Arizona's Classic Red Cloud Mine

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4.2" Wulfenite, Red Cloud Mine, Arizona, USA -- Jeff Scovil photo

INTRODUCTION
The Red Cloud Mine is arguably the source of the world's finest wulfenite crystals, because of their vibrant red-orange color, brilliant luster, exceptionally well formed crystals, large size and gemminess. Located in the Silver District in the Trigo Mountains, La Paz Co., Arizona, USA, this renowned mine has produced thousands of specimens that been available to collectors since 1880. Today, superb specimens from the mine are found in most mineral museums in the world, and are featured in the displays of many mineral collectors. To add to its fame, wulfenite from the Red Cloud Mine was depicted on a USPS stamp in 1992. Now that the mine is closed and has been reclaimed, it is highly unlikely that the mine will ever produce specimens again.


Map showing location of the Red Cloud Mine


0.9" Wulfenite, Red Cloud Mine, Arizona, USA

HISTORY
In 1877, the newly discovered Black Rock and Pacific mines in Arizona's Trigo Mountains started producing silver. In 1878, a prospector named Warren Hammond located the immense Red Cloud ore body, and it operated for longer than any other mine in the district. The claim was patented in 1885, and finally closed in the 1890s. Total production was about 21,000 tons of ore, averaging about 18 oz. of silver per ton, 5.5% lead, along with some minor gold. In 1949 the dumps were reworked for lead, zinc and silver. The mine probably produced over $1 million in silver (at today's prices) before the workings were abandoned. Miners then were seeking the silver and lead; wulfenite crystals were just a byproduct of the silver mining operation.


4.3" Wulfenite on andesite, Red Cloud Mine, Arizona, USA

The mine changed hands often, and was owned in whole or in part by the Red Cloud Mining Co. of New York (prior to 1881); Horton & Knapp (1885- ); Messrs. Hubbard & Bowers; Red Cloud Consolidated Mines Co. (New York)(1917- ); E.R. Boericke (Primos) Co. (1925-26 - exploratory work); Neal Mining Co. (1928- ); Hanna; Penn Metals Inc.; Walter Riley & George Holmes (1948 - exploratory work); Penn Metals, Inc. (few months of 1941); and, the Red Cloud Mining & Milling Co. (1950).


Wulfenite, Red Cloud Mine, Arizona, USA -- Pala Minerals photo

Red Cloud specimens were first marketed by Philadelphia mineral dealer A.E. Foote, who reportedly visited the mine in 1880. In 1938, mineral dealer Ed Over collected specimens featuring the largest crystal ever found at the mine, over 2" on edge, in a super-saturated red color. The specimens he collected are generally considered to be the finest ever found there.


0.8" Wulfenite, Red Cloud Mine, Arizona, USA

Since the 1950's the mine has been opened and closed many time as a specimen mine, along with some excavating between operations by collectors hoping to hit a bonanza. The Red Cloud Mine today is in La Paz County. Old labels may show "Red Cloud mine, Yuma Co., Arizona." Yuma Co. was subdivided in 1983 into La Paz and Yuma counties.


3.6" Wulfenite, Red Cloud Mine, Arizona, USA -- Jeff Scovil photo

In 1994, Wayne Thompson and a group that eventually included Les Presmyk, James Horner, Graham Sutton, Bob Johnson and others, purchased the patented claim at a federal court auction, and began to mine it for specimens in January, 1996. The Thompson group excavated the inclined ramp by digging an open-pit along the Red Cloud dike that eventually reached a depth of 60 feet. On April 1, 1996, miners opened the Red Gem Pocket - a crystal-lined open vein 10 cm wide, and 1 by 4 meters across that is the largest and most productive pocket ever found at the mine. Hundreds of matrix specimens were recovered, along with dozens of top quality pieces with crystals to 4 cm.


A section along the plane of the vein showing early workings in the Red Cloud mine, and also the area removed by the current operation (stippled). Ore was originally concentrated in two parallel zones (the south stope and the north stope); it remains to be seen how much wulfenite mineralization exists in the relatively unmined area between them. (Modified from Wilson, 1933.) A = large pocket of April 1996; B = smaller pockets.

From 2002 to 2003, Bryan Lees & Co. acquired the claim and worked the mine as an open cut, stripping tons of overburden off of the vein in order to follow the incline to the bottom of the vertical shaft. Though they recovered some noteworthy specimens, sales did not generate enough capital to cover the high cost of operations, and they halted mining in 2003. Since then, the mine has been fully reclaimed, and both the old and new mine workings have been backfilled with more than 20,000 tons of waste rock. According to a report on the internet, the property is now owned by a dentist from Kansas who bought the mine for $50,000. Apparently he plans to keep the mine available to collectors and gem and mineral clubs.


Vertical section view through the Red Cloud mine perpendicular to the vein, showing the inclined shaft and new workings (shaded) (modified from Wilson et al., 1951).

MINERALS FOUND

WULFENITE
Wulfenite is a lead molybdate mineral with the formula PbMoO4. It is a minor ore of lead and molybdenum that occurs in oxidized zones of lead deposits. It forms brilliant yellow, orange, red and brown crystals in many habits, including pyramidal crystals, but primarily as square and tabular crystals. Wulfenite crystals from the Red Cloud Mine are usually very sharp and tabular, with flat, smooth planes and sharply beveled edges. On the best crystals, these planes meet to form razor sharp lines and corners. Surfaces are often highly lustrous, with highly reflective, glassy faces. Though the crystals are somewhat stout, with a thickness from 1/8 to 1/4 of the length, they are usually translucent, and occasionally have transparent areas.


0.7" Wulfenite, Red Cloud Mine, Arizona, USA

OTHER MINERALS
Most of the other mienrals that have been found at the Red Cloud Mine are not of collector quality. They include pyrolusite, vanadinite, minor malachite, silver chloride and bromide, purple fluorite, barite, hemimorphite, willemite, and hyalite, in a gangue of iron oxides, quartz, fluorite, calcite, gouge and brecciated wall rock. Willemite, fluorite, and hyalite from the mine fluoresce under shortwave ultraviolet light.


0.7" Wulfenite, Red Cloud Mine, Arizona, USA

GEOLOGY
The massive Red Cloud ore body is a highly mineralized fault gouge made up of brecciated andesite and silver-bearing galena. The highest quality silver ore was found where faults and fractures intersected. The average ore grade was 5-6% lead and 10 oz. of silver per ton.


1.0" Wulfenite crystal on matrix, Red Cloud Mine, Arizona, USA

The wulfenite crystals are found lining openings and broken surfaces in the andesite. The andesite-filled vein is from 23 to 36 feet thick (7 to 11 meters), and about 300 feet wide by 300 feet down at an incline. Mineralization in the vein includes vug linings and intermittent masses of silver bearing galena and zinc carbonates. There is no way to tell where where a nearby wulfenite pocket may be found, so collectors have used a hit-or-miss approach, hoping to find a good vug or seam.


5.0" Wulfenite and quartz on andesite, Red Cloud Mine, Arizona, USA

CONCLUSIONS
Now that the mine has been closed and the land reclaimed, the Red Cloud Mine will probably never produce specimens again. When other classic mines that produced fine, collector quality specimens have closed, prices for specimens have gone up, sometimes dramatically. This pattern is very likely to be the case with Red Cloud wulfenite specimens as well, so prices today are almost certainly the most reasonable they will ever be again.


1.0" Wulfenite, Red Cloud Mine, Arizona, USA

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS
Thanks to the Mineralogical Record for the excellent information presented in the article by Wendell Wilson in Volume Twenty-Seven, Number Five (Sep-Oct 1996), and for the diagrams of the mine's geology and mine shafts.


The Red Cloud Mine pit before reclamation began in 2004


U.S.P.S. 29¢ stamp, 1992

All specimens and photos © www.TreasureMountainMining.com, except as noted

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