Mural Hill In 1904

Driving into Bisbee from the south, past the commercial development and copper-mine tailing piles, I’m always delighted and intrigued when the slanting limestone reef atop Mural Hill comes into view. The stratum of limestone known as the Mural formation, securely ensconced upon a conical base of varied sedimentary and conglomerate rocks, was named for that hill. I’ve made a couple of tentative efforts to reach the hill on foot, but I never found the right path, and the monsoon season heat and humidity defeated my efforts.

Frederick Leslie Ransome was a geologist employed by the U.S. Geological Survey. In the early years of the twentieth century he was assigned to investigate the geology of the Bisbee, Arizona mining district. I can imagine what Ransome thought of SE Arizona during that boomtime period. He was born in Greenwich, England, educated in California, and by the time he and his crew got to Bisbee he was in his mid-thirties. His report, published by the USGS in 1904, contained many black-and-white photos of the arid landscape surrounding Bisbee, a landscape which looks much the same today. The photo at the top of the post is from that report, which along with economic geology contains a few impressionistic passages, such as this one:

Note how Ransome allows his just-the-facts geological prose to briefly relax, back in an era when such statements were allowed in a report on economic geology.

One of these days I’ll get to that hill and take some close-up photos. Until then, isn’t it good for the soul to have prospects on the horizon which haven’t yet been visited?

Here’s one more photo from Ransome’s report. This is Bisbee in 1902, when the mines were in full swing and sulphurous fumes filled the canyon. One hill in this photo, a darker irregular eminence visible just behind the mineshaft workings at the right of center in this view, once was known as Sacramento Hill. In later years the mine switched over to open-pit methods and now the hill is an immense cavity in the rock, the Lavendar Pit. It always seems boosterishly ironic to me that the city has a sign by the pit: “Scenic View!”


4 comments on “Mural Hill In 1904

  1. bev says:

    I do believe you will get over to Mural Hill once the weather cools down this autumn. You’ll appreciate it all the more for having waited out the heat and humidity. I’ve always loved the limestone reefs around Bisbee. One of my other favourites is the big ship-like one that looms into view as you drive north after leaving town, and descend that winding section of highway to the turn-off for Sierra Vista. My first year in Bisbee, I just marvelled at the reefs – and that sentiment just increased after I got my first pair of prescription driving glasses. Seeing Mural Hill with my new glasses was a real “Oh, wow!” moment. That top photo is just so cool. Glad I wasn’t around town back in the day when they were mining and smelting right by the town!

  2. foveamoon says:

    Have you read John Charles Vandyke?

  3. Larry says:

    Yeah, I have a reprint of his “The Desert”. You can’t go wrong with Van Dyke, Edward Abbey, and Gary Nabhan as mentors! Here’s a nice quote from “The Desert”:

    “Are they beautiful these plants and shrubs of the desert? Now just what do you mean by that word ‘beautiful’? Do you mean something of regular form, something smooth and pretty? Are you dragging into nature some remembrances of classic art; and are you looking for the Dionysius face, the Doryphorus form, among these trees and bushes? If so the desert will not furnish you too much of beauty. But if you mean something that has a distinct character, something appropriate to its setting, something admirably fitted to a designed end (as in art the preasante of Millet or burghers of Rembrandt and Rodin), then the desert will show forth much that people nowadays are beginning to think beautiful. Mind you, perfect form and perfect color are not to be despised; neither shall you despise perfect fitness and perfect character.”

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