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Roger Weller, geology instructor
Mining- Bisbee, Arizona
by Audrey Yossem
The Lavender Pit-The Hole in Bisbee
The Lavender Pit:
Located in southern Arizona, in the small town of Bisbee, is the man-made hole, the Lavender Pit. The Lavender Pit was “dug over a 23-year span as part of a copper mining operation” (Lowe). I was born and raised in this small little town and never thought it was odd to have a huge random hole in the middle of town. The one thing that these town knows is its copper. There are many areas around the pit for sightseeing that many tourists and locals use to view this splendid trench.
The pit is bigger than most people believe. It measures “1,000 feet deep, three-quarters of a mile wide, a mile-and-a-half long, and covering 600 acres” (Lowe). According to The Copper Chronicle by KBRP radio, the pit project was started in 1951 and was led underway by Phelps Dodge mining engineer, Harrison M. Lavender. He is who the pit was named after because he was in charge of the planning and development for the project. Unfortunately, Harrison past away right before the project had started. What most people do not know about the whole project is that the land that was there were houses on the land prior. Actually, there was 191 houses and businesses on that land that had to moved elsewhere.
Throughout the mining of this gigantic beast, many minerals
were found. According to mindat.org, throughout the mining of the lavender pit,
they found minerals such as azurite, hematite, calcite, carbonatecyanotrichite,
pyrite, and no many more including the most commonly known thing for Bisbee
which is turquoise and copper. Copper is one of the main reasons why they
decided to dig the hole; for mining purposes. I know that if you ever stop by to
look at the masterpiece created here, you can still see some of the mine
“The pit was created bit by bit over a period of almost 60 years, through three mining phases. 1. The Sacramento Pit (mined 1917-1929). 2. The Lavender Pit (mined 1950s-1970s). 3. The Holbrook Extension (mined late 1960s-1970s)”. Even though there are many different parts of the pit, colloquially it is known as The Lavender Pit or simply The Pit. The miners had a specific way they would dig this hole and mine out the copper. “The pit was mined by way of a series of 50-foot-high ‘benches’ or steps cut into the edge of the ore deposit. A: closely spaced holes were drilled into the benches and filled with explosives. B: Explosives were detonated, breaking up a layer of rock. C: Broken rock was shoveled up and hauled away. The older Sacramento pit used steam shovels and ore cars on railway tracks. The newer Lavender Pit used electric shovels and haul trucks. D: Ore went to the crusher for further processing. Waste rock (rock containing little or no copper) were hauled away.” (all this information can be found at the Lavender pit).
Picture taken by Audrey Yossem
The Sacramento Pit:
The Sacramento pit is a small part of the pit as stated
before. It was the first part the miners started mining out but is not as widely
known unlike the lavender pit. It was started in 1917 and didn’t end until
around the late 1920s. Referring to Mindat.org, they found many minerals in this
section of the pit. Minerals such as bornite, gibbsite, quartz, and obviously
turquoise and copper. According to Briggs from the arizonadailyindependent.org,
Dodge began pre-production stripping of the Sacramento pit in 1917 and
commercial production was achieved in April 1923. These ores were mined by steam
shovels with rail haulage and processed by three methods. High grade ores
grading more than 3.5% copper were sent directly to the smelter, ores averaging
between one and 3.5% copper were treated at a 4,000 ton/day concentrator, and
ores containing less than one percent were treated by dump leaching with the
copper recovered from the leach solutions at a plant where it was precipitated
onto scrap metal”. There isn’t as much information on the Sacramento pit as
there is on the Lavender pit because the Lavender pit is the main attribute of
the entire hole itself.
If you look in this picture, the ridges are how trucks would get up and down the pit.
Photo by Audrey Yossem
The Holbrook Extension:
The Holbrook extension is the last section of work done on the lavender pit. It is named after one of the most famous mines in Bisbee. It was only worked on again to reopen the shafts to continue mining. Because this was not a very big step in the whole project and wasn’t worked on for very long, there isn’t much information about it.
One part of the pit that many don’t know about is that there
is a memorial at the overlook. It is commemorated to those who have fallen in
World War II. There is a big plaque with many names written on it. One in
particular is the name of T/SGT Arthur J. “Art” Benko, “Top Turret Gunner, U.S.
Army Air Corps”. He went to Bisbee High school and worked for Phelps-Dodge until
he volunteered for the Army Air corps in 1942. In only eight months of combat,
Art Benko downed sixteen confirmed hostile fighters, making him one of the war’s
gunner aces. On November 15, 1943, during a raid on Hong Kong, “The Goon”
developed engine trouble and most of the crew had to bail out. Art and two other
crew members landed in the middle of a very wide, fast flowing river. Art was
not seen after that, and it is presumed that he had drowned. Art Benko received
many medals including the legion of merit, air medals, and purple hearts. This
memorial is dedicated to Art Benko and the other seventy-six patriots from the
Bisbee area who lost their lives in World War II.
Not many people think of this creation as a big deal, but at
the time of war and discovery, this gigantic hole was being made. It leaves
behind a humungous amount of knowledge and wonder. This is one spot that
everyone should have on their bucket list of places to visit.
both photos were taken by Audrey Yossem