Rock Hounds Unite!
Geology, Copper and the Sonoran Desert
I decided to load the kids up and find out. After all, we had already been to the Gem Show, Bisbee's Mining Museum (run by the Smithsonian Institution) and the University of Arizona's Planetarium with it's basement full of gems. It seemed a fitting field trip, especially for my nine-year-old who loves rocks. We decided we'd better go sooner than later since the news was reporting we'd be hitting 106 degree weather by the end of the week. It didn't take long before we arrived at ASARCO's Mineral Dsicovery Center in Sahuarita just 20 minutes south of Tucson, AZ.
Our tour guides Ed & Kermit gave the kids hard hats and explained a few things on a table nearby before we departed for the factory side of the tour. We learned about the ingots of copper, raw materials, where the other factories are and how they locate the copper within the Earth. On our way out to the mine we saw a horse by the roadside. Apparently his name is "Blackie" and is a free- range wild horse that lives on the mine's property along with several others which include 2 females and some yearlings. The mine also has some cattle which raom free. No body is tasked with their care, they graze on the wild vegetation and get their water from one of the mine's many aqueducts. Plus the state has a water project that has its end point on the property, too. So we were assured the animals are able to take good care of themselves all year round.
As we climbed the hill up to the mine the view became fantastic. We could see the valley and its rows of pecan trees plus we had a bird's eye view of the whole pit. The color variations in the soil were easy to see and represented materials that had been removed in the crushing process then brought back to build the 35 foot high sections of tailing. After tailings are built, they are sprayed with a green polymer which I had always assumed was hydroseed or maybe the patina of fine ore in the dirt. The mine also plants native trees and plants as well.
From a lookout high atop the pit, the giant trucks looked tiny. Thankfully the company had provided a few binoculars for tours so we could peer into the depths of the pit. Far down we saw where the water table had been reached. On some levels holes had been drilled to make way for blasts to take place later that day. We were told the blasts are made of the same material that blew up the Oklahoma City building. I remarked that despite us living close to the mine I had never felt nor heard a blast and Ed confirmed this. It's all quite self-contained.
Like many Tucson area attractions, the mine tour is easy to get to, relatively close to the city and a fun way to kill some time during weekends and school breaks. As a family, we get out a lot and have amassed a huge resume of fun sights visited. Other great places we have seen in Tucson include: Kitt Peak Observatory and Apple Annie's Farm.