, which runs for several miles, remain many artifacts of one of the greatest mining centers of the 19th and early 20th centuries.
Some of the mining landscape is easy to recognize, though often hard to find, because it’s tucked in among the many hills and valleys that make up the district. Of the dozens of headframes that once lowered miners deep into the earth and brought out tons of rich ore, only 10 remain, of which 9 can be seen on the tour.
The industrial plants that helped remove copper and other metals from the rich ores still have their remains, as well, including a high-tech facility that makes use of bacteria to assist in the removal process. Many other major artifacts can be seen in part and understood with the assistance of the Lavender Jeep Tour guides.
The story of copper mining has many parts, including the ever-evolving techniques that were used over the century of mining, the economics that made it possible to mine, first the rich underground ore, then the lean open-pit materials, and the stories of the miners, who often spent their entire careers in one mine in Bisbee.
The Lavender Jeep Tour guides can help visitors locate the remote shack that was used to guide the massive (or so they thought back in the 1960s) haulage trucks to the proper shovel to make them more efficient, and the facility that dumped in old car bodies and tin cans and pulled out similarly shaped items made of copper a few days later. And so much more that visitors would miss if they were on their own.
The story of Bisbee’s copper landscape is rich with personal stories. It is the story of industrial America as it evolved with the Age of Electricity and the years of World War I, the Great Depression, World War I, and then the post-WWII boom.
As the mines were closing in the 1970s, a new era dawned on America – the Age of Environmentalism. In the years since, much has been done to take a copper district that created before this time and make it conform to what have become commonplace ways of dealing with air, water and soil.
Bisbee’s mining landscape also tells the story of tomorrow’s copper mines, and the tour takes a look at how new mines might be developed in Bisbee and how they would be different from those of the past, while still providing a vital commodity.