The Price of Entrance

Park Headquarters, Grand Canyon National Park, South Rim, 2012

Dimensions: 22' W x 15' D x 13' H

Materials: Ponderosa Pine lumber, Ponderosa Pine pitch, pine pollen, sewer pipes from the old Grand Canyon Village sewer line, concrete plates, muslin, cottonwood leaves

In 1998, my family and I moved to Flagstaff. Soon thereafter, we visited Grand Canyon National Park and hiked the West Rim Trail.  Hiking through pinyon pine past Maricopa Point, the trail was soon interrupted by a chain link fence with signs reading "Caution: Radioactive Area". Behind the fence stood the remnants of a rusty head frame used for mining.  I was bewildered. I became appalled when I soon learned that uranium mining had once occurred on the edge of Grand Canyon. I began to wonder why - why was this allowed to happen? I wanted to know as much as I could. I assumed it had something to do with the Cold War and the stripping away of all environmental protections inside the national park for security reasons. My later research discovered a different story. 

In May of 2011, when I became an Artist-in-Residence at the park, my goal was to find out why mining was allowed inside Grand Canyon. I spent hours perusing documents in the park's archives, spoke with local National Park Service scientists and other specialists, visited with a long-time Grand Canyon couple who had once lived at the mine site, and spent a day with a local uranium geologist exploring public land outside the park boundaries. Finally, I came to a conclusion, the answer to my question. Uranium mining had been allowed to happen, not because of national security and the cold war, but because of the complacency and apathy of our federal government - they had simply, allowed it. 

Why wasn't this "offering' left in the ground?

In several South American mining countries, the word for mine is mina, which is slang for woman, especially an attractive woman, for the "treasure" they have between their legs. It comes from the Italian word femmina. Nothing irks me more than the rape and violence against my mother - the Earth. We are currently witnessing it in the greater ecosystem of Grand Canyon, in the mountain top removals in West Virginia and Kentucky, and as hydraulic fracturing increasing across the U.S. The Earth has much to offer us. As humans, we have a choice to either leave, or to take its gifts. By leaving, no harm can be done. By taking, we pay a price, the price of entrance.

The History of the Orphan Uranium Mine at the South Rim of the Grand Canyon

In 1932, long before uranium had been known to exist in Grand Canyon, Dan Hogan owned 20 acres of land along the rim and the edge of the canyon, on which he had a “hobby” mine, digging for gold, silver and copper. He called it the Orphan Mine. According to U.S. Dept. of Interior land tract records, Hogan offered his claim for $40,000 in 1932, and although his property was thought to be a “nuisance” and he had been repeatedly offered buy-outs from the Forest Service, the federal government did not purchase this land when it went up for sale. 

In 1947, Mrs. Madeline Jacobs of Prescott bought the property for $50,000, knowing that it could be a lucrative tourist attraction. Later that year, in a Flagstaff auto mechanics garage, the fate of uranium mining in Grand Canyon was sealed. As the mechanic was fixing her car, Mrs. Jacobs’ son saw a bag of rocks in the corner of the garage. They looked just like the ones on the property his mother had recently purchased. Curious, he asked the garage owner where the rocks had come from, and found that he was right: they had come from the Orphan Mine. After the mechanic gave him some samples for assaying, he learned that his mother's newly acquired site contained highly rich uranium ore. Six years later, a mining geologist for the Golden Crown Mining Company approached Mrs. Jacobs about selling the surface and mineral rights. In 1953, Golden Crown, a subsidiary of the New York-based Western Gold and Uranium, Inc., purchased the property and developed it for uranium mining. Within a few years, 45 tons of ore a day were being hauled up the side of Grand Canyon to the rim. The ore was then shipped by truck, through the park, to Grand Canyon Railway to a processing mill on the Navajo Reservation. 

Although there was no need for more uranium due to the over abundance of the nation's stockpile, Golden Crown Mining Company continued extracting the ore from the Orphan Mine until 1969. In 1961, Western Gold formed a new Phoenix-based company called Western Equities, Inc., which, through blackmail and greed, were able to get, the following year, a bill through Congress and signed by President Kennedy that allowed them to expand their mining operations outside their claim jurisdiction and into Grand Canyon National Park. These operations continued until the mine closed on April 25, 1969. The mine remained closed until the lease expired in 1987; finally, the Park Service inherited the Orphan Uranium Mine.

In January 2012, U.S. Secretary of Interior Ken Salazar instituted a twenty year ban on "hard rock" mining in one million acres surrounding Grand Canyon. This ban does not affect the 3,000 already existing mining claims in the area.  There is currently one uranium mine in operation on the North Rim just outside the park. This mine is operated by the Canadian Firm, Denison Mining, Inc. They also own the South Canyon Mine on the South Rim, just six miles from the park boundary. The head frame, facilities, and infrastructure for mining have all been built. In the fall of 2012 they reopened it. In the fall of 2013, the mine was closed due to litigation.