Christopher Creek's Uranium Mine

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A lot of people in Payson don't realize it, but in Christopher Creek they sure do. There's an old uranium mine out there, a place that has been mined in the past for precious minerals and may be once again in the future.

Oh, and the locals like to hike out there too, something that I did a few weeks ago myself.

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This really shows the mine area. You've got Promontory Butte in the background, the layers of red rock seen below in the mining pit area, and then stream/pond area that has formed running out from the mine pit.

This mine goes by a variety of names. The two most popular are the "Promontory Butte Mine" and the "Mormon Lake Uranium Claims." The mine appears to go back to the 1950s and is actually a collection of many mining claims.

Dr. Paul Johnson, mining and mineral processing engineer, made a more detailed summary of the early property history in an April 19, 1971 report.

"The original discovery of the Mormon Lake uranium property was made in 1956 by Lee and Houston Phillips. During their period of ownership, a considerable amount of exploration work was done. The closing of a government uranium buying station in the area and the slow-down of the uranium industry in the early '60s prevented these men from further developing the property.

"The property was acquired in 1968 by the Southern Union Production Company, a wholly owned subsidiary of Southern Union Gas Company (NYSE). During their period of ownership, 57 holes were drilled and documented. Hazen Research, Inc. of Golden, Colo. conducted a mineralogical study on the property for the Southern Union Production Company. Also, about 150,000 tons of overburden was removed from a portion of the ore body on the Second Chance (SC) No. 1 Claim."

This brings us to the 1970s, when work on this mine heated up once again. Not only did Johnson do a report, but Dr. Marcel Morin, consulting geologist, and M.H. Jones, a mining geologist, also did reports.

There was also a stock scandal around this time, involving the company that owned the claims.

Now let's go into what each of these three aforementioned reports found, starting with the earliest of the three, Johnson's report.

The first paragraph of Johnson's Summary and Conclusions page says a lot. "The Mormon Lake uranium deposit near Payson, Arizona represents a discovery of major proporations [sic]. Extensive drilling has outlined sufficient tonnage of high quality ore to warrant development of the property by means of a new, low-cost leaching process. Cost estimates have been made on the basis of a 500 ton-per-day mine and processing plant."

This was a big find, a mine with a lot of upside. Johnson also estimated profit possibilities, summing it up best in the last two sentences of the Summary and Conclusions.

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More of an inside look at the mine pit area. Notice all the layering.

"This amount, less the operating costs, would leave a net profit before taxes of $113.50 per ton or $17,300,000 on the blocked-out ore reserves. Potentially this property could produce many times this amount of profit."

Johnson's report was the first of three done in an approximate year and a half period. I'm not sure how much work was really done in the 1970s on this property, but clearly it was a time of activity.

Now let's take a look at the geology of this area. I like the summary that Jones' report gives on this.

"I am informed that the major portion of the claims are immediately below the Mogollon rim. The Mogollon rim, according to most authorities, was formed during a sharp uplift of the Mogollon highlands during the middle Triassic time (Nevadian Revolution). The facies of the rim is Coconino sandstones and this formation can be readily observed from the mentioned exploration pit. However, it will be seen that the Coconino changes near the bottom of the facies, at this location, and the bottom strata could well be Hermit Shale. And as observed from a distance, this appears to be the same type rock that is on the claims bearing uranium (close examination was not possible due to my short visit). Both of these formations are Permian (200 million years, plus, in age). The uranium is the mineral Pitchblende (Uranite) and this is in a rock that is a conglomerate (or breccias in some samples I've looked at) composed of limestone fragments that have been compressed and cemented solidly in mass. The strange part of this proposition is that uraninite is supposed to be primary ore, yet, here it is in metamorphosed sedimentary rocks (but this is not uncommon)."

Now let's fast-forward on this mine. What's happening now? Well, it may get worked again. In the past couple years some press releases have gone out related to this property. An Oct. 16, 2006 press release opens with the following:

"Rodinia Minerals Inc. and Patriot Power ("Companies") are pleased to announce that they have discovered a new mineralized zone on their Mormon Lake Uranium property, located in Gila County, Arizona, USA. In April 2006, the Companies successfully completed a 13 hole reverse circulation drill program that was designed to confirm the location of the historical showings and to test an undrilled radiometric anomaly."

This property was also mentioned in the Arizona Metallic Resources Trends and Opportunities, 2007, published by the Arizona Departments of Mines and Mineral Resources. The following was said specifically about this area:

"Current Activity -- Roll front/Fluvial deposits: Exploration and drilling activity is under way at Promontory Butte, a past producer, in the Mogollon Rim country of central Arizona. The host rocks for the deposit are the Pennsylvanian and Permian age Supai group. Mineralization is associated with coalified plant remains and is located in fluvial channels with variable lithology grading from black shale to conglomerate. Rodinia Minerals drilled its Mormon lake property to test stratigraphy and mineralization outlined in historical data from previous exploration companies."

In the next couple of years I expect to see more activity at this property. Locals should be respectful of all of this and stay away from the area when heavy equipment is there. Much of the information contained in this article originated in the files of the Arizona Department of Mines and Mineral Resources. The folks down there were incredibly helpful and friendly when I was down there. The gentlemen that I talked to were familiar with this area, as well as many others around the state. They clearly have a great passion for minerals and impressed me with their knowledge, not to mention their patience with a novice such as myself.

Side Notes

I recently talked to someone at the Arizona State Archives in Phoenix. They are rapidly nearing completion on the new Polly Rosenbaum Archives and History Building, located just west of the State Capitol. Researchers should be aware that access to archival material is likely to be more limited in late July, August, and perhaps early September, as that is when they think they'll gradually be moving things from their current facility to the new building. If you'd like to find out more about this new facility, check out: http://www.lib.az.us/polly/.

I'd like to thank everyone who's had such positive comments regarding my new book, "Zane Grey's Forgotten Ranch: Tales from the Boles Homestead." It is available at a variety of outlets in Rim Country, the list of which is gradually growing. Amongst the current places include Western Village and the Double D in Tonto Village. And don't forget about my good friend C.M. Scott's artwork. You can catch a glimpse of it online at www.CowboyArtMart.com. The greeting cards are also available at Western Village. If you come out to the Double D in Tonto Village some afternoon, you might well run into Scotty as well.

Don't forget, I'm always looking for more stories, especially in the areas out by me. I've got some good leads on Tonto Village history but I'm always looking for more. You can contact me at timothy@zanegrey.net.

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