Captivated By Copper
Rock&Gem Magazine|February 2021
Soldiers’ Discovery Leads to a Century of Mining at Pearl Handle Open Pit
By Bob Jones

There once was a small town along Mineral Creek in Arizona’s Dripping Springs Mountains called Ray. Today the town is gone swallowed up by the huge Pearl Handle Open Pit copper mine, also named Ray. This huge copper deposit was discovered in 1846 and has been steadily mined since 1911.

The Ray mine started as an underground copper mine. Miners working the area followed veins of copper sulfides, chalcocite, and covellite, along with native copper and copper silicate chrysocolla. The mine’s initial discovery is credited to soldiers of the Army of the West (Mexican-American War), and this discovery caused others to prospect for more wealth.

When you look into Arizona’s well-known mines, it is interesting to note how many were found by soldiers based in this vast desert land. The best known of these is Bisbee, where a soldier picked up a specimen of lead carbonate cerussite that lead to the discovery of copper in the Mule Mountains. Not far north of Ray is the Magma mine, in Superior, Arizona, and another rich copper deposit nearby is the now mined out and once rich Silver King mine found in the 1800s by a soldier named Sullivan, who was part of a crew building a new road. The funny thing is Sullivan couldn’t find the silver mine when he retired and returned to Arizona. The Silver King was eventually found again and produced superb native silver specimens for a few years.


In 1911 Ray was developed as an underground mine with, as I mentioned earlier, miners following veins of copper sulfides. Extensive mining eventually caused some collapses, and by 1952 development of an open-pit took shape. By 1953 the once vast low-grade deposit, now named the Pearl Handle Open Pit, was producing. Early in its operation, the discovery of fine copper mineral specimens in quantity occurred, and even today, as the Pit continues to expand, high-quality collector specimens are encountered occasionally. During those early days in the 1950s of excavating the Pearl Handle Pit, the first significant amount of copper minerals was found in a most unusual deposit just below the surface.

With the desert well-known for a zone of caliche soil just below the dirt surface, as water seeps into the ground, it picks up various minerals like calcium carbonate, iron oxide, and others, including copper salts. When the hot sun bakes the ground, the rainwater moves back toward the surface and evaporates, leaving behind the same dissolved minerals as a thick, hard, white cement-like soil layer called caliche. This information was all explained to me by Arthur Flagg, curator of the state mineral museum.

Continue reading your story on the app

Continue reading your story in the magazine



More Fun Faster!

2 mins read
Casual Game Insider
Spring 2022

An Arizona Adventure

The Earp brothers' trail from Prescott to Tombstone is a treasure trove of historic sites.

7 mins read
True West
April 2022



7 mins read
March - April 2022

Heart and Soul

Seek renewal and inner peace at Sedona’s L’Apothecary Spa.

4 mins read
Global Traveler
November 2021

Came Through Drippin

Most of the world relies on flood irrigation to water crops. A more efficient alternative hasn’t been widely adopted because it’s so expensive. One Israeli soil physicist has the answer: a tiny plastic widget

10+ mins read
Bloomberg Businessweek
September 27, 2021

The Site Pushing the Big Lie About Arizona's Election Audit

The Gateway Pundit, which has a history of advancing promoting the audit in Maricopa County

3 mins read
August 13, 2021


William Edward Mann enlisted in the Navy after graduating from high school in rural Washington state. A guitar player, he picked up the ukulele while stationed in Hawaii.

5 mins read
AppleMagazine #510

Kyrsten Sinema – Shape Shifter

From Green Party rabble-rouser to Senate power broker, Kyrsten Sinema’s rise is a political fairy tale—and nightmare.

10+ mins read
Mother Jones
July/August 2021

America's Friendlist Summits

Some high points require expert skill, a bit of luck, and probably some suffering. Not these. Here are 15 peaks—high on views, low on effort—that don’t play hard to get.

10+ mins read
May - June 2021

“I'm Your Huckleberry” Has a Double Meaning for Old Tucson

Saving the old girl is more than a dream.

6 mins read
True West
April 2021