With all of the golf courses, high-rise buildings, and the new Valley Metro light rail system, you might think that Phoenix has lost its Wild West charm. Although downtown is full of modern amenities, let me assure you that the desert is still a dangerous place. This is Arizona after all, where activities such as mining run deep in our history (and our land!). I think this is a great time to talk about the dangers of abandoned mines.
Phoenix has grown tremendously since the 1940s, when many of the mines in Arizona were shut down due to World War II. Mines that were once in remote areas are now literally in people's backyards. Our growing city is full of people who enjoy outdoor activities like hiking, biking, camping, climbing, rock hounding, and 4-wheeling. Many of these people are unaware of the dangers of abandoned mines as they venture out into the desert for fun and adventure.
The Arizona State Mine Inspector estimates that there may be as many as 100,000 mines in Arizona, with over 20,000 of them in Maricopa County alone. About 9,900 of these mines have been mapped and evaluated by the Mine Inspector's office since 1990.
The State Mine Inspector's office works hard to seal off mines that it determines are a threat to public safety. Unfortunately, the State Mine Inspector's office suffers from a lack of funding and resources to follow up on every report of a dangerous hole in the ground. The list of mines waiting to be sealed greatly exceeds the State's yearly budget. This means that many of Arizona's abandoned mines are still out there, uncovered and inviting disaster.
Abandoned mines in state parks, mountain preserves, and national forests have been backfilled or fenced in for the most part. However, abandoned mines are common on private property and state trust land. These mines are very dangerous and should never be entered for any reason! The risks of entering abandoned mines include:
- Encountering wild animals (snakes, scorpions, spiders, bats, and javelina)
- Hitting your head
- Getting lost
- Falling down a shaft
- Getting buried in a rockslide or collapse
- Suffocation from deadly mine gases ("bad air")
- Injuries from old timber, ladders, etc
- Getting arrested for trespassing
- Severe injury or death
If you should encounter an abandoned mine, remember this important rule: Stay Out and Stay Alive! Just because it "looks safe" doesn't mean it is! Be sure to tell your neighbors, your kids, and your neighbors' kids about the danger of abandoned mines. They are never safe to play in or around, especially when one wrong step can cost you your life.
For more information on mine safety or to report an abandoned mine near you, please visit the Arizona State Mine Inspectors' website.