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Tuesday, March 23, 2021

Clay Mine Trail


Beautiful mountain and valley views on Clay Mine Trail

In the ubiquitous quest for health and beauty, the promise of a quick fix seduces better than the long game.  For those rare few who won the beauty and longevity genes lottery (I’m looking at you Sophia Loren and Cicely Tyson) having a great face and physical fortitude without investing in a whole lot products is an enviable characteristic.  The rest of us use mud.

Join a ranger-led hike to explore inside the mine

While luxurious, earthy promise-in-a-jar blends available at health-and-beauty counters everywhere from discount stores and late-night infomercials to indulgent destination spas provide a feel-good boost and a surface glow, they rarely cure anything.  Still, dangling carrots endure, and people have made billions selling muddy treatments promoted as healthful and youth-restoring.  Thus, was the case of Leila P. Irish.

Creosote shrubs bloom even in drought conditions

In the 1930s, the entrepreneurial woman saw the potential in marketing a buff-colored clay found among the tailings of an abandoned, dud gold prospect in what is now Cave Creek Regional Park.  For reasons unbeknownst to modern science, Irish envisioned a miracle cure in the otherwise unremarkable, chalky rock.  She transformed the common earth into a marketable gold mine of another type by grinding the soft sediments into a fine, talc-like powder and selling it at premium prices as a calcium, iron and silica rich health supplement and basic elixir for building strong teeth and nails and enriching blood.  The product took off, making Irish and her Pearl Chemical Mine very wealthy.

Clay mine treasure: miracle cure or snake oil?

When Irish’s dreams of further cashing in on the magic muck by establishing a nearby health resort complete with therapeutic mud baths didn't pan out, she sold the claim in 1949 and the mine and its sensational issue of debatable value fell into oblivion. 

Today, the clay mine lives on as a curiosity site in Cave Creek Regional Park.  To get a close-up look at the mine’s innards and learn more about the history and science behind the bizarre bit of Arizona lore, sign up for a tour led by park rangers.  But if you’re fine with just a look in from behind a locked gate that protects the cave, grab a park map and head out on your own. 

Benches are placed at scenic spots on the trail

The 1.5-mile Clay Mine Trail may be accessed from either the Overton or Go John trailheads near the park nature center and can easily be looped into longer, more difficult hikes. 
Big valley views on the way to Clay Mine

Rock outcroppings line the route

As a standalone trek, the route rolls through desert hills and high passes with outstanding views of the Valley and surrounding mountain ranges.  With the ongoing drought, wildflowers are scant this year.  But hearty, desert plants like creosote, brittle bush and desert marigolds have mastered the long game and push through with spots of beauty along the way.
There are many ways to extend the hike

LENGTH: 3 miles round trip

RATING: easy

ELEVATION:  2,000 -2,300 feet


Cave Creek Regional Park, 37900 E. Cave Creek Parkway, Cave Creek.

Take Interstate 17 north to Carefree Highway (State Route 74). Head east (right) and continue 7 miles to the park entrance at 32nd Street.  Follow the main park road to the Overton or Go John trailheads at the nature center.

There are restrooms and water at the trailhead.

PARK HOURS: 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily

FEE: There’s a $7 daily fee per vehicle.


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