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Lucky Strike - Metate Mine Trail Loop, AZ
mini location map2013-05-20
24 by photographer avatarOregon_Hiker
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Lucky Strike - Metate Mine Trail Loop, AZ 
Lucky Strike - Metate Mine Trail Loop, AZ
Hiking avatar May 20 2013
Hiking4.10 Miles 1,270 AEG
Hiking4.10 Miles
1,270 ft AEG
1st trip
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It was the last day of a 6 day camping/hiking trip to the Sierra Ancha. I had been camped near the Billy Lawrence trail head for 5 nights with Grasshopper. Monday morning Grasshopper was occupied packing up his camp so I decided to search for the old Metate mining trail which was supposed to traverse the hillside at approximately 6200' elevation from below my campsite south east over to the end of the Lucky Strike mine spur road off of the Lucky Strike #144 trail. I had found the starting point for this old pack trail about 0.3 miles north of the BL trailhead on a previous visit to this area. I had a rough drawing of the trail and locations of Metate adits along the trail from the 1985 Bureau of Mines Mineral Investigation of the Sierra Ancha Wilderness. The information in this report is actually from a 1978 survey of the mines.

First, a little history of the mines I've gleaned from the 1985 report and talking to an old timer who walked into my camp this week to say hello. 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 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. The report mentions ore being produced from the Lucky Strike and Pueblo mines from the mid 1920s through the 1940s. The Metate adits and tram date from the early 1950s. The 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 near my campsite 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.

I made quick progress on the beginning of the hike along the first 0.4 miles of the old trail because I'd been on this section before. Conveniently someone had preceded me down the trail within the last year with a pair of loppers and cleared out some of the brush. The first Metate Adit is near the upper end of the drainage for the Billy Lawrence creek. The trail gets cliffed out just past the adit and I had to scramble uphill a short distance to another trail which leads into the bottom of the drainage and out the other side. There are remains of an old mining campsite tucked in at the base of a cliff above this first adit. I followed the old trail which was at times easy to follow and at other times got lost in heavy overgrowth. When ever I lost the trail I looked for cut branches to lead the way. The guy with the loppers had done a good job of following the old trail but I lost his track near the end.

Several adits are supposed to be strung out along this trail according to the drawing from the 1985 mining report. However it was soon obvious that the trail was above the row of cliffs with the layer of white and gray Mescal Limestone which contains the asbestos veins. There were some areas of mild exposure where the trail traversed steep loose dirt and rock hillsides above a 20 to 40 foot high cliff. My trekking poles helped out here but got in the way when crawling through brush and over boulders. As the trail neared the end of the Lucky Strike mine road I could see an old roadbed along the side of the cliff below me and was able to hike down to it in the bottom of a wash with no exposure. Backtracking to the north along this old road bed I found Metate Adits 7, 8, 9 and 10. All the adits were open and had old bed spring frames and other signs of habitation littering the floors. One adit even had the remains of a door at the entrance made from corrugated metal roofing. The road bed ended at adit 7 and from there a foot path on a narrow ledge led north along the cliff to at least 3 more adits. The ledge was only about 1 to 2 feet wide and looked like it was crumbling away in places so I didn't venture any further. I had reached my turn around time and was faced with the decision to either go back the way I had come (1 mile) or make a loop out of the hike taking the Lucky Strike mine spur road to trail #144 which would take me up to the Billy Lawrence Trailhead and my camp (3 miles). I opted for the 3 mile return loop which Grasshopper and I had hiked 3 days earlier.

I was moving at a fairly good pace along the LS spur nearing the location of an old Ingersoll Rand compressor, a fairly large piece of equipment with dark rusty brown steel wheels. I spotted a large roundish shape the same color as the old rusty wheels on the compressor on the trail ahead. My first thought was that it was an old fuel barrel laying in the road and wondered why Grasshopper and I hadn't seen it 3 days ago. Suddenly the back of a bear's head raised up from the round shape and turned to look at me. I had been looking at the large rump of a bear. He took one look at me and bounded down the road before I could get my camera out. That made two firsts for me on this 6 day trip: my first unplanned encounter with a HAZ member (JTaylor) who drove into my camp on Friday afternoon and my first sighting of a bear in Arizona. That made for a great ending to my 6 day trip. I got back to camp by 1:00 pm giving me plenty of time to drive home in time for dinner.
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