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Eldorado Canyon’s Techatticup Mine is operating again—21st-century style.
Photo: SLGibbs (all)
The Techatticup Mine was once the richest gold producer in Southern Nevada. After World War II, the mine was abandoned and left to the harsh desert elements for more than 50 years. Today, the mine, located near Nelson in Eldorado Canyon, has new owners and new prospects. The Techatticup is destined to take a new place in Nevada history.
American Indians and Spanish prospectors called Eldorado Canyon home in the late 1700s. The Spaniards found silver, but not finding the gold mother lode squelched their hopes for prosperity, and they left the area.
By the 1860s, the canyon was home to prospectors who made their way up the Colorado River from Yuma, Arizona on steamboats. A number of Civil War deserters migrated to Nevada via the river, finding the isolated canyon a great place to hide out. During this time, nearly 300 people lived in Eldorado Canyon, compared to 40 in what would eventually become Las Vegas.
The mixture of cultures created a ruthless, lawless environment. Greed and gunfights over gold and women, daily claim jumping, and renegade killings fueled countless incidents of vigilante justice. The closest sheriff lived in Pioche, a 200-mile horseback ride away. He was too busy to uphold the law in Eldorado Canyon, so a cavalry of soldiers was sent to keep the peace. Many mines were staked and claimed there, making it one of the earliest and richest mining districts in the state. A tribe of Paiutes lived in the dry, barren hills surrounding Techatticup. They wandered the camps repeatedly saying “Techatticup, Techatticup,” meaning, “I’m hungry.” A group of prospectors named the mine for the Paiute word.
The mine became one of the state’s largest as workers blasted and dug deeper and deeper into the hills. As the veins of rusty stained white quartz ore would end, the miners blasted a new tunnel beneath the existing one. Their quest for the elusive flakes of gold and silver didn’t stop until there were 12 tiers of tunnels.
Techatticup, with its ore of gold, silver, copper, and lead, became one of the richest mines in the canyon. By the early 1900s, Techatticup and three other area mines had produced more than $5 million worth of ore.
Thanks to forward-thinking visionaries Tony and Bobbie Werly, Techatticup has injected new life and activity into Eldorado Canyon, about a 45-minute drive from Las Vegas. Today, those following the tunnel’s veins of white quartz are history buffs, tourists, and local school children.
The Werly family once operated a canoe rental business in Boulder City. Canoes launched from the base of Hoover Dam and exited from the Colorado River at Eldorado Canyon. Tony (at left) began to notice the abandoned buildings of the old mining camp. “When I was growing up I used to dream of retiring to property that included an old country store and gas station,” he says.
In 1994, the family purchased 50 acres that included several mining claims, the company store, a stamp mill, a bunkhouse, and a few tin miner cabins. Two days before closing escrow, they made a discovery that changed the property’s fate.
An entrance to a mine, a few inches from being completely sealed, was found. Tons of mine tailings had flowed past the entrance from the stamp mill. Mounds of white powder residue had accumulated and covered the entrance. Soon the entire family, including Tony and Bobbie’s five children, were mucking tailings from the tunnel with wheelbarrows and buckets. “It took us three months of Saturdays to clear 80 yards of the tunnel,” Tony says. “We dreamed of being able to open the mine for tours.”
When cleared, work began to bring the tunnel up to regulated safety standards. Steel walkways, lights, emergency equipment, and proper ventilation drew immediate attention. Original buildings were restored and new ones built. The Werly family had Techatticup ready to begin a new chapter in its history.
The mining camp is thriving again as word about guided tours travels. When asked about the tour, Christine Ward of Awesome Adventures says, “One of the best things is to see how the original buildings and mining equipment were kept. History comes to life right before your eyes.”
The tour begins at the restored tunnel entrance located at the 200-foot level of the mine. Going back 500 feet, the tunnels of the mine maintain a pleasant 70-degree temperature year round. It is a comfortable tour, even in the summer.
The mine isn’t the only draw to the area. “Surrounding the mine is spectacular scenery of teddy bear cholla (cactus), rare geologic formations, and the banks of the Colorado River,” says Earl Jobson of Pink Jeep Tours.
The Eldorado Canyon area is a popular spot for birders and wildlife watchers. The valley also offers spectacular views for admirers of Southern Nevada’s desert landscape and colorful rock formations and is close to an opening for access to the Colorado River. Many movies have been filmed in the area, including “Breakdown,” “Eye of the Beholder,” “Johnny and the Highrollers,” and “3,000 Miles to Graceland.”
Eldorado Canyon Mine Tours
HC 62, Box 440, Nelson, NV 89046
• Approximately 1 hour
• *4-adult minimum
• Reservations required
• Open 7 days a week, except major holidays
• Cost: adults, $12.50; children 12 & under, $7.50
*If you don’t have the required number, there are plenty of people to partner with.