During the early days of Fountain Hill's development, local residents
often saw helicopters heading to Four Peals. Only a few knew that they
were servicing one of the most unique gem mines in the world. Now, after
many years of inactivity, the mine is being worked and we will again
see these flights.
Four Peaks provides us with wondrous sunset
displays of lilac violet and purple hues. But is also has supplied us,
and the world, with another more tangible purple treasure- high quality
For centuries, amethyst has been considered the
royal gem because of its color. Purple was the emblem of rank or
authority and the color most often associated with European monarchs.
Spanish history reportedly shows the discovery of a Four Peaks lode in
the 18th century and significant shipments of these gems to the homeland
where they found their way into crown jewels of five countries.
ancient Greeks believed that if they drank wine from a cup carved from
amethyst they would not become intoxicated. They therefore named this
beautiful purple quartz with a combination of the Greek words for "not"
and "to intoxicate." In addition to these legendary powers, it is also
the birthstone for February and is associated with the astrological sign
It is known that a prospector named Jim McDaniel’s
did rediscover the deposit about 1900. He was following a quartz
"float", usually a good precursor to gold. Instead he found the canyon
floor littered with purple crystals. Gold and silver were the only
objectives of most prospectors in those days so the site was merely
noted and left untouched. The location of the amethyst mine is at one of
the most remote and rugged parts of the Mazatzals. We can identify the
site because of the extensive mining activity that took place there in
the last 50 years. The location is best seen with binoculars and is
between the two southern-most peaks. After finding the mine between
these peaks, drop down slightly to see the mine's waste rock slope. The
best time for viewing is in the late afternoon or after snow has fallen
on the peaks. In either case the relative smoothness and lack of trees
on the slope distinguishes the spot from the surrounding rugged, brushy
area. The mine site itself is at the top of the slope, only 400 feet
below and slightly to the right of the notch between the two peaks.
Mineralogical Record of March 1976 describes the process by which these
crystals were formed. "The amethyst of this deposit occur in linings of
voids in faults of the Mazatzal quartzite. The voids were
intermittently filled with hot liquid solutions from intrusions below.
Successive stages of quartz deposition occurred, as evidenced by
alternating concentric rings of colorless quartz, hematite and amethyst
around the angular fragments."
The purple color that enhances the
quartz is caused by the presence of manganese in these hot solutions
that flooded the cavities in the uplifted peaks millions of years ago.
The more valuable darker colors reflect a higher manganese content. The
value is also dependent upon its clarity or lack of foreign material in
the solution as it was being deposited.
Amethyst does occur
elsewhere in the state but not in the quality or quantity that has been
discovered here. Arizona is probably the only state in the U.S.
which produces top quality stones, according the Ken Phillips Chief
Engineer for the Arizona Department of Mines and Mineral Resources
Department. He further says, "The best amethyst from the Four Peaks mine
is considered to be as good as that found anywhere in the world."
reference book, Mineralogy in Arizona, states, "Superb gem-quality
amethyst of a rich, red-violet color was produced from the Four Peaks
mine and rivals the best Siberian material, which is the standard of the
Blasting with dynamite in the deposits is not an
option, since it would shatter the crystals although it is sometimes
utilized to remove surrounding rock formations. Hand tools must be used
for the slow and tedious extraction method. The only access to the
site is by helicopter or by long, difficult trails. For many of the
active mining years helicopters were used to bring in workers and
supplies and take out gems. For about 18 months 4 mules were used to
replace the helicopter, trudging over trails to the nearest forest road.It
is believe that this is the only precious stone mine in the world that
requires a helicopter to bring in tools and remove its products from the
site. It is also at what is likely the highest elevation of any gem
mine in the USA.
There have been several owners. Even though the
amethyst vein was producing high quality crystals, problems were
plentiful, most of them attributed to the rugged wilderness location of
the mine. About May of 1925, Mrs. Gertrude Evelin of Phoenix sold the
mineral claim on this 20 acre parcel of land to Louis and Rudolf
Juchem, brothers who were stone cutters from Germany but then living in
Los Angeles. A mining publication of that time reported the price as
$2,500.00 to be paid at $50.00 per month. It was also stated that they
wanted no publicity on the sale. The land was patented to private
ownership in 1942. They called their mine the "Arizona Amethyst Placer."
1955 when they filled out the annual report to the Arizona Department
of Mineral Resources, the Juchem brothers said that the minerals
produced there were "amethyst crystals" and "axle grease mica". They
also stated that the mine would be for sale soon due to health problems
in the family. About that same time, Bob Dye leased the property and
operated it for seven years.
Mr. Al W. Storer and his wife, Cecile,
purchased the mine in 1963 and worked it for many years. Speculation in
mining publications at the time put the sale price at about $50,000.00.
The Storers operated the Rock Hobby Shop in Phoenix, then the House of
Amethyst gem shop in Scottsdale and later in Fountain Hills.
the late 1960's and 1970's, a helicopter delivered supplies to the
miners who generally stayed on site, returning to the Valley only on
weekends. The crystals were carried out on the return trips. A
corrugated iron shack was built near the helicopter pad as an equipment
shed and to provide shelter for the miners as needed. The terrain was so
steep that the downslope portion of the building had to be supported by
poles about 16 feet long. This shed would clearly be seen from Fountain
Hills and Rio Verde as it reflected the late afternoon sun.
September 21, 1972, the mine was sold to a Phoenix resident, Joe Hyman.
In September 1976, he received a letter from the Arizona Mining and
Mineral Museum in appreciation for the receipt of 13 amethyst stones and
crystals, some of which are still on display there. On March 3,
1977, the property was sold to Darrell E. Smith who operated it under
the name Maricopa Mining Corporation. Unverified news stories at the
time noted that Smith paid about $100,000.00 toward a purchase price of
As early as November 1976, Smith was apparently
planning the mine purchase. In that month he filed a "Notice of
Intention to Operate on Public Land" with Tonto National Forest
officials. He wrote a letter stating that the cost of the helicopter
access was becoming prohibitive and that the only practical way of
working the mine was with a heavy bulldozer. He further said that he had
a D-8 Caterpillar positioned in a desert wash just 125 yards away from a
spot where it could be "walked in" to the mine itself without again
lowering the blade. He wanted to build a road over this short distance,
and agreed to smooth over and to plant grass seed on the disturbed soil.
June of 1977, permission was given to transport the D-8 for one time
only into the property and back out by the same route when the mine work
was done. This letter from H.R. Nickless Tonto Forest Ranger, specified
that "under no conditions should the blade be dropped to move any soil
On August 1, 1977, an angry letter from Mr.
Nickless told Mr. Smith that the Tonto Forest officials were aware that
he had started a fire below his mine on the previous Saturday. Forest
officers inspecting the damage also noticed that he had caused a
significant amount of disturbance to National Forest land in moving the
tractor to the mine. The road scar created by the bulldozer on the
mountain below and to the left of the tailings slope can still be see in
the late afternoon or just after a snowfall.
On Halloween Day in
1977 Ken Phillips and Art Bloyd then curator of the Mining and Mineral
Museum, were at the mine site. They were evaluating the quality of
crystals that had previously been discarded. As Phillips pointed out
during a 1997 interview, "while the best crystals from there were
outstanding, there was a significant amount of lesser grade material
that was good enough to be profitably retrieved."
and Bloyd were still there, Smith was operating his leased Caterpillar
on the rock dumping area. It was steep and the material so loose that
the D-8 overturned, sliding down the slope about 200 feet. Miraculously
Smith was unhurt but the tractor lost one of its tracks. The tractor
was leased from Empire Machinery of Mesa. They had to send a four-man
crew to retrieve the machine. Orville Schubert, a retired Empire
employee, remembers the scenic helicopter ride as repair parts and tools
were flown to the site. Others drove as far as possible and hiked on up
the mountain. A new track was mounted with other repairs and
maintenance as required. Dynamite was used, with Tonto Forest approval,
in rebuilding part of the trail to allow a safer route down the slope. Two
full days were needed to accomplish the task. The crew slept in the
open at an elevation of about 7,100 feet on a very chilly night, "with
only sleeping bags and a camp stove," Mr. Schubert said in a 1997
On the way out a Tonto Forest Ranger was following
closely to assure that no more damage would be done to the terrain and
that no fire would be sparked. As the tractor was being brought off the
mountain, it nearly overturned on three occasions. Mr. Schubert was the
driver and he recalls, "I was plenty nervous I was setting very lightly
on that seat and ready to jump."
While these events were
occurring, a letter was written from the Precious Minerals Corp. of New
York City where Smith had sent samples for analysis. The expert there,
Frank P. Jaeger, advised him that, "The color of Four Peaks does in fact
come up to African amethyst. Hang in there, Darrell, because I really
think you have a winner." In a subsequent story for Gems and Minerals
magazine Jeager says, "The amethyst produced at Four Peaks is
distinctive...exquisite material even the lilac colors have more 'zip'
then the average."
Ironically, just as Mr. Smith was receiving
these emphatic endorsements, the Tonto National Forest Service revoked
his operating rights because of his damage to the wilderness outside the
Ownership of the mine later reverted to Mr. Hyman.
Since the early '90's the mine has been closed due to the increasingly
high price of helicopter access and the difficulty of gaining access to
the remaining deposits. However it has been known that rich veins of
crystal still exist deep inside the quartzite voids.
site has been gated and trespassing prohibited. Injuries to trespassers
have occurred at the site and, on several occasions, hikers have become
stranded. Persons have been arrested when they disregarded the posted
notices. Four men were sentenced in Mesa on February 4, 1969. One was
put on probation for several years and prohibited from entering the
Tonto National Forest in the Four Peaks vicinity. In recent months
another trespasser was prosecuted.
In December 1997 the mine was
purchased by a New Jersey resident, Kurt Cavano, and his London-based
partner, Jim MacLachtan. They became acquainted with the quality and
availability of the mine's product at the national gem show in Tucson
last year. The partners will operate the mine as the Four Peaks Mining
Mr. Cavano is a graduate biologist and has expressed a
strong desire to manage the mine in a sound, environmentally-sensitive
manner. If at all possible, some of the past mining scars will be
re-vegetated by working closely with the Tonto National Forest
personnel. Jack Lowell of Phoenix-based Colorado Gem and Mineral will
manage the on-site mining activity.
This author visited the mine in
May 1998 at the invitation of the persons involved in the business. The
Caterpillar track that was thrown in the 1977 accident is still there.
former mine opening has been covered by a rockslide and a new opening
made above and to the south. The waste rock slope occupies a large part
of the site extending at least 150 yards down the ravine that separates
the two southern peaks.
The geological formations around the mine
location are striking. The rock layers have been uplifted to a nearly
vertical position and others have been twisted and convoluted into
grotesque shapes. It is possible to imagine how voids and cavities could
have been created during the violent formative period. These quartzite
structures are among the hardest forms of rock and provide the
resistance to erosion that has preserved the elevation of Four Peaks.
trained miners work the veins at the present time and they stay inside
the shaft to avoid the ecological impact of any structures at the site.
They make the long hike to and from the mine, generally staying 7 days
at a time. They are supplied with water, food and tools by helicopters
which also retrieve the uncut crystal. The miners still use only hand
tools to extract the precious stones.
Observation of the matrix
in which the amethyst is located verified why the Juchem brothers said
in 1955 that the mine produced "axle grease mica". The rocks are a deep
purplish-black due to their high manganese content. They are also slick
and "greasy" to the touch, making the amethyst crystals easier to
dislodge once they have been located.
Some exceptional, new gem veins
have already been uncovered-sooner than anticipated. With a good pair
of binoculars during the late afternoon sunlight, it is now possible to
see the fresh tailings being deposited on the upper right hand part of
the waste rock slope.
In addition to the past security
provisions, there will also be a continuous electronic monitoring system
in place. It should be emphasized that hikers cannot enter this private
property for any reason.
Commercial Mineral Company is the exclusive distributor of Four Peaks amethyst. Supplies of high
quality, natural amethyst from Africa and Brazil are becoming less
plentiful, and it is expected that the output of this mine will fill a
need on the world market. For most of its history, output of this mine
has been tightly controlled by the owners, but the cut stones from the
mine will soon be available to many jewelers.