The desert east of Parker, Arizona is a vast and intimidating wilderness. But there is treasure in those sun baked hills. A century ago it was gold and silver that led adventerous people into this rugged land. Today it is a quest for the wilderness experience, or to find tangible links to a colorful past.
As early as 1862 prospectors were searching for gold in the Buckskin Mountains. They found tantalizing traces but not enough to make full scale mining profitable. Until the Atlantic & Pacific Railroad reached the Colorado River in 1882, processing ore from the Buckskin Mountains required overland shipping to the Colorado River thirty miles to the west. It then went downriver by steam boat, and at the Gult of Califronia it went by ship to San Francisco or to Swansea, Wales.
As it later turned out, copper, not gold or silver, sparked the boom that led to the establishment of a town named Swansea. The name was bestowed by George Mitchell, metallurgist for the Consolidated Gold & Copper Mining Company, that was orignally from Swansea, Wales.
The first attempt to profitablly mine the copper reserves were made in 1904 when the Signal Group purchased a number of old mining claims. The company had ambitious plans that included the establishment of a modern town named Signal.
But the company was not adequately funded. And so George Mitchell was sent to evaluate the site before the sale of the property would be finalized. With T.J. Carrigan of Consolidated Gold & Copper Mining Company, Mitchell traveled more than twenty miles through the desert from Bouse, the closest railroad terminal.
By 1909 the new owners had established a town with a population large enough to warrant a post office, commerical mining, and ore processing at the site. In the decade that followed a spur line was built from Bouse. And even though it was a remote mining camp, residents enjoyed an array of surprising amenities.
Editor Angela Hammer published the weekly Swansea Times. A theater showed first run motion pictures. There was an automobile dealership, a barber, medical office with physician and dentist, several general merchandise stores, saloons and restaurants, and a billiard parlor.
But fickle markets give mining towns an ebb and flow. In 1912 the Consolidated Gold & Copper Mining Company declared bankrupt. The mine and mill was sold. In 1922, the mill was closed. The following year mining operations ceased. There would be intermitant operations over the next decade but the handwriting was on the wall.
Businesses closed. The population of Swansea declined. Swansea’s post office was discontinued on June 28, 1924. By 1937 only a few prospectors lived in the forgotten town as hermits.
Today the vast remnants of the old town are preserved in an arrested state of decay by the Bureau of Land Management. This allows visitors to experience a rarrity in the desert, a ghost town where the passing of time was suspended long ago.
From Parker head south crossing the railroad tracks just outside of town. About a quarter mile further south is Shea Road on the left (east). Turn here and follow the paved road for about 13 miles turning south onto a dirt road marked by a county sign pointing to Swansea. Continue straight at the four way stop until you reach Swansea.
A four wheel drive vehicle is not needed but ground clearance is a must as the road is rocky in areas. Inquire locally about road conditions. And always carry water, notify someone of when you plan to return, and be prepared for desert travel without cell service.
Crazy Horse Campgrounds in Lake Havasu City on the Colorado River is not just an oasis for the winter refugee. It is at the heart of an adventurers paradise. And Swansea is just one of the amazing places awaiting discovery.
Written by Jim Hinckley of Jim Hinckley’s America