Rockhounding Arizona’s Red Cloud, North Geronimo, Melisssa, & South Geronimo Mines for Vanadinite, Wulfenite, and Fluorescents!
What an Adventure!
Red Cloud Mine…REALLY?!?!
I’ve wanted to visit Red Cloud Mine for a long time. So, when I received an email from MSA (the Mineralogical Society of Arizona) seeking interest in a group trip, I jumped on it! I had joined MSA a little over a year beforehand, after hearing that they have some of the absolute best field trips. Unfortunately, with COVID and our fluid vagabonding lifestyle, MSA hadn’t been scheduling as many trips and when they did occur, we were nowhere near enough to attend. This time we were! Well, in the same state… that counts, right?! We were a 5-hour drive from Martinez Lake, but for a weekend trip, it was worth the drive.
I am going to describe our adventure as part of an organized group, but you don’t have to be part of a group to mine at Red Cloud. If they’re hanging the open sign out front and have staff available, they’ll take you mining (after a brief safety talk). Red Cloud Mine is open seasonally so it’s a good idea to check their website and/or Facebook page for open days and times beforehand. The cost starts at $35 and can go as high as $200+ depending on the location. They also have plenty of locally mined wulfenite and vanadinite available for sale at the Red Cloud mine site.
- If you’d like to skip my narrative about the group thing and get right to the mining, click here!
- Worried about the drive in, click here to learn more
- Just want a breakdown of the key elements, click here
the Mineralogical Society of Arizona
The Mineralogical Society of Arizona is Arizona’s oldest mineralogical society founded in 1935. Their purpose is to promote interest and education in Earth Science, and related fields through Field Trips, Monthly Meetings, Seminars, Symposiums and Shows. They offer some outstanding mineralogic field trips.
If you’re interested in joining MSA – check it out here. Truly a great group of rock happy folks!
So doing the group thing can be intimidating, embarrassing, a drag, or another grand adventure. If you are shy, like I am, it’s intimidating. If you’re too cool to hang with rockhounding nerds, it can be embarrassing. If you don’t like people much, it’s got the potential to be a drag. As you can see though, it’s really about you, not them. If it isn’t a grand adventure, maybe take a look in the mirror. Yeah, there can be that one difficult personality for everyone to swallow but it’s your choice to let them ruin your adventure.
With all that said, we were fortunate enough to have a spectacular group. Everyone was easy-going, interesting, and happy to share their “spot”, so no one left empty-handed. Well, except for that one campsite thieving couple who kept entirely to themselves. And we actually ended up with a better spot that came with unobstructed views of the sunrise over the Trigo Mountains. Thank you, campsite jumping rockhounds!
Our MSA group leader supplied all the necessary details prior to the trip. We were given options as to whether we wanted to camp overnight and which mines we wanted to visit. The plan was to meet Saturday morning near Martinez Lake at 9:00 am, heading out at 9:10. And he kept things right on schedule. From there we were to convoy to Red Cloud Mine where we had the options to mine there or at North Geronimo and whether to do so in one day or camp out overnight at Red Cloud to stretch it out over two.
Martinez Lake – Fishers Landing
We were currently “residing” near Sierra Vista, Arizona, a full 5-hour drive from the Trigo Mountain Wilderness, where Red Cloud Mine is located. Due to the length of the drive, we chose to drive out on Friday and spend the night near the meetup point.
We arrived at Martinez Lake and did some exploring. We had visited the area just a few weeks earlier in our side-by-side, while staying at YPG, Yuma Proving Grounds FamCamp. There are many camping options in the area, and I’ll list them all in the summary at the end of this post. Martinez lake is located almost midway between Yuma and Quartzsite, Arizona and west of Kofa NWR. There is a small convenience store at Fisher’s Landing that has just about anything a camping self could want.
Camping at Martinez Lake
At the junction of Martinez Lake Road and Refuge Road are some dry camping areas. On the West side of Refuge Road, dry camping is available at $10 /person/day managed by Fisher’s Landing Resort. On the east side of the road is Arizona State Trust Land where camping is free with an annual State Trust Land permit (get yours here).
We chose the State Trust Land and found a nicely secluded spot amongst the Mesquite with a view of Castle Dome and the aerostat radar balloon. Sleep came upon the serenading song of the wild burros and the occasional BOOM of a distant YPG test bomb, strangely more romantic than it sounds.
Camped just across the street from the MSA meetup spot, we were able to enjoy our instant Starbucks and good ole Kellogg’s oatmeal at our leisure. We arrived second at the meeting spot, just after a fluorescent hunter from California. The rest of the group rolled in right on time, except for two. One was expected to make their own way to the mine and the other did not stop us from leaving at the planned time of 9:10 am. Having been active in Meetup Hiking Groups in the past, this simple fact of leaving at the time stated was HUGE! I compliment Chris, group leader, for sticking to it. Fortunately, the two missing at our meetup point arrived at Red Cloud without mishap.
CONVOY (The REAL adventure is the drive in!)
The drive out to Red Cloud Mine is an adventure all its own! Four-wheel drive is an absolute must and I would highly recommend high clearance as well. Mesquite pinstriping will occur. Red Cloud Mine is 25 miles from Highway 95, 15.2 miles from Martinez Lake Rd, 13.2 miles of which is rough dirt road. It is dusty, bumpy, jarring, rocky, sandy, and even a bit steep at times. Be sure to have good tires (maybe even low on air with a compressor on hand), lots of water and a big bottle of the pain reliever of your choice. Don has a bad back and this drive was excruciating for him. It would have been more comfortable in the Rzr.
Shortly after leaving Martinez Lake, and turning right on Red Cloud Mine Rd., the road enters Imperial National Wildlife Refuge along the northern shores of Martinez Lake and the Colorado River. I can’t wait to make a trip back just to visit the Refuge. Unfortunately for us, but good for the wildlife, camping is not allowed within the Refuge.
Following the Refuge, and about 8 miles from Martinez Lake Rd., the road enters the Yuma Proving Grounds. DO NOT LEAVE THE ROAD for the next 6 miles, while in YPG! The last 2 1/5 miles to the mine is on BLM (Bureau of Land Management) land.
Of course, you can’t miss the photo op with Bob on your way in!
Trigo Mountain Wilderness
Red Cloud Mine is located adjacent to the Trigo Mountain Wilderness, comprised of 30,300 acres of Sonoran Desert. It is home to many critters from bighorn mountain sheep and wild burros to rattlesnakes and mountain lions. Located in the Lower Colorado River Valley, be sure to keep a lookout for interesting birds. The wilderness is near two waterfowl refuges, the Cibola and Imperial National Wildlife Refuges. So as rough as the driver may be, take your time and enjoy the desert scenery and wildlife. Someone in our group saw some mountain sheep right beside the road.
Red Cloud Mine
Red Cloud Mine was discovered by Warren Hammond in 1878. In true old west style, it is rumored that he pawned his shotgun in Yuma and headed north to stake a claim in what later became known as the Silver Mining District, La Paz County, Arizona. The Red Cloud Mine was originally a silver and lead mine. It wasn’t until 1938, when Ed Over discovered some truly exquisite wulfenite specimens that the mine developed its fame for Wulfenite.
Red Cloud is now the base location for Red Cloud Mining LLC operations. Mine dump and tailings collection are available at Red Cloud. The underground mine is closed at this time and needs extensive work before it can be mined again. Fluorescents and wulfenite can be found in the tailings in the pit mine.
From their base at Red Cloud, mining is offered at North and South Geronimo mines as well.
As part of the MSA group, we were given the option to collect here at Red Cloud or join others heading out to North Geronimo. We chose to go to North Geronimo but when we returned to camp at Red Cloud that night, those who had stayed behind had plenty of fun specimens to show and tell. That night a group collected fluorescents.
These guys are great and do such a wonderful job of running this operation. They are more than willing to share their vast knowledge and years of experience. Just beware Rogers very dry sense of humor.
Camping at Red Cloud Mine
Camping is free at Red Cloud mine for those paying to collect. It is rustic dry camping, but they do have showers and a restroom available. Bring all of your own supplies, including lots and lots of water. They are even dog friendly! We chose not to bring Max though, wanting to be able to apply our undivided attention to hounding rather than as responsible dog owners.
Mining North Geronimo
Not the place to be if you have nyctophobia, claustrophobia, or acrophobia! Thankfully, my phobias were sidelined by my excitement. This is up there on my list of all time super fun experiences!!!
This is an underground mine, and one must be physically able to descend and ascend a 20-foot vertical ladder and another 40-foot ladder at 30 degree incline (at least at the time of this writing)!
PPE or Personal Protective Equipment is not only required but necessary in this environment, from hard hats and headlamps to safety glasses and dust masks. And of course, do not forget your bucket, hammer, and chisels! They have a full list of what you should bring on their website – check it out before going.
We found superb specimens of bright red Vanadinite in North Geronimo. There were multiple veins throughout the mine with plenty of room for half a dozen people to mine.
Mining the Melissa
I do not know if mining is offered at Melissa at this time. It was offered as a part of our group outing and I really enjoyed it. Melissa is a teeny tiny little hole in the side of a hill type mine, but it has some unique specimens of wulfenite. They are very small bipyramidal red-orange crystals.
Mining South Geronimo
The collecting for South Geronimo Mine was hammer and pick work on a hillside. I found some wonderful specimens of wulfenite by simply sorting through the piles of material left behind by previous miners.
Some of the Treasures we took home!
Top row: Vanadinite, Wulfenite, second row: Wulfenite, Vanadinite, Wulfenite and Vanadinite, last row: Vanadinite, Wulfenite
Summary & Additional Details
I am not an expert! I’ll do the research and reconnaissance and share with you what I discover, but it’s always a good idea to do your own research before heading out into the field.
- Site: Red Cloud Mine, N Geronimo, S Geronimo, and Melissa Mines, Silver District, La Paz County, Trigo Mountains Wilderness, Arizona
- GPS: 33° 6′ 1” North , 114° 35′ 59” West (Latitude & Longitude, WGS84) or 33.10045,-114.59984 (Latitude & Longitude, decimal).
- Gem, Minerals and/or Fossils possible: Calcite, var. Manganese-bearing Calcite, Cerussite, Fluorite, Hematite, Massicot, Smithsonite, Vanadinite, Wulfenite
- Gem Minerals and/or Fossils found: Vanadinite, Wulfenite
- Surface, dig, other: Tailings, Underground mining, and Surface – pick and hammer mining.
- Public lands authority or private ownership: Private ownership: RC Mining LLC, Red Cloud Mine, 928-366-0487, email@example.com
- Fee to Dig or Collect: Fees of $35 – $200 depending on where and how you mine
- Drive in classifications 2x, 4x, UTV, or Foot: High clearance is the key! 4 wheel drive is a good idea but we did see 2 wheel drive vehicles that had made it.
- Hike Classification (Difficult, Moderate, a stroll in the park): Not much hiking involved but there is a small amount of scrambling on uneven surfaces and ladder climbing with exposure if descending into one of the mines.
- Hike Distance: Minimal.
- Environment (Desert, Forest, etc.): Desert and desert foothills
- Safety concerns: Typical of a desert environment; watch out for poisonous creatures & predators, carry a safety tracking tool and paper map, always tell someone where you are going and if possible, do not go alone, take plenty of water, be sure your vehicle has plenty of fuel and check your tires before heading out.
- Where we stayed: Old Airstrip Martinez Lake, Red Cloud Mine and Apache Flats RV Resort (Military Campground), Fort Huachuca, Sierra Vista, AZ
- Camping nearby: So many camping options are available! I HIGHLY recommend using the Campendium app. Fisher’s Landing Resort Dry Camp, Hidden Shores RV Park, Desert Breeze Travel Camp (military), numerous campgrounds in Quartzsite and Yuma
- Boondocking nearby: Quartzsite, Kofa NWR, etc.