In Search of the Old Glory Dam
By Matt Marine
Note: All photos shown in the story are duplicated at the bottom of the page in a larger format for detailed viewing. Also, see the video at the end of the story for additional information regarding the search and video of the area.
Question: How Wrong Can I be?
Answer: Ridiculously wrong. Obviously wrong. For those of you who know me, this confession shouldn't come as any surprise, but the sheer magnitude of my mistake was quite appalling. No, nothing bad happened and no one got hurt. It wasn't that kind of wrong. It was the kind of wrong that you just smack yourself in the forehead with the heel of your hand and go, "Duh!" This is a story of one of those of moments.
A Little Bit About Old Glory Mine and Mill to Set the Stage
The Old Glory dam and mine are located about 20 miles west of Nogales and two miles southwest of the ghost town on Ruby. The area was named Oro Blanco (Spanish for white gold) by early Spanish miners due to the large amount of silver mixed in with the gold. A few key events in the history of the Old Glory mine:
- The mine was located in 1875
- The stamp mill and dam were constructed in 1884
- The stamp mill and dam were enlarged in 1897
- Intermittent gold mining until 1940
The Old Glory gold mine produced more gold in the late 1800s and early 1900s than any other mine in the Oro Blanco District.
It Didn't Start Out Badly
Last December, I decided to visit an area of Arizona that I'd been wanting to explore for a long time: the area south of Ruby. Ruby is a wonderful ghost town west of Nogales that is currently being restored by its owners, but that's another story. We decided to take California Gulch down from Ruby Road and make a run for the border while exploring a few ruins, cemeteries and dams along the way.
One such site is the Old Glory Mine and Mill (adventure to be added shortly). This location has some awesome remains of the old mill that was built in the late 1800s to service the adjoining mine. As we were exploring the remains of the mill, we talked to a man who was rock hounding in the area. He told us of a dam a short walk up the canyon. He said it had been built out of rock and there was still water flowing through the center section where it had failed. He thought it was beautiful and suggested we see for ourselves.
I couldn't resist. We hiked through the tall grass along the bottom of the canyon and had to fight our way through the thick brush and trees. Ducking under a large fallen tree, we came face-to-face with the dam. Water trickled over the rock and fell down about fifteen feet into a small pool below. The center section was almost completed gone and I estimated it was originally 30 feet high and 50 feet wide.
I hadn't done any real research on the area (other than a quick look at my topo map and Google Earth) prior to this trip and had no idea what the dam originally looked like. The rock seemed to blend into the canyon walls and a large tree on the east side of the pool obstructed our view of the top of the dam.
Quick Video: Walking up the Canyon / Water Flowing Over the Dam
I thought it was interesting, but nothing too special. In fact, upon our return to the mill, I told one of the people there that had decided not to do the hike, that he hadn't missed too much. But I was glad I'd went and we continued our trip with many more exciting spots along the way.
What the Heck?! How Did We Miss That?
Almost a month after our visit, I began to do some research in earnest regarding the Old Glory Mine for the 4WD adventure I was going to publish. I typed "Old Glory Mine Arizona" into Google and up comes an article published by the Ring Brothers. These two brother's grandparents once lived in Ruby. They (and Tallia Pfrimmer Cahoon) literally wrote the book on Ruby. I would highly recommend this to anyone interested in southern Arizona history! Here's a link to the article I found with the text and picture of the dam (Ring Brothers History). I wish I could include a picture of the dam here, but the picture came from the Arizona Historical Society and they charge $50 per picture to use (sometimes as much as $200). As this is only a hobby of mine, the price seemed a little steep, so just go to this article and scroll down to page 11 to see the dam, you won't be sorry (I would also recommend you reading it because it has some great stuff in it).
The first thing I did was kick myself when I saw the old picture of the mill. This would have been great to have when we visited the place. I kept reading until I saw the dam. Then I kicked myself again. Even harder this time.
Holy crap. That was a big dam! I don't think I'd ever seen one that size in southern Arizona (for small scale mining or ranching). I contacted Bob Ring and asked for further information. He knew of the dam, but hadn't visited it before. All he knew was that it was upstream of the Old Glory Mill.
I thanked him and continued to research the area, but nothing (text or pictures) seemed to match what I experienced during our trip out there. Originally built in 1884, the dam was reportedly 125 foot long, 20 feet wide (34 feet at the base), 38 feet high and held 12 million gallons of water. It was also stocked with stripped bass! Definitely not the one we had visited. But, if that wasn't the dam, what had happened to it? Where had it gone? Or had history placed the dam in the wrong location?
I began looking closer at the photos and here's a few things I discovered:
- There's a smaller dam in front of the larger dam
- There's a pipe running from the dam to the mill
- The reservoir / canyon is curved to the left behind the dam
- The dam is 'V' shaped
- There's a lack of trees in the surrounding area (the mill used massive amounts of wood to power the boilers for steam power so they cut down tons of trees)
Then I went back to my National Geographic Topo map (Arizona State Series). The map shows the 'Ruins' which are the stone walls of the mill. A 'Dam' is also called out about 1/4 of a mile up the Old Glory Canyon. From experience, I've found that a note of 'Dam' on maps could mean just about anything from a two foot stone wall to something much more significant.
Next I went to Google Earth. Anything that large should stand out like a ... well, like a ... large dam in barren desert. At first glance, I didn't see a thing. I switched from the 2011 satellite imagery to the 2010. Still nothing.
Maybe the old photo was not of the Old Glory Dam at all, but another dam in the area. It wouldn't be the first time (nor the last) that something like this was not correctly identified. I contacted Bob Ring again. He was sure the dam in the photo was the one that had serviced the Old Glory Mill.
Hmmmm. A mystery. I love mysteries. I looked back at the old picture which clearly showed two dams: the larger one holding back the water and a smaller one just downstream. If this was the picture of the Old Glory Dam, I convinced myself that we had found the smaller one during our first trip in December.
But why didn't we see the larger one behind it? Had something obstructed our view? As we were not looking for two dams at the time, maybe we had overlooked it?
The picture also showed the reservoir curving to the left with the canyon behind it. I checked the topo map and Google Earth. Both show the correct curve to the canyon indicating that the topography matches the old picture. But why couldn't I see the dam itself in Google Earth I wondered?
Although it's not too surprising that some things aren't seen readily on Google Earth. Sometimes it's the crappy resolution (though the resolution in this area seemed ok), other times things are hidden in the shadows or under trees. But a dam 125 feet long and 20 feet wide? No way.
Zooming in on Google Earth, I noticed a small trapezoidal shaped 'anomaly' on the east side of the canyon. It was pale in color compared to the rest of the area, but it was only about 1/4 the width of the canyon. If this was the dam, what had happened to the rest of it?
The mystery was too much. I had to find out. I began planning a return trip for that weekend. I had to find that damn dam!
My 'Curse' Doesn't Disappoint
A group of five vehicles left in the predawn darkness on January 19, 2014 to find the Old Glory Dam. By 9 am we were churning up the dust along California Gulch. Before we made a play for the dam, we stopped by some 'Graves' and a 'Cem' (short for cemetery) noted on the map near Footes Spring. I'll share that portion of the story later.
During our stop at the cemetery, I climbed up on the ridge overlooking the Old Glory Canyon to see if I could see the dam and possibly climbed down from above. Both objectives came up short. I saw what may have been the silt build up behind the dam, but forgot my binoculars, so I couldn't be sure. Also, the hillside leading down into the canyon was thick with extremely prickly bushes and fairly steep. It looked like way too much of a pain to head down from this spot, so we decided to turn around and head up the wash as we had done the month before.
The road is narrow at that location and it was easier for us to continue to drive forward to find a good place for five vehicles to turn around. When we got to the bottom of the hill, we found a small wash that appeared to be mostly clear of prickly vegetation and large boulders. A perfect access route. Even better, there was a large spot to park (and turn around) not far from the wash.
We decided to make the descent from that point. As we parked our vehicles, we got a huge bonus: an interesting mine with multiple openings sat just across the wash on the opposite side of the hill.
It had at least three major openings. Two side by side drilled horizontally into the hill, another a semi-vertical shaft in front of the other two. One of the horizontal tunnels immediately splits into a Y, but the left fork only goes back 10-15 feet. Not sure how far back the others go (I'm not a big fan of going farther than 10 feet into these).
After exploring the mine, we headed for the canyon and dam. Larry and I went ahead of the rest. There was a decent game trail leading down the wash to the canyon floor, then we took a left and hiked along the bottom of the canyon. Big mistake. It was very overgrown and there were multiple points we had to push our way through the dense brush and trees. But the two pups did great (sometimes I wish I was only 18 inches tall and had four legs).
What Larry and I didn't know was that the game trail went through the canyon and came up the other side and as it made its way to the dam. Everyone else went on that trail except us. As I would explain later to Larry, this happens to me quite often. I see where I want to go and somehow find the most difficult route to get there, only to find a trail or road that would have been much easier after I get to my destination. This particular curse did not fail me on this trip.
After an exciting hike along the canyon floor, we came upon some sandy walls that looked like the silted remnants of what was left behind the dam when it became filled in (my guess). Then we saw some rock and fencing material on the left and I knew we'd found the dam itself.
The Old Glory Dam (Small and Large)
As described in the Ring Brother's article, the dam was built out of rock. Lots and lots and lots and lots of rocks. When the dam was first built they lined the inner surface (the water side) with Portland Cement. Then years later (~1897), they added another few feet (maybe six or so) of rock to the dam. We could plainly see the dividing line. As we walked up to the center section where the dam had collapsed, we could finally see the full width. It appeared to be wider than 20 feet, my estimate would be more like 25 feet, but it was an angled section and as I've said before, I'm not very good at estimating distances.
This angle highlighted the scale of the dam. And the sheer number of rocks used to build it. Did I mention that this dam contained a lot of rocks? Lots and lots of rocks. Mostly ranging from 1 foot to 3 foot in diameter. I can't imagine carrying all these rocks here to build this dam. Amazing! Where did they all come from? How far did they have to transport them?
Dirt and soil has filled in the void spaces between the rocks, which brings up a good question. Did they put rocks in, then purposely fill in the voids with dirt or did they let Mother Nature do it for them? The east section of the dam (the anomaly in Google Earth) is more intact than the western side. I'd say about 1/4 is left and a portion still has the flat top. The western side is partially collapsed along the entire length.
The dam is over 100 years old, made of rock and was built straight across the canyon (not curved to transmit the forces to the canyon walls like modern dams). While looking over the dam, a few of us discussed how we thought the dam came to this state and decided between three theories (four if you include aliens):
- Theory One: Slow failure over time. Summer rains erode portions of the wall, maybe localized small failures, but not one huge failure. Pros: the dam's over 100 years old and we could easily see this happening. The amount of silt seen suggests that it did hold back this force for a while. We (nor had Bob Ring) never heard of the dam having a single catastrophic failure. Cons: No apparent signs of the huge amount of missing rock just below the dam. If the dam had slow failures, wouldn't the rock (75% is gone) be just below the dam? This could have been filled in with dirt and debris with time, but it didn't look that way to me.
- Theory Two: Purposeful demolition either by the mining company or the Forest Service. Maybe the dam was thought to be dangerous and could pose a risk to anyone downstream at the time of failure. Many of the pros and cons of this theory apply to theory three also. Pros: When you look at that old picture, this seems very plausible. When the mine was all played out, it makes sense that they might put some explosives in the dam (during dry season or when the dam was fairly empty) and blow it up. Much safer. Cons: Again, we have no record of this happening. Miners usually are quick to leave and don't spend any more time or money if they aren't getting ore out of the mountain. Seems like a stretch they would have this foresight. And many mines in the area had years between workings. Would they have taken the time and expense to demolish the dam when they may have needed it in the future? It may seem more plausible that the Forest Service destroyed the dam.
Theory Three: Catastrophic Failure. The dam failed quickly and violently. Pros: The silt backfill and its condition seems to support this. At one time the dam appears to have been completely filled to the top with silt. The silt is all gone close to the dam (though this may have happened over time with a slow failure also). There doesn't seem to be a big pile of rocks below the failed dam. This would make sense if it failed while involved in a flash flood, sending the rock much farther along the canyon. If it was blown up while it was dry, I would expect to see the debris close to the dam. According to the Ring Brother's book on Ruby, the Ruby dams failed during a huge storm in August of 1931. I believe these dams were much more solidly built than the Old Glory Dam. It makes sense that this dam may have failed at the same time. The lack of waste near the Old Glory Mill. You can see large piles of waste down near the canyon bottom in the old pictures of the mill. These piles don't appear to be there anymore. A large flood caused by the dam's failure would sweep them away. Cons: No record of a catastrophic failure exist. The big storm of 1931 may not have caused the dam to fail. A survey in 1938 lists 'dams' as a portion of the property. This could indicate that the large dam still existed at this time, but it doesn't mean it didn't fail at a later date.
My best guess is Theory Three, but you never know. It be wild card Theory Four: Aliens destroyed the dam just for the fun of it.
My "Duh!" Moment
After exploring the dam for a while and theorizing on how it may have failed, we decided we would head downstream a bit to find the "smaller" dam we had visited the month before. We began hiking along a game trail on the western side of the canyon wall about at the height of the top of the large dam. As we turned back to look at the large dam, my sister said, "Hey, we've already been to this dam!"
I turned around and it all hit me. She was right! This was the dam we'd walked to in December. Looking at it from this vantage point (at the same level or slightly above the dam) provided us with the big picture. When we walked up the canyon the time before, our view was limited and we had thought that the canyon itself had narrowed significantly at this point. That the rocks that were actually part of the dam, was a section of crumbling canyon wall. We had not been able to see the top part of the dam. Wow! It's amazing what a different perspective can give you.
Meanwhile, Mike was ahead of us and he called out, "I've found the smaller dam!" I smacked my forehead with the heel of my hand as I remembered climbing up a three foot stone wall (dam) on our way to the rock dam in December. One hundred years later, the "small" dam turned out to be so small that I'd forgotten about it.
Don't Count Your Chickens Before They're Hatched
We ended up taking the game trail on our way back to the Jeep, which was a much easier hike. I was very proud that we had solved the mystery (though somewhat embarrassed that it took a trip out there to do so). And I was looking forward to doing some more exploring around the mill. I wanted to walk from the mill to the mine and try to find remnants of the tram. I was satisfied, proud of myself and happy.
It's at times like this that life throws you a curve ball. Not 50 feet from the Jeep, I stepped on a rock while climbing down a three foot embankment. My trekking pole couldn't even save me. The rock shifted and tumbled down. I went down like an beginning ice skater losing their footing. Bam! My butt hit the ground. Hard. Then I slid down the embankment on my side and right arm.
For most people, this wouldn't have been anything more than a laugh as they got up to brush themselves off. But when you've had two back surgeries and your functional neurologist has warned you not to do any "extreme hiking" in which you could fall because you may just end up in a wheelchair for the rest of my life, it was a tense moment.
There was a lot of pain, but not as much as I would have expected with the severity of the fall. I got up and surprisingly, the pain began to subside. I moved my legs and toes. Everything worked! I wouldn't have to be carried to my Jeep. My arm stung and blood ran down it from the scrapes, but nothing was broken. As I began to walk toward my Jeep, I could feel the muscles in my back start to tighten. I immediately took two Aleve and by the end of the day, I was feeling better, although it took a week and a trip to the Chiropractor to get things back to "normal" for me.
Thinking about this adventure, I am embarrassed that after looking at the large dam for 15 minutes (and all the photos and Google Earth images), that I didn't realize that I'd been there before or that I didn't remember the smaller dam. That would have saved a great deal of researching and thinking. Then again, we may not have had this adventure. And it was a grand adventure.
I would also like to thank Bob Ring and all his help, advice and knowledge. This adventure wouldn't have been possible without it. Thanks, Bob!!!
Note: I call this dam the Old Glory Dam. That is my term since it serviced the Old Glory Mine and Mill. It is just called "Dam" on the topo map and I have never seen it referenced as the "Old Glory Dam" prior to this, so you may not want to quote me on the term.
Video Documenting Our Discovery
Part I: In Search of the Old Glory Dam
I took a lot of video during this trip (I usually don't take much) wanting to also tell the story in video, not just words and pictures. Here is Part I of the video. Let me know what you think.
Part II: In Search of the Old Glory Cemetery and Graves
Here's a short video on the graves and cemetery we found while exploring the Old Glory site.
Part III: In Search of the Old Glory Mill
Here's a short video on the Old Glory Mill and tramway we found.
Additional Pictures and Images From the Trip
Google Earth image of Old Glory Mill and Dam (mill in blue, dam and reservoir in red)
Google Earth 2010 view of the Old Glory Dam and Reservoir area. Possible remains of dam circled and reservoir outlined
Google Earth view (2011 image) of the area thought to contain the Old Glory Dam. The red circle designates what I thought may be a portion of the dam
Topo map of the Old Glory Mine area
Cat-dog getting a better view while searching for the dam
The mine on our way to the dam
Trying to find that big gold nugget in the mine
Larry at the dam
Looking downstream from the "water" side of the dam. You can see the bottom portion that was built first and had the Portland Cement facing applied to it
Panoramic photo of the remains of the large dam
The remains of the large dam. You can see all the rocks used to build the dam and the large hole in the middle. What we didn't see was a large pile of rock just below this failure. I would have expected something like that if it was a slow failure (over time). A catastrophic failure could have caused all the rock to be pushed downstream. Or perhaps it had been filled in over the years and we didn't know that we were walking on it, but I don't think so.
The "smaller" dam that was in front of the large dam, now only about 3-4 feet high
Zoomed in view of the dam from across the canyon
The stone ruins of Old Glory Mill
Water flowing over the dam
The Story of Old Glory Mine, Bob and Al Ring, 2001
Have you been on this adventure? What did you think? Comments and updates welcome by clicking here.
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