Morenci turquoise was mined in Greenlee County in southeastern Arizona. Morenci turquoise is highly prized for its beautiful blue colors, which vary from a light to a very dark blue. Also for its unusual matrix of iron pyrite or "fool’s gold" that when polished often resembles silver. The turquoise was a by-product of the Morenci copper mine in Arizona. For many years heavy-equipment operators at the mine would "lunch box" the high-grade turquoise out. The March 1977 edition of the “International Turquoise Annual” states, "Many years ago, while mining for copper, workers unearthed a large zone of turquoise-bearing rock and, realizing its value, began working this zone, neglecting the copper. In order to ensure copper production continuing, the copper company that held the mine at the time took the entire turquoise deposit, which was extensive, and buried it under thousands of tons of waste rock from the pit and it is still sitting there. Uncovering it would be too massive and expensive a project." From 1956 to 1984 the turquoise rights were granted to William "Lucky" Brown who had an extensive mining career that included working the mine at Villa Grove in Colorado. The Morenci mine produced high quantities and was marketed through family operated trading posts in New Mexico and Arizona. Lucky retired in 1982 and his sons continued to mine the turquoise until the lease ended.
The Clifton-Morenci mining district lies eight miles due north of the Gila and San Francisco rivers and is near the Arizona-New Mexico border. The most reliable report states that a miner named Henry Clifton in 1864 first noted the area’s mineral resources. Within two years an Army scout, Robert Metcalf, discovered the blue and green copper stained out-cropping that he and a few associates claimed as the famous Longfellow mine, which went on to produced 20 million pounds of copper. In 1872 a Detroit mining man named William Church purchased a group of claims with his Detroit Copper Mining Company that he had organized. Church then proceeded to develop mining operations at Morenci, Arizona. Development work was no easy task. Work was all done by hand, water was scarce, transportation was slow, furnace like desert conditions and Geronimo, who was always a formidable adversary. But with all of the above problems by 1880 copper was being produced. Church eventually sold his claims to Phelps Dodge and Company.
The Morenci mine is the largest copper mine in the US and produces over 750 million pounds of copper a year. It stretches for miles across the landscape. It is thousands of feet from the top of the mountains to the dug out bottoms and shades of bluish-green from the richness of copper that first led miners to the area are still present. Though today’s southwestern copper mines produce little turquoise, with the change of mining methods to crushing and acid washing the turquoise is destroys in the copper ore.
The fact that Morenci turquoise is no longer being mined along with its beautiful blues and its silver colored matrix make Morenci very sought after in today’s turquoise market.
Copy © Copyright 2004 Nevada Gem. Used with Permission.