I first saw it from the air, as I was transporting my helicopter from its weekday home in Chandler to its weekend home in Wickenburg. It was the broken glass sparkling in the sun that caught my eye. It was the ruins of a mine, perched on a hillside overlooking a wash. A few days later, Mike and I took the helicopter back out to locate it again and see whether there were good roads to get to it. When we consulted the topo maps we had on hand, we realized that we’d spotted Dragon Mine and we could see most of the road that would take us there.
Lance and Keri, some friends of ours who live in town, wanted to go 4-wheeling. Dragon Mine seemed like the perfect destination. So, we piled into my Jeep with maps, a GPS, and a cooler full of cold drinks, and headed out one December afternoon.
We left Wickenburg, driving south on State Route 60. The turnoff for the 4WD road is a left just before Mammoth Wash. There are a number of homes there; we took the first right toward a new home that had been constructed on a hilltop. The dirt road at this point is maintained as it goes through the wash. We knew we’d have to make a left before the road curved around to the right and climbed the hill.
That’s where we made our mistake. We saw tire tracks leading left into the wash and we followed them. Three miles up the wash, I finally got the bright idea to check the GPS. We discovered our error (we were two miles north of the mine when we should have been approaching from the south!) and backtracked to the maintained dirt road.
We continued another 100 feet or so down the road and made the next left. There were fewer tire tracks here and they wound down a narrow pathway in the wash. We followed them 1/4 mile or so and the road climbed a short hill. This was the “end” of the road on the topo map. We followed this road, which ran along the ridge, all the way to the mine. There was only one questionable spot where we weren’t sure whether the Jeep could continue. Right before the mine (within sight of it), the road dips down into a small wash. A great deal of erosion had made “steps” on either side of the wash. With us watching from the road, Mike had no trouble driving the Jeep through, although he did scrape the high-lift jack bolted to the rear bumper on the ground. A vehicle with lower clearance would not have made it.
Exploring the Dragon Mine
The only thing left of Dragon Mine are massive concrete foundations, broken lumber, and plenty of metal trash, like nails, bolts, and rusted cans. The ruins stretch for quite a distance, covering several hills. Roads run between different parts of the site. Walking is relatively easy, so you can do a lot of exploring.
Of course, there were mine shafts. There were dozens of these, some filled in and some wide open. One particularly nasty vertical shaft had an ancient barbed wire fence around it. When we tossed a big rock in, we realized that the shaft must have been well over a hundred feet deep. Falling into such a mine would mean certain death.
One of the mine shafts, located under the main ruin, is a horizontal shaft extended into the side of the hill. It was very tempting to explore this particular mine, but common sense told us to keep out. Not only is there a danger of cave-ins, but who knows what desert animal has made a home in the darkness beyond the tunnel opening?
Instead of returning the way we’d come, we continued along the same road. This is where the GPS with its moving map feature, came in handy. There are many intersecting roads out there and it’s easy to get lost. The GPS guided us back to the west. If you don’t have one of these devices, you may do fine if you just try to keep yourself pointed toward Vulture Peak, which is west of the site.
Eventually, we approached and drove through a housing development. This was probably the trickiest part of the drive—the roads seemed to wind aimlessly from one lot to another. We would never have found our way to the mine if we’d come in that way. Finally, we drove down a steep hill which ended at State Route 60, a few miles south of where we’d first turned in.
The sun had gone down, the full moon was rising, and it was time for dinner.
Distance: About 30 miles round trip. Click here to see our route.
Time: About 3 hours, including time to explore.
Features: Great desert scenery along the way, mine ruins at destination.
Driving Conditions: First (and last) 5 miles of trip is on paved state highway from Wickenburg. Remainder of trip on unmaintained 4WD roads with about 1/4 mile in narrow, sandy wash. Not recommended for anything but 4WD vehicle, not recommended during rainy weather.
Equipment: Bring water, good hiking shoes (if you plan to go exploring), and your camera. It’s a good idea to wear long pants, socks, and shoes when exploring the ruins.
Warning: This destination includes many open vertical mine shafts. Exploring mines is dangerous. Digging or taking rocks away from mining claims is illegal.