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mining towns/greenlee county

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I wanted to open a thread on Greenlee County, which I think is the most interesting county in the state, but also epitomizes a forelorn, but integral part of the state's history.

Greenlee County is on the state's east side, mostly straddling the New Mexico state line. It is the state's least populous county, and many Arizonans have never even heard of it.

The majority of the county's land is in the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest, and is more or less untouched by man, save for US 191 and a few hiking trails and campgrounds. This helps account for the low population to an extent, as does the fact that the largest town in the county is less than 2500.

Greenlee County was founded, and still almost solely exists on the economics of mining. The Morenci Mine is one of the largest open-pit mines in the world (I've heard conflicting facts about its ranking, putting it anywhere from #2 to #4), and employs approximately 2000 directly, and several more thousand indirectly.

There are two main towns in Greenlee County, both grouped into San Francisco Canyon at the foot of the mine: Clifton (the county seat) and Morenci.

Clifton was the original mining town, one of the many AZ copper boom towns of the late 19th century. Clifton is similar to both Globe and Bisbee in that the mining operations have virtually left it, however it differs in that it has failed to diversify its economy (although Globe is still struggling). Clifton is now one of the most depressing places you'll ever see (except for maybe Flint, from what I've seen). The historic downtown district, with its former boarding houses and bordellos, is basically deserted, save for a couple of seedy bars. The rest of the town is similar, where the only consistently open shop seems to be those which vend alcohol.

It's also interesting to mention that Clifton is the only town that I know of in Arizona to have flood gates. These effectively separate the rich part of town (South Clifton) from the older, poorer part of town.

Morenci, on the other hand, is a true Phelps-Dodge town in every way. Almost every business is owned by Phelps-Dodge, as are the majority of the houses, and virtually every working person in town is employed by the mine, directly or indirectly. Morenci is also not incorporated, but is instead just a CDP of close to 2000 people. They have their own schools, stores, a motel, churches, gas stations, etc. This is one of only two towns in the state that I've come across where the town itself is infused with the mine (Bagdad is the other, although I certainly could be wrong, so please feel free to point out another town like this).

A few photos:

Downtown Clifton:




Clifton flood gates:


Greenlee County Courthouse (in "South Clifton" on the dry side of the flood gates):


Morenci Pit Mine (not my picture):


Morenci's only grocery, notice the name, with the "Bashas" in much smaller lettering to the side:


Looking south on top of the Mogollon Rim on US 191 in northern Greenlee County:


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Colin, I swear I'd like to just spend one day with you when you have time off. I don't think you could ever stay in one space for very long! But I never would have thought about a place like this, but they just seem so interesting, and yes this is more depressing than Flint. Flint has seen some hard times, but It's just as sprawled with McMansions as every other midsize city. There are still people everywhere.

But how do you find this stuff! Very intriuging. Do your friends know of your extra cirricular activities? If they do, do they think you are as weird, as my friends think I am?

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I first came across Clifton the first real time I came to AZ (the last time, I was 5) in 2000. My friend and I were going from Silver City to Tucson, and I thought that 78 would be a good back way, and thought that Clifton had a big enough dot on the map to have at least one gas station (and one gas station it had!). We probably should have just waited until Safford, but then I would have never seen Clifton. It's possible that we almost ran out of gas and wouldn't have made it to Safford. I asked my friend about Clifton over a year ago and he doesn't seem to remember the experience at all.

My friends know about the random trips, and some occassionally like to come along (although usually only if the trip is short/not overnight or has a real intention behind it, like to see a show), but I don't think any really understand the true motivation behind it (I don't know that I even do). I think most that know me think I'm eccentric because of other things, and the constant traveling for seemingly no reason and interest in otherwise uninteresting places are just additional facets in that designation.

I should post some Bagdad photos too. I took these in March '05, on a trip I took to Western AZ right before I started my current job (I actually quit my previous job before I had another one, so I had a space of a week when I was officially unemployed).

If you're too lazy to look at a map, Bagdad is about 100 miles northwest of Phoenix in Yavapai County and has an estimated population of about 2500. It is, like Morenci, not incorporated and is just a CDP. I've never heard anything on why it's called Bagdad, and it doesn't make sense, since Baghdad, Iraq is in a flat, river valley while Bagdad, Arizona is at the upper end of a small canyon surrounded by hills. Like, Morenci, most of the stores and houses are owned by Phelps Dodge, although the main shopping center in town does not have the Phelps Dodge sign as in Morenci.


Phelps Dodge office (across the street from Bashas'):



Houses built on the slanted hills:


Entrance to the mine:


I decided to have lunch there, but found there was basically no where to eat, so I ended up at Bashas' waiting for them to make me a sub sandwich (probably the worst sub ever made). What's weird is that, while waiting, I noticed that everyone seemed to know each other. The deli clerk knew the people coming up, and the patrons all knew each other as well. And not in that b.s. cordiality way either that you see a lot, but rather like they actually all spent time together on a regular basis.

I think that this has to do with Bagdad being so isolated. The other nearest towns are Wickenburg and Prescott, both about 60 miles away. There is literally nothing in between. Everyone who works in Bagdad also lives there (unlike Morenci where many mine workers commute), and it's rare for the residents to even have the opportunity to interact with people from other communities. Sort of like cultural imbreeding.

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those communities with that sort of homogineity, creep me out. Although, given some of the history make it some what interesting. I know very little about PhelpsDodge, other than it's a copper mining company of some kind. It has somewhat of a big brother feel to it, when you talk about it owning all of the businesses in town.

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I had read about this a while ago, but hadn't heard anything on it in some time.

Air-quality OK for new mine

The mine will be built near Safford, and will be the first new Phelps Dodge mine in the US in over 20 years.

I would assume that they're building this on the side of the Pinaleno Mountains, which are only about 10 miles south of Downtown Safford. I do wonder how this will affect the observatory at nearby Mount Graham, as I'm sure it will add quite a bit of light pollution.

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