July 31 – August 1, 2019
In late 2018 I hiked down Wolverton Canyon, an unofficial name given to a small side canyon of Labyrinth Canyon along the Green River. The canyon was named for Edwin Thatcher Wolverton, who built a road in the lower part of the canyon but never completed it all the way to the flatlands at the top. The road was constructed to haul copper ore via wagon from Wolverton’s mining claims near the head of Keg Spring Canyon to the Green River, where it could be loaded on boats and shipped upstream to his ranch, called Camp Riverside just below today’s Ruby Ranch. E.T.’s great grandson, Ted Wolverton, kindly commented on my blog post giving some information about the mining claims near Keg Spring Canyon. I had originally thought about checking out the mining claims in the fall or winter when the weather cooled off. However, after ruminating on it for more than a week, and desperately in need of a day off work and also a “bag night” in July, I requested some last-minute time off work and found myself driving south on a Wednesday afternoon. It had been raining but it was supposed to clear up in the evening, and I found good road conditions and clear-ish skies despite all the signs of heavy rains in the desert.
I reached the end of a two-track road at the head of Keg Spring Canyon, called Mono Butte on one of Wolverton’s hand-drawn 1905 maps. His maps were actually pretty difficult to interpret, even after overlaying them in Google Earth and trying to match up drainages and landmarks with the satellite imagery. But I was fairly certain which butte he’d labeled Mono Butte and I climbed it. Along the way there were thousands of lithic flakes, and closer to the base of the butte were several rock alignments that may have been pit houses or some other Native American structures. There wasn’t much to see atop the butte except for some nice views out into the desert.
I camped that evening just north of Keg Knoll, sleeping in the back of my Jeep. Distant lightning occasionally lit up the dark, cloudy sky, and after some reading I went to sleep as the sound of rain tapped on the roof.
I was awake early the next morning, the first day of August. The ground was damp but not soaked, and before having breakfast I decided to hike to the top of Keg Knoll. I reached the top before 7AM and poked around for the survey marker that’s listed on the USGS topo map, but only found the reference markers. I returned to the Jeep and ate breakfast with some coffee, then drove a short distance down the road.
I parked, heaved a pack onto my back, and set off to find Wolverton’s mining claims based on his maps. I was particularly interested in the “discovery monuments” listed on the maps, which I’d hoped would hold mining claim papers in Wolverton’s own handwriting. It was already quite muggy and would only get worse as it heated up. If I was reading the maps correctly, the mining claims were close to the contact between the red dirt and white slickrock in the area. Before reaching that transition I found plenty of copper ore that looked rich to my untrained eye, as well as an inscription from 1935 and a mining claim from 1973.
I picked up an old road that I’d seen in the satellite imagery that didn’t look like it had ever had a motorized vehicle on it. Nearby were some overhanging cliffs that sheltered a couple of alcoves, but they appeared to be barren inside.
After following more old roads and some cross-country travel, I found a spot that had obviously been excavated. I’d seen several cairns along the way with no mining claims hidden inside, but a short distance beyond the first workings I found another cairn with a rusty tobacco tin inside. My hopes were elevated but I opened the tin and found it empty. Close by was another area that had been heavily excavated. I’d guess that Wolverton did most of his mining here, and according to one of Michael Kelsey’s guidebooks some of the ore ended up along the banks of the Green River across from his ranch.
I found very little else while hiking, and ended up back at my vehicle around noon after hiking 5.5 miles. It was already quite warm and with the humidity it had been a somewhat tough hike. I’d accomplished what I came to do even though it wasn’t as exciting as I’d hoped, and it was still many orders of magnitude more fun than a day in the office.