ASARCO Mission Mine Tour

When we think of copper we think of Arizona (or we should).  Almost two-thirds of the copper mined in the United States comes from Arizona. There is just one mine tour in the state and that is at the ASARCO Mission Mine facility south of Tucson. That was our first stop on our two day trip with Jon and Phyllis Pardoll.

Must admit that I have never been a 'mine' fan. Yet, I am not giving up my iPhone or MacBook Pro and copper is an essential component of both devices. So, feeling a bit hypocritical on the matter, off I go on a mine tour, a somewhat disinterested party to Jon's love of mines. Then, I got hooked! Regardless of your politics and environmental concerns, even small mines such as the Ray Mine, are impressive in scale and activity.

A plus, for me, was the information shared about how committed the mines are today in returning the site to an acceptable environmental state. So, hmmmmmm . . . I feel a tad bit better when I play Solitaire on my iPhone!

No metadata this time. I am only including it in the future when the shoot warrants a look at unusual shooting conditions.  In this case there were four Nikon cameras, a bunch of Nikkor lens and settings that you would expect for outdoor and indoor shooting.

We started out tour by walking around the grounds before boarding our tour bus. There are two huge rock carrying trucks on display and the largest one, shown below, is only about 2/3 the size of the trucks currently in use at the mine. Costing millions of dollars each, the trucks are made in Indiana (I think) and shipped in pieces and assembled at the mine. Phyllis was a willing model to give you a sense of the size of this truck.


Current trucks are impressive, even though when seen from the viewing area they appear more like little Tonka trucks. An interesting statistic: there are 18 female truck drivers and their safety record proves they are better drivers than their male counterparts. Yes, they climb the steps in front to get in the driver's cabin.

Once aboard our bus we were taken to a viewing area that overlooks almost all of the open pit. No photograph can easily gives a proper perspective of the vastness of an open mine pit. Take my word for it, the area is huge! Tom did his best with this six shot panorama.

For a bit more detail . . . 

After spending some time at the overlook we were driven to the processing area where the large rocks are broken into ever smaller pieces and the final resulting powder is placed in flotation tanks where the copper is taken for a ride to the surface on pine oil drops! The chemistry and technology (solvent extraction and electrowinning) becomes fascinating!  This photo shows a conveyer belt delivering smaller rocks that will be loaded onto another conveyer for even more rock crushing.

At one point in the chemical separation of copper it is necessary to add lime in a slurry that is called lime milk! Tom got close!

This is one of the flotation ponds.  Looks like scum to me, but I am assured that it is full of very valuable copper that is riding on oil drops.

Equipment involved in preparing the chemical sludge is in a large building. Here the crushed rock is prepared for placing in the flotation tanks. The final step in getting copper is not done at this mine. The last steps require a smelter so the product from this mine is taken elsewhere to be processed.

The grounds surrounding the mine tour office not only provide an opportunity to view the big trucks and rock scoopers, they also provide some interesting beauty and color.

The tours have been discontinued for the summer, which makes sense as it was already plenty warm on the bus and in the viewing area. I suspect they will be resumed in the fall. Well worth the price of admission.

Up next is our tour of the Titan Missile Museum.  Fascinating!