Potosi Mine – Mt. Potosi Canyon Road

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MAP-Potosi Mine-2
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Directions - Potosi Mine
01/08/2014 Trip Notes: Leaving NV-160 we followed Potosi Canyon Road for a few miles and unloaded the Ranger. Heading west and south, there were patches of snow in the shadows of the many trees that lined the road on both sides. When we came to the location of the original town site of Potosi (see  note (1) “Ghost Town of Potosi” below), we followed a 4WD road that branched left, heading up a mountainside (the yellow line in Fig. 02). Less than a half mile up this road we came upon several cement foundation footings and ruins (Figs 03 thru 07) that were part of the tramway that was built circa 1917, when the mine was reopened to produce zinc for the war effort. These foundations supported some type of large, tall steel structure that was part of the tramway that hauled ore and men up and down from the mine.  Research indicates that there was a train that ran across in front of the mines and dropped ore into the tram at the upper level for transport to the bottom. Potosi was one of the only mines in the world to use this tram method to transport the ore down the mountain. It has been said that the motor used for the tram was a 1 horsepower motor. The weight of the ore helped move the buckets up and down the mountain and therefore, they only needed enough horsepower to get them moving. The buckets also lifted the miners up to the top at the beginning of their shift and then back down at night. We found three heavy steel bases (Fig. 07) that were all bent in the same direction, indicating that whatever structure they had been supporting toppled over. (see notes (2) & (3) below for more info on the history of the mine) A short distance beyond these ruins, the road became no longer passable; so we started hiking up a trail that seemed to continue in the general direction of the mine. After hiking this for several hundred yards we realized that we left a lot of our gear, lights, etc., as well as the keys, back in the Ranger and decided to turn around and go back, and then drive further down Potosi Canyon Road to the bottom of the wash that led up to the mine. Before heading back we took a few pictures of the views afforded us while hiking this trail. (Fig. 08) is looking southwest across the valley below. The views in (Figs. 09 & 10) are looking northwest, back down at the of Potosi town site. If you look carefully in (Fig. 09) you can see the A-frame house (Fig. 10) near the center of the picture.
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When we reached the bottom of the wash that comes down from the mine, we were finally able to see the mine, high on the left side of the ridge (Fig. 11 & 01). In fact, located at an elevation of 6,308 feet, the mine was roughly a half mile away and about 800 feet up from where I was standing in (Fig. 11). (Fig. 12) is from Bob’s Garmond GPS Tracker and shows the actual route he and I hiked (the bottom line was our route up; top line our return route. While we both decided we had had enough, Harvey actually hiked the remaining 500 feet to the top. The pictures in (Figs. 13 & 14) were taken about 1/2 way up the wash (near the center of Fig. 12), one looking up at the mine, the other looking back down the wash to the bottom of the valley. At the top, Harvey found three openings (Figs. 15-17) that led to an extensive series of adits and shafts, all of which were disappointedly defaced with graffiti. From other accounts, it appears that there are about 6 levels to this mine. Click here to view a you-tube video ... The next picture (Fig. 18) is the view from in front of the mine's main opening. The next two pictures (Figs. 19 & 20) show Harvey returning from the top and Bob and I as we began our decent back down to the Ranger. During the climb up and down we found several examples of  fossils embedded in several of the large rocks we passed along the way (Figs. 21 & 22). Check out ... Fossils near Potosi Mine. While hiking back we came across the guy who was living in the RV that we had driven past earlier in the day. You can see his RV in (Fig. 08) above. He told us that he was a trapper and had greater than 20 traps in the surrounding area. On our drive out he invited us over to his RV to show off some of his captures (Fig. 23).
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Garmond Tracker
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EFP-Harvey - Potosi Mine Opening 2
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EFP-Harvey - Potosi Mine Opening 3
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EFP-Harvey - Potosi Mine Opening 4
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EFP-Harvey - View West
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EFP-Harvey (1)
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EFP-Harvey - Ken & Bob
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2014 Potosi Mine Trapper
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(1) Ghost Town of Potosi: The site of Potosi or Potosi Camp is at an elevation of 5,705 feet. Before reaching the Potosi Mine site you come to the ghost town of Potosi, also once known as Crystal City. It was first established by the Mormons circa 1855. However, after only two years working the mine, during which time they founded a thriving farming community at Las Vegas, Young suddenly ordered the Mormons to return to Salt Lake because of serious trouble between the Federal Government and the Mormon Church. On February 3, 1857, the colonists left Las Vegas, Potosi and the mine — thereby making Potosi the first ghost town in Nevada. When mining began again in 1861, the Potosi town site, which was then in northwestern New Mexico Territory, was platted 700 feet below the mine by Capt. J.E. Stevens. One hundred miners made Potosi their home. A handwritten newspaper was published by J.A. Talbott called EAST OF THE NEVADA; OR THE MINER'S VOICE FROM THE COLORADO. The first issue was published February 19, 1861. Talbott's paper lasted only a few issues. Mining operations ceased again in 1863. In 1870 the Silver State Mining Company reopened the Potosi and a cluster of buildings at Potosi Springs was called Crystal City, but that didn't last long either.
(2) Potosi Mining District: My research of various Nevada mines has indicated that there were “mining districts” within mining districts. Often, many areas were defined by geology, or the size of various mines within a specific area, or the companies that owned them.  The Potosi Mining District, loosely defined as the area surrounding Potosi Mountain, was a part of the Goodsprings Mining District and included the following mines: Potosi Mine, Christmas Mine, Dawn Mine, Green Monster Mine, Kirby Mine, New Year Mine, Shenandoah Mine, and the Ninetynine Mine.
(3) History of the Potosi Mine: The Potosi Mine is located 25 miles southwest of Las Vegas. Even though almost every account about the discovery of this mine seems to tell a different story, the fact remains that it is still the site of the oldest lode mine in Nevada. The first known trail near Potosi was blazed in 1829 by Rafael Rivera, chief scout and guide for the historic Armijo Party that was sent out by Jose Antonio Chavez, Governor of New Mexico, to determine the shortest route between Santa Fe and California for the trading caravans of the day. Some accounts indicate that the mine and camp was discovered in 1847. In 1851, the Mormons had started a settlement at San Bernardino, and it was while some of these colonists were traveling over the mountains from Las Vegas to that growing town that they came upon Potosi. In 1856, after exploring the mine and finding it rich with lead and other metals, the nature of which they could not determine, they lost no time in sending word to Brigham Young about the find. Lead was badly needed by the Mormons for making bullets. In May of 1856, one month after their reported find, Young immediately dispatched an experienced mining man, Nathaniel V. Jones, to take charge. Many accounts claim that Nathaniel Jones discovered lead deposits here in 1856, and named the mine after the Potosi district in southwest Wisconsin, where he had lived as a young man. (Actually, at the time the area that is now Southern Nevada belonged to the New Mexican Territory and, later, to Arizona Territory.) It wasn't until December of 1856 when three wagon loads of supplies arrived carrying bellows, furnace, hearths and other mining equipment that production could start.

Potosi Mule TrailThe Mormons proceeded to dig a well near a running spring and built a number of log cabins in the three-mile ravine below the mine. Soon after that they built a crude adobe smelter some 700 feet below the mine where they packed ore by mule down to be smelted using pitch and cedar wood for fuel, but because the water supply proved inadequate, they decided to haul the ore down to Las Vegas where springs were in abundance. They built a small smelter inside the walls of the Las Vegas stockade and successfully recovered lead, which they sent back to Utah.  This, then, was the first smelter west of the Missouri and the first ever to operate in Nevada. Oxen and burros—mainly the latter—were pressed into service to haul the ore. Packing ore down over the mountains was a slow, tiresome task for the heavily laden animals, but the Mormons fortunately were able to establish a rest stop on a level spot part way down where there was running water. Here they set up a camp that thereafter was always known as the Old Mormon Camp. But all efforts to obtain the lead for bullets were abandoned by January 1857 because the ore was to brittle for their use, probably because of the high zinc content. The mine and settlement were abandoned soon after when the Mormons left their Las Vegas mission.

Very little mining took place until 1861 when serious mining began and the town of Potosi came into being. In the spring of 1861 silver ore was discovered by the Colorado Mining Company. They opened a smelter near Potosi Springs and mined silver there until 1863. A camp of 100 formed, but mining ceased in 1863. Some seven years later the Silver State Mining Company reopened the Potosi and called it the Comet Mine and the stone cabins at Potosi Springs were then called Crystal City. However, from 1873-1906, production was very inconsistent until the San Pedro, Los Angeles and Salt Lake Railroad finished its line through Southern Nevada.
After the San Pedro, Los Angeles, and Salt Lake Railroad (now the Union Pacific) was built through Southern Nevada in 1905, new assays of the complex ore were made. When it turned out that, in addition to its rich lead and silver deposits, the ore also contained large zinc content, Potosi was once again reactivated. The Yellow Pine railroad outlet was established in 1910, a smelter built at nearby Goodsprings, and Potosi then became one of the major producers of zinc, a metal in great demand throughout the country. After the turn of the century zinc was the primary mineral extracted and processed at Potosi. In 1906 zinc mining began in full force. However, mining operations at Potosi suffered from the financial recessions of the following years until late 1913, when the Empire Zinc Company took over production.
Here in the ravine where the Mormons had built their log cabins 58 years earlier, the Empire Zinc Company built an attractive little camp with comfortable houses and other necessary buildings all of a uniform gray. The company installed an electrical plant and built a calciner near the mine. An excellent road was constructed and maintained from Potosi to Arden, over which the ore was hauled in large trucks to the railroad, there to be shipped all over the country.
For the next four years they made Potosi Nevada's largest zinc producer. An Aerial tram built from the mine down to a mill above Potosi Springs helped improve production greatly. When the United States entered World War I in 1917, Potosi was classified as a priority defense project, producing badly needed zinc, silver, and lead. As level after level was worked and hollowed out, the old mine literally gave her all towards the war effort. However, the mine soon suffered from the post war recession. After the armistice was signed in 1918, the Empire Zinc Company began cutting forces rapidly as it was evident that it could not continue working the old mine on a large scale. By late spring of 1919, the large force of men had dwindled to only a few. The office force was also reduced. Ralph Smith, the engineer, was the first to go. He was sent to the main office in Denver. Next to be transferred was the superintendent Frank Stephens. The foreman of the mine, Samuel Rowe, left to make his home in Long Beach, California. The only remaining member of the office force was the bookkeeper Arthur Harrington. The Empire Zinc Company placed Mr. Harrington in full charge of supervising the dismantling of Potosi. By fall, the mine was completely shut down, and dismantling was in full progress. The equipment was shipped to other mines belonging to the Empire Zinc Company, and the buildings were sold. Some were dismantled and reassembled in Las Vegas. It was then leased by A.J. and A. R. Robbins of Goodsprings. In 1925, the old mine produced 31,000 tons of zinc. Hearing of this huge output, the International Smelting Company sent engineers to look over the property in 1926. The assays made at this time showed much promise, and the company leased the mine for two years. But again it proved too expensive to operate, never regaining a constant level of production, and by 1928 Potosi was abandoned. It has been estimated that the total estimated production for the Potosi Mine from Silver, lead and zinc grossed close to 4.5 million.
And so this old mine, after yielding fortunes in silver, lead, and zinc, and after enriching Nevada and the entire nation so handsomely, at last stands retired and deserted. But surely, having played a part for so many years in western history, Potosi is indeed worthy of honor in Nevada’s pioneering past.

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The slideshow above contains 41 pictures that were taken on this hike.

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