The Lavender Pit: A Deep Dive into Bisbee's Mining History
Introduction to the Lavender Pit
The Lavender Pit, nestled near Bisbee in Cochise County, Arizona, stands as a monumental testament to the region's rich mining history. Named in honor of Harrison M. Lavender (1890–1952), the Vice-President and General Manager of Phelps Dodge Corporation, this pit transformed the mining industry in Bisbee by turning low-grade copper-bearing rock into profitable copper ore. The pit's operation, which spanned from 1950 to 1974, not only extracted vast quantities of copper but also unearthed the strikingly beautiful Bisbee Blue turquoise, a by-product highly valued by collectors and jewelers alike.
The Scale and Impact of Mining
Extensive Mining Operations
The Lavender Pit is colossal in its dimensions, stretching 1,000 feet deep, three-quarters of a mile wide, and a mile-and-a-half long, covering an area of 600 acres. During its 24 years of operation, the pit saw the extraction of 375 million tons of material. This staggering amount included 94 million tons of ore and 173 million tons of waste rock. The mining process was intricate and involved the relocation of Lowell's community, erasing 191 homes and businesses from the map to make way for the expanding pit.
Bisbee Blue: A Gemstone Legacy
Among the many outputs of the Lavender Pit, Bisbee turquoise, or Bisbee Blue, stands out. This turquoise variant, found in the copper ore, is renowned for its unique quality and color, making it a sought-after gemstone in the world of jewelry and collectibles.
Anecdotal Tales: The Personal Side of the Lavender Pit
The Daily Routine: Honks and Blasts
While detailed accounts of the daily routines like the 3:05 warning honk and the 3:15 dynamite blasts at the Lavender Pit are scarce, these practices were typical in large mining operations. Such procedures were essential for safety and efficiency, signaling the imminent detonations that were a regular part of mining work.
A Childhood View: The Lavender Pit Lookout
One particularly evocative anecdote comes from the childhood memories of a Big Jeep Tours guide. As a child, this individual would watch the dynamite explosions at the Holbrook Extension from the Lavender Pit Lookout. This lookout point, specifically built for locals, provided a safe and clear vantage point to observe the dramatic and thunderous blasts that reshaped the landscape. These experiences, shared by many in the Bisbee community, underscore the deep connection between the town's residents and the mining operations that were a pivotal part of their daily lives.
The Bisbee Blue in Dump #7
The story of Bisbee Blue turquoise and its supposed disposal into Dump #7 adds a layer of mystique to the history of the Lavender Pit. Bisbee Blue, recognized for its vibrant color and high quality, was not the primary target of the mining operations at the Lavender Pit, which focused on copper extraction. However, during the process of mining, workers occasionally stumbled upon this turquoise, leading to its accidental discovery and subsequent fame.
The discovery of Bisbee Blue was somewhat serendipitous. As miners extracted copper ore, they occasionally unearthed veins of this striking turquoise. Its unique hue, a deep blue with a smoky matrix, quickly caught the attention of gem enthusiasts. Unlike turquoise from other regions, Bisbee Blue had a distinctive character, thanks to the specific mineral composition of the area.
The Fate of Bisbee Blue
As the mining operations were primarily focused on copper, not all of the turquoise extracted was immediately recognized or preserved. Reports and local legends suggest that significant quantities of Bisbee Blue were inadvertently mixed with waste rock and other materials, ultimately finding their way into Dump #7. This dump, one of several around the Lavender Pit, became a repository for materials deemed non-essential to the mining operation.
Treasure Hunters and Collectors
This tale of potentially lost treasure has captivated gemstone enthusiasts and collectors for years. The prospect of valuable Bisbee Blue turquoise lying hidden within the heaps of waste rock sparks the imagination. Many have speculated about the volume and quality of turquoise that might be buried there, leading to a sort of modern-day treasure hunt.
Environmental and Safety Considerations
While the idea of unearthing hidden gems is alluring, it's important to note that scavenging in these dumps poses significant environmental and safety risks. The dumps consist not only of waste rock but also of industrial by-products and possibly hazardous materials, remnants of the extensive mining operations.
The Continuing Legacy
Today, Bisbee Blue remains a highly prized gemstone, and pieces that were properly extracted and preserved command high prices in the market. The stories of its accidental disposal and the mysteries surrounding Dump #7 add an intriguing chapter to the narrative of the Lavender Pit. They highlight the sometimes unforeseen consequences of industrial activity and the hidden treasures that can emerge from such endeavors.
Conclusion: The Legacy of the Lavender Pit
The Lavender Pit remains an iconic symbol of Bisbee's mining heritage. Its vast dimensions and the stories that have emerged from its depths tell a tale of industrial achievement, community transformation, and the unexpected treasures of the Earth. Today, it stands as a historical site, attracting visitors intrigued by its history and the stories of those who lived and worked in its shadow. The Lavender Pit's legacy continues to be a source of fascination and a reminder of the dynamic relationship between human endeavor and the natural world.