Asbestos Mining History
Overview: This hike starting at the Billy Lawrence Trailhead takes you on old mining roads off of Lucky Strike Trail #144 to the location of the Pueblo and Lucky Strike asbestos mines. The first side trip off TR 144 takes you to the location of an old mining camp, past the camp spring and then traverses southward across a hillside covered with lush vegetation to another spring which appears to have supplied water for the Pueblo mines. The second side trip to the Pueblo mines follows the overgrown old mine spur road southeast along the side of a cliff to the locations of several adits (horizontal mine shafts). This side trip is more remarkable for its views of Pueblo Canyon than for the mines. There were 8 Pueblo adits and at least 5 were along this road. All but the first one have been completely or partially blasted close. The third side trip on the return up TR 144 from the Pueblo mines takes you north on another old mine road along a forested hillside to the Lucky Strike adits. There were 10 LS adits and at least 5 were along this road. A number of the adits are still open and two ancient Ingersoll Rand compressors were left behind making this my favorite part of the hike. The L/S mine road continues approximately 1/4 mile past the last L/S adit to several Metate mine adits and an old mining trail which traversed north along the hillside providing access to other Metate adits. We did not go beyond the L/S adits on this hike.
History: Here's some history of the mines I've gleaned from the 1985 Bureau of Mines Mineral Investigation of the Sierra Ancha Wilderness and talking to an old timer who walked into my camp at the Billy Lawrence TH. There were three sets of mining claims made for asbestos deposits along the west side of Cherry Creek Canyon below the Billy Lawrence Trailhead. These were the Pueblo Group first claimed in 1923-24, the Lucky Strike group first claimed in 1917, and the Metate Group first claimed in 1943. The asbestos occurs as horizontal shiny dark grey veins in a layer of Mescal Limestone which is exposed along the steep hill side at the 5600 to 6200 ft elevation. This exposed layer was cover by an ancient landslide between the LS and Pueblo mines. The Pueblo and LS mines actively produced asbestos ore while the Metate Group was a series of 10 adits (mine shafts) exploring the potential for asbestos production but never actually produced any significant quantities. It's not clear from the reports I could find how long these mines were active. Ore was first produced from the LS claim in 1918. The report mentions ore being produced from the Lucky Strike and Pueblo mines through the 1940s. In 1941 the Pueblo and LS mines were estimated to have produced 300 tons of asbestos fiber. The Metate adits date from the early 1950s. An old timer who walked in to my camp one day said he had driven his early 1970s FJ Land Cruiser down the mining road which is now the Lucky Strike #144 trail as far as the old mining campsite in the late 1970s. He said mining activity was no longer in progress at that time. Some of the buildings at the campsite still existed but were later burned down by the Forest Service. The camp consisted of bunk houses on the south side of the road and a mine managers house on the north side of the road. The Metate mining company had constructed a 1000 ft tramway down the hill side from a point approximately 130 yds north of the BL Trailhead down to the old pack trail near one of their adits. Steel rods sunk into sandstone slabs and scattered asbestos ore at the top of the cliff mark the location of the tram. This was confirmed by my visitor. Remains of what were probably old mining shacks belonging to the Metate folks are scattered in the forest along the rim near the site of the tram.
Hike: This hike starts down Lucky Strike Trail #144 at the Billy Lawrence Trailhead (elev. 6733 ft). This trail follows a closed 4WD mining road which at one time went all the way to FR203 in the bottom of Cherry Creek Canyon. Fantastic views to the east of Cherry Creek Canyon and across the Fort Apache Indian Reservation to the Mogollon Rim make the trailhead a worthwhile place to visit even if you aren't going on the hike. The LS trail goes uphill for 0.5 miles south following the canyon rim to its intersection with the Center Mountain Trail #142. Keep an eye out for some spectacular view points along the cliff edge as you hike along this section. After the intersection the LS trail starts heading downhill along a cliff side with some spectacular views north up Cherry Creek Canyon. The old mining camp was located on the south side of the road at approximately 2 miles from the trailhead. Snooping around behind a low berm will reveal remnants of the camp including a water pipe with spigot and scattered asbestos fibers on the ground. The first off-trail section of this hike follows an overgrown old road for 100 yds from the camp location to a spring which was the water source for the camp. A spring box dug into the hillside and covered with corrugated metal roofing can be found under bushes and the roots of a tree. Water could be heard trickling into the pool of crystal clear water in the box. The overgrown road turns south crossing a small wet drainage at the spring and traverses the hillside approximately 0.2 miles to another spring and wet drainage. The plant life along this section is unusually lush and green.
Returning to the LS TR144 from this spring access road, the hike proceeds down hill approximately 0.4 miles from the mining camp location to the Pueblo mine access road. A short distance down hill from the camp site look for a long 3 inch diameter steel pipe suspended horizontally between two trees at a height of about 8 to 10 feet on the left side of the road. Ashes, rusty bed springs and a short section of stove pipe litter the ground in a flat area about 30 feet behind the trees holding the pipe. Some old boards and random pieces of metal roofing can also be found further back in the trees around this small clearing. This was possibly the location of the mine managers house. A foot trail heads off in to the woods from behind this site but its purpose is not known. Not far past the suspected location of the old house you will pass the LS mine spur road which leads north to those mines. A row of rocks has been placed across this road to help keep people on LS TR144. We chose to continue to the Pueblo mines and visit the LS mines on our return up the hill. The Pueblo mine spur road leads southwest along the face of a cliff following the mescal limestone layer which contains the asbestos. This road was heavily overgrown in areas with brush. The veins of asbestos could sometimes be seen in the face of the cliff and in boulders which had fallen on to the road. We encountered an open adit a short way from TR144 but the remaining adits were covered by rock fall probably from dynamite blasts to close them off. The tough scrambles through brush and the lack of open mine adits made this section of the hike hardly worth the effort. However the views of Pueblo Canyon from the old road hacked into the side of a cliff made it worthwhile. We were running out of time so decided to turn back just before reaching the end of this road where the largest Pueblo adit is located. It is most likely closed off with rubble but someone with more time may want to explore further down this road.
We returned uphill along TR144 to the LS mine road. It was much less overgrown and a pleasure to hike after our experience with the Pueblo mine road. This old mine road heads north through a tall pine and oak forest for about 0.3 miles then makes a turn to the west. Shortly after the turn we came upon a large Ingersoll Rand gasoline engine powered compressor left precariously perched on the downhill edge of the road. This old monster which weighed in excess of 6000 lbs was fairly intact except for the radiators and ignition distributor. Yes, it had two radiators, one to cool the 4 cylinder gasoline engine and one to cool either the compressor or the compressed air discharged from the compressor. I couldn't find any dates on the machine but based on the design of the gas engine would estimate its vintage as the late 1930's to mid 1940s at the earliest. Continuing along the road we found several open adits, some with multiple openings. These would be fun to explore if you're into that sort of thing - I'm not. Nearing the end of this road as shown on the MyTopo map, we spotted another old rusting compressor sitting high on a mound of rock at the mouth of another adit. This adit had several openings and at least two that were quite large. The old Ingersoll Rand compressor was still connected to compressed air pipes running into the adits. This compressor was older than the first one and was missing it's wheels, radiator and ignition distributor. Some research on the model number embossed on a metal plate revealed that this was the first gasoline powered model and was introduced in 1919. This fits in with the first recorded production of ore from these mines in 1918. However my research also revealed that these old Ingersoll Rand compressors had long lives and were often used for 20 to 30 years. We had reached our turn around time but I ventured another few hundred yards along the old road where it turned northwest along the hillside. The Metate mine adits are supposed to be connected to the end of this road by an old mining trail but I could not verify this in the short time remaining. I would later follow this old Metate mine trail from its other end and verify that it does indeed connect with this road as well as lead to several of the Metate adits. See photoset/triplog.
The hike back up TR144 to the canyon rim is a long uphill slog when you're tired from exploring old mining roads all day. But finding this interesting piece of Sierra Ancha Mining history made it worthwhile.
WARNING! Hiking and outdoor related sports can be dangerous. Be responsible and prepare for the trip. Study the area you are entering and plan accordingly. Dress for the current and unexpected weather changes. Take plenty of water. Never go alone. Make an itinerary with your plan(s), route(s), destination(s) and expected return time. Give your itinerary to trusted family and/or friends.