By Rick Bosshardt, AZ Pilots Association Board Member
Looking for a fun and interesting place to fly to and explore in Arizona? One of the hidden gems that we are fortunate enough to have is the fabled Grand Gulch Copper and Silver mine on the north rim of the Grand Canyon.
Situated in the northwest corner of the Grand Canyon National Park, the location actually sits on BLM land, and is thus approved for backcountry airplanes and other motorized vehicles. Its location is a long 8 hour 4WD trek south from St George, UT, and thus the use of aircraft is about the only time efficient way to explore this fascinating location.
Opened in the 1880’s, and in continuous operation until around 1920, the Grand Gulch mine was at one time the richest copper producer in the State of Arizona and produced almost .5% of all the copper in the USA.
Due to the difficulty in transporting the ore out for processing (for many decades it was a 400 MILE mule team and cart odyssey!), it became uneconomical. In the 1940’s during WWII, the price and need for copper caused the mine to reopen, but soon thereafter it closed for good and has been baking in the Arizona sun ever since.
There are two dirt strips that are in good shape, and around once a year volunteers from the AZ Pilots Association and the Recreational Aviation Foundation have a work party weekend to clear rocks, build up the fire pit, and do other maintenance. It would not be advisable to fly in there without removing wheel pants on trike gear and having at least 8.00x6 tires. Backcountry and high-altitude experience are a must.
Once settled in the tie down area, a short ¼ mile walk brings you to the old mine site. It’s a fascinating collection of old buildings, stamp mill pieces, two old 40’s vintage pickup trucks, a smelt oven, acid wash tanks, slag heaps, and even a vertical mine shaft that I estimate (thru listening to a rock falling in) to be around 1000’ deep. The National Park Service has a nice metal box with sign in sheet and a great historical account of the mine and its workings over the years, including pictures and newspaper articles. The people that lived and worked there were clearly a very hardy folk!
We camped that night out on the plateau, and the stars were just incredible, as there is very little light pollution around.
The Grand Gulch is truly a treasure for all backcountry pilots in the southwest, and definitely worthy of a visit! More information can be found at AZPilots.org Backcountry Airstrips. A video showing some good detail on the location and landings can be found on YouTube at this link.