From our Park Ranger Rick Schafer. During the late 1860s, settlement of the Arizona Territory’s Salt River Valley was that of an agricultural nature (with improved irrigation methods), but it was undoubtedly the gold discovery in California in 1849 that brought more people to the Phoenix area. The word of new areas of gold discovery and success enticed more and more people to venture out for their own “Golden Dreams.” By the 1890s, there were several successful gold mines in Arizona, namely the Vulture, near Wickenburg, Goldfield, east of Phoenix, and in the Cave Creek area.
Today’s South Mountain (formerly known as Salt River Mountains) was a promising location for gold prospecting due to the rock formations and mineral deposits that eventually lead to further investigations and further prospecting.
Before the Phoenix town site was formally established in 1870, there was evidence of small scale prospecting on South Mountain – such as shallow mine works and trails probably used by burros to carry the ore to processing plants. On February 24, 1894, the first claim notice was filed for what was then known as the Salt River Mountains, and by 1909 there were as many as 12 claims together known as the Max Delta that had recovered about $30,000 in gold.
From around 1916 to 1923, the Max Delta mine had increased its improvements with drilling and milling processes, but WWI had put a strain on operations with increased production costs; thus causing a major slowdown until the Depression era of the 1930s.
During the interim, the early 1920s brought attention to the South Mountain area as a premier recreation site along with the desire for the Federal Government to set it aside as a National Monument. The National Park Service declined the idea, so the City of Phoenix purchased the 14,026-acre site then known as Phoenix Mountain Park (now recognized as South Mountain) for $1.25/acre – a total cost of about $17,000.
From 1924 to 1993, there were constant conflicts between the recreational safety issues versus the mining operations’ value. The Max Delta was the most productive mine which produced more than $750,00 in gold from the early 1900s to its closure in 1942.
The Journal of Arizona History, Spring 2001
The Rise and Fall of Mining in Phoenix’s South Mountain Park
by Todd W. Bostwick