An Evolution of Arizona Mining

IMG_5680When mining towns were more prominent in Arizona, they all shared one attribute: searching for precious metals.

Today, these mining towns have all taken their own path as mining has changed in their areas, but they still have many attributes in common.

Some of those similar attributes include hard work to build a respective community, renewal of what once was and the history of mining for precious metals.

Both Goldfield and Superior fall under this category even though their histories are mostly different.

After close to 60 years of nonexistence, Goldfield found new life through a man who was not only looking to redefine a town, but also himself.

In that process, the founder gained a new sense of history of the area while also spending time looking for lost mines and fabled gold.

As for Superior, the town never quite died but still had high and low points based on the nearby copper mines and the nation’s economic state.

Through all those lows, Superior has found a way to survive whether it is through turning to movies filming in town or supporting a healthy bar environment during prohibition time equipped with bootlegger tunnels under the city.

Either way, these two towns, while easily found on maps, both have stories to tell from a foregone era.


Near the base of Flatiron Mountain in Apache Junction sits the ghost town of Goldfield, but thanks to its owner, the town still lives.

Although it’s not what it used to be when the area was mining gold as Goldfield between 1893-98 and Youngsberg between 1921-26, Founder Robert Schoose has kept the memory alive by turning the ghost town into a tourist location.

Schoose opened the ghost town in 1984, nearly 20 years after Schoose first came to the Superstition Mountains.

Schoose said he believes in protecting state and national history because he believes it’s getting forgotten as new

To do that, he and several friends built a town full of old-timey looking structures with only dirt roads throughout the property. Train whistles blare and mine horns shriek as workers wander the dusty roads.

While none of the buildings are from the original town, the structures do feature many recycled materials from around the state, according to museum worker Jud Ware.

For example, part of the museum bears wood from the old bleachers of Mesa High School’s Jackrabbit Stadium, Ware said.

Goldfield serves not only as a historical reminder but also as a home to several shops and restaurants.

IMG_5689The day Schoose said he knew all this arduous work of renewing the town was worth it, he was at the gold panning area.

While there he said one child found gold and his eyes “lit up like flying saucers.”

“It told me I was right, seeing the look on that kid’s face,” he said.

Before Goldfield, Schoose grew up in the Los Angeles area. He said as soon as he turned 16, he drove to the Mojave Desert to work construction.

In 1983, Schoose said he and some other workers finished up a two-week job that left him questioning whether he wanted to keep laboring in construction.

The budding idea for a mining tourist spot spawned from this conversation and soon after, Schoose said he came across the five-acre lot of Goldfield.

After zoning battles with Apache Junction for about a year, Schoose said Goldfield originally had a mine tour, a gift shop and a snack bar.

“As people started coming, more and more people wanted to have businesses here,” he said. “We ended up rebuilding more buildings and there it went. It’s grown more than I’ve ever expected it to grow.”

There are places for gold panning, museums, staged gunfights and a lot of period-specific costumes to complement the overall aesthetic of the town.

A key part to making this all function are the workers.

Garbed in a cowboy hat with gray hair spilling out, a belt with a pistol at his hip and a handle-bar mustache that’s more gray than any other color, Morgan works as part of the gunfight show that happens on the main, dusty drag of Goldfield.

He said he only goes by Morgan because “that’s all they wanted to put on the wanted poster.”

He said the town’s authentic history and the period-specific look is part of what makes the town fun to him, not to mention the hourly gunfights.

“Where else can you go and shoot people and not be arrested?” he said. “It’s just a lot of fun. We’re overaged kids that just like to play cowboy, that’s all.”

Keeping that historical feel is part of why Schoose decided to purchase the land in the first place.

He said it’s important to keep this history alive because it’s getting lost in different ways such as Rawhide moving from its original location or the youth taking more interest in modern era.

“Somebody has to save the damn old history,” he said with a laugh. “Somebody has to do it and people really appreciate it. They love the place.”

But it’s not just the youth, Schoose said, but also some of the teachers who come through with classes don’t fully know the history.

The town doesn’t only serve to inform locals, but Laverne Zahuranec, a town worker, said the majority of people who visit are from out of town.

Town visitor Kenneth Orr, of Richardson, Texas, said what he likes about the town is the authentic look that modernization hasn’t tarnished yet.

Orr said having that look helps create the historical feeling of the town for him, which he tried to research prior to visiting.

“There’s a mystical feel here and not just related to the ghost town but the Indians (as well),” he said.

Schoose’s goal of bringing history to those who works also seems to be having an effect on families who come to visit.

Town visitor Jessica Jaeger said she was considering taking her kids to Tombstone to experience Arizona history but decided in favor of Goldfield because it looked more historic.

Also, Jaeger said she thinks it’s important for her kids to learn Arizona history because it’s where they are from and live.

Schoose said he loves to bring that history not only to young children, but also to anyone who visits.

It is for this reason he said he is proud of what he helped reinvent at Goldfield.


Much like Goldfield, Superior has had to go through its own reinvention as well, although in different forms.

Superior sits about 70 miles from downtown Phoenix, 34 miles from Apache Junction, at the mouth of Queen Creek Canyon in  the Superstition Mountains.

Over the years, Superior’s population has been linked to its copper mining and the nation’s economy. When the recession hit in 2009, the population dipped from about 3,500 to 2,800 in 2010.

Throughout this town of just under 3,000 people, there are many closed and boarded-up shops along Main Street. There are many remains of the once flourishing copper mining that happened in the area such as an old, decaying smelter.

But Main Street isn’t all closed down. Many shops and businesses are springing up in the place of old ones.

Take, for example, the Magma Hotel, which was once a booming lodging during the early 1900s but fell into disrepair as the years passed, according to a story on

In 2010, Miguel Sfeir purchased the land and began reconstructing the hotel from piles of rubble and disconnected walls, Superior resident Paul Sears said.

There is no estimated time of completion but Sears said it’s anticipated to open soon and should bring in some tourism for the town.

There still is copper in the area but FishGate Productions, a local film company, owner Deborah Kay said the focus has shifted.

“We’re not depending on the mine as far as our economics, we’re depending more on the arts,” she said.

All over Superior, there are murals and statues. Inside Town Hall, there is a mural dedicated to history of the town.

The arts aren’t the only focus for Superior. Mayor Mila Besich-Lira said the town is looking to attract young entrepreneurs to the town.

In an effort to bring those entrepreneurs, Besich-Lira said the town instituted a commercial kitchen where rising chefs, both local and out of market, can open a pop-up restaurant for a low price.

“We knew that there were people who had food talents, culinary talents and they needed to sell their products but they needed access to a commercial kitchen,” she said.

While the town is shifting its focus to other avenues for keeping the town alive, copper still isn’t completely out of the picture.IMG_5646.JPG

In fact, the Resolution Copper Mine is working on getting permits for a mine near Superior for a deposit discovered in 1995, according to the company’s website.

Besich-Lira said the new mine is different than the mining done in the past because of regulations and the potential impacts it could have on surrounding communities.

“It’s great to be part of a newer mining dialogue that we have now,” she said. “Resolution has been a good partner with us.”

As a result of the future mines, Besich-Lira said there have been new businesses opening in town. Additionally, she said the project could create about 3,200 jobs.

With the anticipated growth in jobs means the town council is also focusing on increased housing for what Besich-Lira calls the “workforce of the future.”

“The world’s changing and we have to modify our town to do that, but there are things the millennial generation are looking for,” she said.

However, the challenge sits with keeping the youth in town. Several residents, including Besich-Lira, said the youth don’t want to stay in Superior.

Casandra Marie Drennan, a senior at Superior Senior-Junior High School, said several in her graduating class have expressed interest in leaving the town to see the world with no immediate plans of returning.

“We’ve been here our whole high school lives,” she said. “We just want to go out and experience bigger things, experience the world for ourselves and take on that independence because we’ve been dependent our whole lives here.”

Not all reinvention in Superior has happened in the town itself, but also in the people.

Willa Ficarra, a resident of Gold Canyon that works at the Sunflour Market in Superior, said when she’s at home, she can be a perfectionist and tightly-wound.

But when she comes to Superior, she said the other side of her comes out, a more relaxed and loose side.

What brings this change, Ficarra said, is the atmosphere of the town and the residents. She said the residents of Superior seem more laid back than in the Valley.

IMG_5674.JPGShe described the atmosphere as a place where the old is made new again through ways such as upcycling, which is the reuse of materials for a better environmental value. An example of this is using an old bed frame as a garden bed.

Ficarra said she think what adds to this atmosphere is that a lot of the people in town are older and live life how they want.

“You reinvent yourself and find that thing you love to do,” she said. “That’s what makes this so funky because you don’t care anymore what other people think. You just think ‘this is what I want to do so I’m going to do it.’”

With Ficarra working in a diner, she sees many residents in the town. She said what she’s seen is people going through this reinvention at a gradual pace.

What she said she’s seen happen to people, including herself, is they come to Superior for the first time, “catch that spirit” and then it works on the person over time.

She said it inspires people to continue returning to Superior and develop their interest in something the town offers, whether it be people or activities.

Looking at the town as a whole, Ficarra said there are interesting residents and a positive outlook for the future.

“We’ve got a lot of growth going on and a lot of people working together to make Superior someplace you want to come to,” she said.


Despite being two completely different towns with completely different histories, Goldfield and Superior are tethered together through several attributes.

Reinvention plays a prominent role in both these location but in different ways.

Both still cling to their pasts but both had to reinvent themselves from what they once were in order to survive. Superior is still finding ways to reinvent the old into new as its future still has some blank pages left.

Either way, Arizona history lives on through these towns and their futures will help shape the state’s ongoing story.