Here in Arizona, we are blessed with so many different options when it comes to taking a day trip – we can go north to Flagstaff and enjoy Bearizona, or Sunset Crater. We can travel northeast and find The Petrified Forest and Monument Valley.
Or… opt to travel closer and head to Payson – there are SO many things to do and see!
We must not forget Yuma – it’s quite warm in the summer, but the winter makes it a fabulous place to see the Territorial Prison, the Army’s Golden Knights parachute team (who train from January – March at the Proving Grounds). As a kid, my parents drove us all over the U.S. … we didn’t have much money, but they always made a point of finding unique and interesting places to take us to – of course, we pinched pennies along the way (having four kids wasn’t cheap!)
When I look back at my childhood, I don’t remember much in the way of gifts, but I do remember the family trips we went on. Now, I look forward to taking my 5 kids to see new and unique things each month.
It’s a wonderful experience – they get to see things that are unique and educational – at the same time, they get familiar with road trips. It’s something that will help them later on in life as they have their own kids, and hopefully these experiences are ones that they will remember 30 years from now when they have a family of their own.
Tucson and Southern Arizona have unique day trips all their own – one of our most recent day trips was to the ASARCO Mine, just south of Tucson in Sahuarita.
Mining in Arizona
Arizona is nicknamed “The Copper State” because of the rich abundance of copper deposits. If Arizona was a country, it would be the second largest copper producer in the world – right now, only the country of Chile produces more copper than Arizona.
If you take a look at the state flag for Arizona, you will see a copper colored star – that signifies the importance of copper to the economy.
Our state seal depicts the image of a miner as well – mining is, in lesser part, a huge part of our economy.
What is the ASARCO Mine Company?
Based in Tucson, ASARCO LLC mines and processes copper, and was founded in 1899. They operate three mine properties in the state of Arizona:
- The Silver Bell Mine and SX/EW plant (NW of Tucson)
- The Ray Complex and mill, between Hayden and Superior in central Arizona
- The Mission Complex mine and mill, south of Tucson in Sahuarita.
The Mineral Discovery Center is part of the Mission Complex mine in Sahuarita – it is the only place in Arizona that you can find regular public tours of the open-pit copper mine without having to make a reservation.
The tour was both a fun and educational experience for our kids …. they had a great time, and loved seeing the large mining trucks both working in the mine and those that have been retired and are now on display. They got a little tired at the end.. but I think that was because we left Phoenix rather early in the morning and the drive was a good two hours (including stops for the restroom).
Believe it or not, the tour guide did a great job at relating the material to them, despite the ages (youngest is 1, the oldest being 11).
The Mineral Discovery Mine Tour
The Mineral Discovery Mine Tour is approximately 1 hour in length – it begins at the Mineral Discovery Center. Reservations are not required, but if you are traveling from out of town, I would suggest claling to make sure the tour is running on the day you plan on going.
Tickets for the tour can be purchased in the Discovery Center – which also features a gift shop and a video theater. There is no fee for the exhibits or theater (or gift shop actually) but the actual mine tour will require tickets.
Fees for the tour range from FREE (ages 0-4) to $10 (for adults):
- Adults: $10
- Seniors/Active Duty Military: $8
- Children, ages 5-12: $7
- Children, ages 0-4: FREE
The tour is conducted on a 40-person bus, and begins by traveling a gradual 5 miles to the open-pit viewpoint….. which is the rim of the mine. The viewpoint is guarded with a chain link fence, which provides visitors the chance to peek down to the bottom of the mine.
(Even if you are afraid of heights, this isn’t as close as it appears).
The same viewpoint also gives kids a chance to see a huge 11′ tire from a 240 ft haul truck that they can climb in and snag a picture with.
The Mission Mine is 2 miles from north to south, a quarter mile deep, and 1 3/4 mile from east to west. Fascinating! SIX times the amount of earth moved to dig the Panama Canal has been mined here.
That’s a mind blowing figure.
The mine tour takes you past the south mill, where the copper ore is ground into a powder – from there, the copper minerals are separated by froth flotation. Kids and adults alike can watch the real-time movement of the process on both sides of the mill, and the tour guide does a wonderful job of explaining the process more in depth.
From there, you’ll tour the reclamation areas via bus – the tailings (ground rock with the copper minerals removed) are kept in specific areas.
We learnd so much on this tour –
- Copper is 100% fully recyclable
- Copper is anti-microbial and is used in linens in hospitals, door knobs, electric cars, smart phones, video game consoles, even pipes in your home.
- The huge trucks – each tire is $750,000 – they wear them out so fast that they buy new every six months.
- Only Michelin tires are used!
- 80% of the water (tailings) is reused in the mining process – 10% evaporates and the other 10% is used on the roads to keep the dust down as the mine continues to operate.
Back at the Mineral Discovery Center, you can finish the tour by visiting the gift shop and checking out the exhibits on the grounds – they have old mining equipment, trucks and machinery.