Special to the Crier
The guidebooks directing me to the Camp Verde salt mine
are short and sort of vague. I was directed to the correct road, Salt Mine Road and then the instructions said only to look for a bright white hill. I am worried I might drive right past the salt mine. Instead, the bright white hills of the salt mine stand out like a sore thumb on the landscape. I park the car and walk through the gate. The guidebook also mentioned being sure to bring sunglasses and as soon as I entered the gates the glare off the bright white hills was blinding.
I walk through the narrow gates and a short path takes me to the remains of some sort of mine mechanism, almost all that is left of what was once a thriving commercial operation is dozens of rotting timbers, hulks of rusting machinery and a few crumbling foundations. Much of the wood has salt crystals growing upon it as if the salt is intent on slowly conquering the world one crystal at a time, spreading slowly across the landscape like an invading fungus. There are large iron relics scattered across the basin, movers, shakers and sorters from when the mine was active. The Camp Verde salt mine was active in the 1920’s and 30’s but when they first started digging, the miners unearthed unexpected treasure. According to author Roger Naylor “During the 1920’s, employees of the mine’s operators, Western Chemical, began unearthing artifacts such as woven yucca sandals, ax handles and torches. After a mummified body was discovered, an anthropologist was brought in. Ancient tunnels were found, and it was determined that salt was mined throughout the Sinagua era, about 1100 to 1400 AD.” This makes the Camp Verde salt mines one of the oldest underground mines in North America.
It is a cool and somewhat other worldly looking place to wander around. There is not a lot of plant life, scraggly bushes scattered here and there. Most of the earth is normal looking, although a little parched, but anywhere there is erosion the salt is exposed. In places where entire hillsides have been exposed the bright white glare is almost blinding. Two ravines snake through the shallow valley side by side, one is brown dirt and the other is bright white. Large pieces of metal machinery appear here and there. I try and guess the purpose of some of the decaying timbers and their crumbling foundations. Here and there, in little white pockets, small mountains of crystals build into little exquisite, exotic peaks and towers. It looks like a miniature movie set for a beautiful fantasy with wizards and elves.
The Camp Verde salt mine has long been a favorite for the state’s rock hounds. According to Gem Trails of Arizona, crystallized specimens of halite, glauberite, gypsum, calcite, aragonite, and kyanite can be found there as well as many other lesser known minerals. The Verde Valley Archeology Center in Camp Verde is currently working in a partnership with the Forest Service to preserve the mine as a heritage sight. So if you are in the Camp Verde area drop in at the old salt mine which is located off the side of Salt Mine Road –just look for the bright white hills and you can’t miss it.