Explore: Choride, where silver hills meet wild rock art

Roy Purcell's rock art, Chloride, Arizona, March 10, 2014 | Photo by Aspen Stoddard, St. George News

CHLORIDE, Ariz. – Rolling into the dirt roads of the living ghost town of Chloride, Ariz., after passing through the towering, neon lights of Las Vegas and the long stretch of U.S. Highway 93, is a bit surreal. At the height of its success, Chloride homed nearly 300 active mines and grew to a population of about 1,000. (See Ed. Notes at close of report.) Mining silver ore generated most of the city’s economy in the late 1800s. But as the Wild West mining boom-towns were known to do, the hills dried up and over half the population packed up and left town. In its aftermath, more survived than just a few dusty dwellings and forgotten mining claims, and a magnetic allure lives on in the town of Chloride that, over the years, has drawn in a rustic artistic culture.

Rotting wood structures and oddities of the odd frame the town that now is residence to a dwindled population of about 300 people, according to a handful of people in the town. U.S. Census Bureau data for the 2010 Census placed the population at 271.

Rusted yard sculptures, Chloride, Arizona, March 10, 2014 | Photo by Aspen Stoddard, St. George News
Rusted yard sculptures, Chloride, Arizona, March 10, 2014 | Photo by Aspen Stoddard, St. George News

Meandering through town, it’s hard not to notice that nearly every yard bears some sort of metal sculpture, many twisted, bent or assembled to other materials to look like birds, caterpillars or other fictional creatures. Yet one yard’s trashy treasures stands out from the rest.

Sharron Gittings, known in Chloride as the “Shady Lady,” fronts her antique shop with broken glass bottles strung together by ropes of solar lights. Gittings is a boisterous lady, and on this day she greets visitors wearing a fire engine red beanie and clog shoes, in the dim lighting of her “attic.”

Gittings has a thing for exotic trees, she said, such as the fossil faucet cactus tree on which numerous faucets dangle from rounded cacti arms.

“In the desert you have to be water conservative,” she said pointing to a tree made entirely out of old rusted mining picks. “I rarely have to water any of these.”

Inside her shop, there are gizmos, gadgets and whatchamacallits galore. Gittings, herself, finds almost everything she shows and uses for artistic material in the village dumps that line the town. 

Rusted yard sculptures, Chloride, Arizona, March 10, 2014 | Photo by Aspen Stoddard, St. George News
Rusted yard sculptures, Chloride, Arizona, March 10, 2014 | Photo by Aspen Stoddard, St. George News

“Everything here I dug out of the dirt myself,” Gittings said with a genuine smile. “Even all these shards of broken glass … old desert glass is unique. Some people ask me if I break the glass tops off of bottles, but I don’t. I pull them right off the surface in the desert.”

She points to what she named a “Chloride dreamcatcher.” Its rusty metal base dangles from the ceiling, and wrapped tightly in thick wire are tools and antiques that represent “Chloride’s glory days,” she said.

Perhaps one of Chloride’s most compelling hidden gems is tucked away on the east side of town where Tennessee Avenue becomes Murals Road, winding through rocky terrain for about a mile leading to the rock murals.

Painted by Roy Purcell in 1966, esoteric images in a myriad of bright, bold colors splay across the face of towering cliffs.

Roy Purcell's painted rock art, Chloride, Arizona, March 10, 2014 | Photo by Aspen Stoddard, St. George News
Roy Purcell’s painted rock art, Chloride, Arizona, March 10, 2014 | Photo by Aspen Stoddard, St. George News

The image closest to town is a depiction of Chloride itself. It lies just to the right of the town that sits below and you can almost imagine Purcell standing there, paintbrush in hand, adding in the tiniest smudges of details that bring the rock painting to life.

Beside the realistic painting, an almost identical version of the town painting is splayed; but in this one a giant snake spirals up above it, its tail turning into a foot with thick pointed claws that extend and crush the town. One local resident said, explaining, that Purcell had spent a few years working in a silver mine and was on an internal journey.

These rock paintings are like modern day petroglyphs that display familiar images but connect with ancient and Native American symbolism which represents gorgeous artistic design and intellectual stimulation.

Roy Purcell's painted rock art, Chloride, Arizona, March 10, 2014 | Photo by Aspen Stoddard, St. George News
Roy Purcell’s painted rock art, Chloride, Arizona, March 10, 2014 | Photo by Aspen Stoddard, St. George News

According to information about these rock paintings found inside the free museum, Purcell returned with his grandson and retouched these rock paintings in 2006, but this time he used automobile paint which was donated by the owner of Terrible Herbst gas station.

You can find more artwork and information about Purcell just inside Yesterday’s Restaurant. Besides, this is a great diner with 120 different kinds of beer, including five from the Grand Canyon Brewing Company, and a menu that offers a 2-pound burger, it’s worth a stop.

To carve your way to Chloride follow Interstate 15 south from St. George through Las Vegas and take Highway 93 toward Boulder City, Nev. Continue on Highway 93 from Boulder City about 62 miles, and Chloride will be a left turn off U.S. Highway 93.

Ed. notes | CLARIFICATION | Added March 29:  This story is premised on the general visitor attractions of Chloride and offers information gathered from its townspeople, the town museum and such, by our reporter who visited the town. One reader raised issues with some of the number counts presented.

There are many purported population counts for Chloride over the years, ranging as high as 5,000 at certain times; it is beyond the scope of this story to determine which of those is most accurate. The coming and going nature of miners may account for the variation. U.S. Census Bureau data for the 2010 Census placed the Chloride population at 271.

The mine count is another matter. The mineral deposit specialist for the United States Geological Survey in Arizona, Tim Hayes, said that the USGS recognizes only 22 mines in Chloride; but, he said, there exists a wide discrepancy as to what is defined as a mine. For example, some count any penetration into the earth as a mine, some counts include surrounding regions, and so forth; like the population data, there are wide variables. The USGS identifies a mine in its count for a region if its satellite imaging can perceive the opening but cannot see the bottom of it. If the satellite can register the bottom of the mine, that “hole” is not included in the USGS mine count.

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2 Comments

  • Donna March 27, 2014 at 9:12 pm

    Nice piece in general, and very nice pix. However, it would make sense to do a bit of fact checking before publication. There were never 300 mines in Chloride. The number was just over 100. The population did not top out at 1000. For a short time, in 1899, when a silver strike in town made the front page of the San Francisco Chronicle, there was a rush that pushed the population over 5000, but it stabilized for decades at about 2500.
    The last mine to close, The Tennessee, closed down in 1947. After that, the population dropped to around 50 people for many years. Today, it is over 400 and it is not “dwindling;” it is actually growing.
    The town is not “lined” with “village dumps.” There is one “dump” five miles away in Mineral Park. The town IS lined with abandoned mines and several piles of tailings, where old glass and the remains of rusted mining equipment can be found. Not at all the same as “dumps.”
    Roy Purcell worked in a copper mine at Mineral Park, not a silver mine (or so he told me). When he returned to Chloride in 2006, it was not to “retouch” the murals. He repainted them completely, top to bottom, and even added a couple of new sections that were in his original sketches from 1966 but which he did not paint at that time. He also changed several of the colors from the original. When I asked him about that, he said “I am not restoring them. I am repainting them. And my vision is a bit different now.” Also, he did not just bring his grandson. With him also were his brother, Rex, his son, Loren, his wife, daughter, grandson, and two artists from his gallery in Tupac. But you did get the date of the repainting right.
    It might have been interesting to note that not 30 feet from Purcell’s “modern petroglyphs,” on the stones facing them, are several actual ancient petroglyphs… original carved rock art dating back hundreds of years, at least.

    • Joyce Kuzmanic Joyce Kuzmanic March 29, 2014 at 11:20 am

      Donna, thank you for your comment. Please understand this story premised on the general visitor attractions of Chloride and offered information gathered from its townspeople, the town museum and such, by our reporter who visited the town.
      But you raise good considerations, and perhaps we can eliminate some confusion surrounding the numbers.
      There are many purported population counts for Chloride over the years, ranging as high as 5,000 at certain times; we have not sought to determine which of those is most accurate for purposes of this article. The coming and going nature of miners may account for the variation. What we found is some consensus that population reports vary widely. U.S. Census Bureau data for the 2010 Census placed the population at 271.
      The mine count is another matter. The mineral deposit specialist for the United States Geological Survey in Arizona, Tim Hayes, said that the USGS recognizes only 22 mines in Chloride; but, he said, there exists a wide discrepancy as to what is defined as a mine. For example, some count any penetration into the earth as a mine, some counts include surrounding regions, and so forth; like the population data, there are wide variables. The USGS identifies a mine in its count for a region if its satellite imaging can perceive the opening but cannot see the bottom of it. If the satellite can register the bottom of the mine, that “hole” is not included in the USGS mine count.
      Mines and mining towns are interesting subjects – it sounds like you have familiarity with Chloride and we appreciate your stimulating this conversation. We are adding these notes as clarification to the article itself.
      Thank you so much,
      ST. GEORGE NEWS | STGnews.com
      Joyce Kuzmanic
      Editor in Chief

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