Grand Canyon's Orphan Mine<br>comes to life in new book
GC VILLAGE — For 11 years, Maurice Castagne worked as mine superintendent at the only working mine inside the borders of Grand Canyon National Park.
Uranium ore is loaded from the mine's headframe into trailers around 1962. (GCNP Museum Collection photo)
The prominent, steel headframe still outlines the Grand Canyon skyline, creating curiosity among those who visit the South Rim. Thus, the unique structure with a colorful past became the subject of a new book by Castagne.
"Grand Canyon Orphan Mine" was derived from Castagne's working experience as mine superintendent and manager. The mine operated from 1953-69, although the site's roots originate in 1903.
"During my tenure as mine boss, I had thoughts of writing a book, but never was inspired until I retired," Castagne said. "Surprisingly, I recalled many events, but pertinent data was also obtained from log books, notes, personal files and photos."
The mine is located on the South Rim on Hermit Road between Maricopa Point and Powell Point.
Castagne arrived on the scene when the mine was still in its early development stage.
"My job requirements would be to upgrade the mine facility by completing a 1,500-foot vertical, three-compartment mine shaft, and advance and upgrade the underground mine development programs to support a 250-ton-a-day production rate," Castagne writes. "The present aerial tramway would be phased out as it offered very limited hoisting and production capacity."
Castagne said the proposed work program was challenging with logistics and conditions of the operation a disaster.
"The Orphan Mine claim consisted of 20 acres, but unfortunately, 15 acres existed in a shear drop from the Canyon rim," he said. "The surface mine working area would be limited to three acres with the Grand Canyon Inn claiming two acres."
The new mine shaft was strategically located on the rim and limited housing facilities were constructed. With housing at the site a problem, employees were later moved to Tusayan in a trailer park called Western Village.
Castagne said he had to think hard about taking the job at the mine, which was originally operated by Western Gold and Uranium. He had a family in Utah and housing facility for the mine boss was a primitive rock house without lights or water, located seven miles from the mine.
"Looking back on those trying days, I shake my head in disbelief that I actually accepted the job," Castagne writes. "Fortunately, things did work out and my family and I enjoyed staying put for 11 years at one mine. The Orphan Mine had been a challenge, but we as a family never regretted moving lock, stock (one burro, one pony) to the Grand Canyon, which we called our second home."
Castagne's book presents a brief history and happenings of a mine that he says had its share of trials and tribulations.
"There were good and bad times, but also personal and memorable events with the Grand Canyon National Park Service, Grand Canyon Village and Western Village," he said. "I attempted to focus on a book that would appeal and be of interest to a wide cross-section of readers."
In all, the Orphan Mine covered a period of 84 years from 1903-87.
"The Grand Canyon Orphan Mine was truly an orphan, like Dan Hogan, the old prospector, claimed years ago," Castagne said.