Sunday, November 7, 2010

Adventure Around the Mines

Did you read Adventure Schmenture, or Discovery? Bah! Whatofery? If you didn't, you're about to be real confused.

We did go to that Gold King Mine and Ghost Town two feet north of Jerome, AZ-just as I said we would (and we had lunch, too-haha!). We saw old tools, old cars, old mining equipment, dilipidated buildings, funny signs...oh, and chickens and goats. Matthew was right about the weeds, though. There were plenty. It was hot as well, and the donkey did not show up to be fed or kissed.

Once we climbed the windy road into Jerome, we felt like we were in a minature San Francisco. Jerome perches precariously on a hill, the buildings on Main Street all lean on each other as they follow the grade of that hill, and people live in houses where their backyards are just a dive off the back patio and down a very long slope.

Jerome started off as a mining community, became a ghost town once the copper and gold disappeared, and then became a village of artists and daredevil individuals who think stilts on a steep hill supporting the backside of your house is an intriguing concept.

The town is tiny, really, to my city eyes. One would think, then, that it would be impossible to get lost or turned around and possibly headed north toward Sedona (honey, are those red rocks? Nooooooo! Turn around-Quick!), but such is not the case. We got lost driving on Main Street which is really just ten feet of Arizona 89A south, and we didn't just get lost once but twice. In our defense the road is dissected by a thin line of buildings in the middle-take the wrong fork in the road by the bright red firehouse, and you could be going north instead of south as intended.

We were headed to see the Gold King Mine the first time when we took a wrong turn on Main Street and ended up going back down the hill the way we had come, passing the turnoff for Jerome State Historical Park on the way out, so we made the decision to see that first.

At the entrance to that Park stands an old mining headframe. Beneath its towering wooden legs a glass windowed/mirror-enhanced mining shaft penetrates the earth for 1900 feet. As a sign informs us that's a greater distance than the length of the Eiffel Tower or the Empire State Building or the great Egyptian Pyramids.

My kids stepped out onto the glass, and I proceeded after them, creeping inches out onto the steel mesh and then glass surface as if on river ice and hugging the wall to the side for safety. I had one hand on Daniel who was strapped to my front in the sling.

"It's not going to break," an adolescent boy said to me, watching my progress. "It's safe, you know. It's really sturdy."

I made a flippant noise and said, "I know that." He left, and I slowly drew away my hand from the wall and stood erect on the glass. Then I peered down.

Pretty cool. I got addicted to the thrill of looking down that shaft. After taking pictures of the sign explaining the history of the headframe and climbing into a rusty miner's cage, I kept going back beneath those skyscraper wooden legs to gaze into the abyss.

Jerome State Historical Park basically consists of the home and grounds of a man surnamed Douglas who did well in the mining business. There are some neat items there-like line upon line of donated mining cars, but for some reason, the Audrey Headframe at the Little Daisy Mine captivated me so much more. I guess one feels such things are like looking down at your mortality without the danger of confronting it face to face.

We were getting hungry, but there was no parking in Jerome because a little mariachi festival was on in the center square which consisted of ten square feet of concrete by the main road with some concrete step seating above that. We headed past the fire station and proceeded north the forty feet or so until we came upon Gold King Mine. The kids ate goldfish in the car, and I paid the ungodly price for a package of M&Ms in the gift shop to tide me over. Matthew? He's a food camel.

Out we went to view what we could find. Amid the dust, weeds, heat and the noise of a very old, still-operating sawmill we found a collection of vintage cars, motorcylces, trucks, farm equipment and salvaged buildings and signs from western ghost towns. An hour's stroll later we rounded a corner, and a man in a denim shirt, worn pale with exposure to dust and sun over many years, and wearing a hat that he probably slept in most nights halted us with a warning.

"It's going to get loud," he said.

What on earth? Just what was he warning us about?

Some ladies who evidently were regular visitors to the Gold King Mine piped in, "You might want to back up with the baby. It'll frighten the poor little thing."

I backed up but, no, again they walked towards me and said, "Really, it's loud. It'll be tough on the little guy's ears."

I retreated further.

And they reiterated, "It's a big boom and blasts. Frightening, just frightening for the little ones! Make sure you cover his ears! Very, very loud..."

With their dire shakings of the head and serious deadpan faces, it seemed as if they wanted to shout at me, "Woman, run away with your child from this place! It'''ll blow your baby's head off! Run-now!"

Soon the snorts and percolating huffs and puffs of some big machine began to build. I continued to edge backwards, my hands suspended to the side of Daniel's ears, wandering just what it was. Possibly that big blue vintage truck with the hood up? No. The sawmill? No.

Then something fired off several frantic whistle-blasts like a train beset by train robbers. Then BOOM! BOOM! The noise bounced off the hills of the valley, ricocheting like rifle shots in a large battle and probably knocking a few Jerome buildings down their pretty hill.

Daniel rocked his head side to side to figure out what was going on, and I anxiously watched the other three to see if they were scared. They weren't; Berto was, in fact, smiling as if to say, Any day where my eardrums can throb in the fresh country air is a good day!

"What is it?" I called over the noise to the man in the hat who'd first laid down the warning.

"Oh, just an old time generator," he called. "We use it as a noisemaker for visitors."

Uh-huh. Well, it was that. Somebody-one of the ladies, no doubt-said they could hear it clear south in Prescott on a good day.

But it was winding down, and I wanted to ask the gentleman who worked there if I could take his picture. He had long gray hair beneath that lived-in hat. His face was weathered and the beard was not tended; he just looked like the epitome of an old cowboy. He even had the easy-going smile and the slow gait of one. But I didn't want to say, "Can I get your picture for my blog?" So I just stared at him until he wandered off uneasily.

We left shortly after-headed for food but with a fridge magnet souvenir in hand.

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