The Science Club Visits The SX Mine

Photo by James Werner

Dinah O. Shumway

On April 7 the Quail Creek Science Club ventured out on a field trip to the San Xavier Mine off of Mission Road near Helmut Peak.

The “SX,” as it is known, is the laboratory for the University of Arizona’s undergraduate mining, engineering, and geology students. The mine operated from about 1880 through the 1950s, producing copper, lead, zinc, and silver, but it has been owned by the University since the 1970s. The SX now provides a unique opportunity for mining and geology students, a real-world opportunity for the hands-on experiences of working in a mine.

Aside from serving the 100 or so mining and geology students, the SX also provides a site for more than 2,500 mining professionals and lead agencies to provide health, safety, and other training classes. In addition, equipment companies can use the SX to test equipment in a real mining situation. Since the mine is supported solely by donations, only the safety lead agencies such as fire departments can take advantage of the site for free. All others essentially “pay to play.”

The Science Club caravanned to the site near Helmut Peak and was greeted by the director of the San Xavier Mine, James Werner. James gave a short presentation on the SX and answered questions, then offered the Science Club hardhats and LCD mine lights. We then headed across the site to the old adit (horizontal tunnel), which serves to demonstrate old mining methods of excavating and shoring up the walls with roof bolts and wood shoring. Mobile equipment in the old workings at the SX ran on rail. Rail is installed throughout the adit.

Although the old mine workings at the SX do descend to 150 feet via ladders and a working headframe and hoist, our group walked through about 300 feet of the upper level and exited through another door. We then walked to the new decline (sloping tunnel) that was started in 2020. This new expansion will allow students to work with modern mining techniques and modern mining equipment, such as drills, loaders, muckers, and dump trucks. Modern mining does not rely on rail for underground transport.

The visit ended with a group photo in hardhats taken at the opening of the new decline.

The Quail Creek Science Club is led by Marty Cohen and meets on Mondays at 4 p.m. in the Gold Room at the Madera clubhouse.