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The Lost Black Canyon Placer


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Named for the black metamorphic rocks that it cuts through, Black Canyon Creek is part of the drainage system that taps the southeastern flank of the Bradshaw Mountains. Turkey Creek, Crazy Basin Creek, and Poland Creek are all feeder streams of Black Canyon Creek, which empties into the Aqua Fria River at Black Canyon City.

The Black Canyon area has a history of gold placer mining extending back at least to the 1850's. Nearly every tributary of Black Canyon Creek, and the main stream itself, contained placer gold. The adjacent slopes of the Bradshaws were intensely mineralized. For millennia, the mountains had shed nuggets of gold into the surrounding streams. Rich pockets of placer gold accumulated throughout the Black Canyon Creek watershed. In the early 1920's, a prospector recovered $20,000 worth of placer gold from a gravel bar in Black Canyon Creek, just downstream from the Howard Copper Mine.

In the 1850's, Mexican prospectors were active in the southern Bradshaw Mountains. They worked a few of the lode deposits, panned many of the streams, and built arrastres to separate the gold from the gangue. Sometime in the latter half of the 1800's, a Mexican prospector discovered an extremely rich pocket of placer gold somewhere in the Black Canyon area. The Mexican worked the deposit for a short time and then left the country, intending to return later. He never did, but his two sons tried to find the placer deposit years later. They were unable to locate the pocket. There has been much gold taken from Black Canyon, but the big pocket apparently still remains.


The history of placer mining in the state of Arizona extends back to the days of the early Spaniards. Certainly in 1582, the Spaniards under Espejo were testing the sands and gravels of central Arizona for gold. In 1774, the Spanish priest Padre Manuel Lopez enlisted the help of local Papago Indians to mine the placer deposits near the flanks of the Quijotoa Mountains in southern Arizona. During the early 1800's, Spanish and then Mexican prospectors combed the mountains and deserts of Arizona for gold. By the 1850's, placer gold had been discovered at Oro Blanco, the Arivaca district, the Bagdad area, the Chemuehuevis Mountains, and at the Gila diggings. The early 1860's saw huge strikes at La Paz, Rich Hill, and Lynx Creek. The gold nuggets at Rich Hill were just lying on the surface! It turned out to be the richest placer gold discovery in Arizona mining history. Placer mining continued in Arizona for the next 70 years although with diminishing returns. By the 1940's, it had nearly died out. A renewed interest in placer mining has occurred since the inception of high-quality metal-detectors in the 1990's.

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Arizona has nearly 90 gold placer districts. Taken as a whole, the placer deposits of the Bradshaw Mountains have been the richest. Several placer mining districts occur along the southeast flank of the Bradshaws. The Black Canyon District has officially produced nearly 50,000 ounces of placer gold. Gold has been found all along the canyon but especially between Arrastre Creek and Poland Creek. Placers in Turkey Creek occur about one mile north of Cleator. These were worked sporadically up to the early 1940's.