By Stan-THE-Man

Located in the Coronado National Forest in the lush green rolling hills of the Santa Rita mountains lies an area of the largest and richest placer gold deposits in Southern Arizona known as the Greaterville District. Gold was first discovered on the Eastern slopes of the Santa Rita Mountains in 1874 about 9 miles North of Sonoita in the Southeastern part of T.19 S., R. 16 E., and was found in the gulches running North to South, as well as in the gravels on hillsides and ridgetops between the gulches. As in most early placer deposits, most of the Gold was recovered from the 2 feet of gravel located just above bedrock and ranged from small flakes apx 0.1 inch in size up to large nuggets in the to 1 ounce range, with one nugget reportedly weighing 37 ounces. The source of the Gold is believed to be from quartz latite porphyry intrusive into Cretaceous sedimentary rocks near the heads of some of the gullies. Water was scarce for processing gravels, and the rich deposits were considered worked out by 1886 so most prospectors moved on to other areas leaving Greaterville to become a ghost town. The ghost town of Greaterville is now located on private property behind heavily locked gates and is not open to the general public.

Here's one of the restored cabins at Kentucky camp

Sometime around 1901 or 1902 James Stetson, a California mining engineer conceived an idea to build a reservoir to catch and hold the yearly snowmelt which he estimated would contain enough water to supply a mining operation for up to 10 months. He convinced George McAneny, a wealthy businessman, to invest in his plan and they formed the Santa Rita Water and Mining Company and in 1904 built a small town now known as Kentucky Camp. One day before the stockholders meeting in 1905 Stetson died in a mysterious fall from a Tucson hotel window, and this marked the beginning of the end for Kentucky Camp. His partner became involved in a bitter divorce and died in 1909, and despite the efforts of other partners to keep the mining operation going it soon shut down without ever recouping the startup costs of investors. Kentucky Camp was acquired by attorney Louis Hummel and was used by cattle ranchers until the 1960's. Four of the five original buildings in Kentucky Camp have been restored and stabilized by the Forest Service "Passport in Time" program and can be seen by visitors willing to make the mile hike down from Forest Road 163.

Here's what's left of the old barn/storage building at Kentucky Camp

Recent reported finds in the area range from small Gold in quartz specimens up to nuggets nearly one ounce in size. Mineral rights in most of the area are held by club claims and there are several sections of private property throughout the region, so check first if you plan to go to the area to look for Gold. Also remember that it is part of the Coronado National Forest, so follow all National Forest rules and regulations while in the area. To Reach Kentucky Camp take AZ 83 South (exit 281 on I10/17) towards Sonoita/Patagonia apx 18 miles. After passing Greaterville Road, keep your eyes open for Gardner Canyon turnoff on the right. Take Gardner Canyon Road to Forest Road 163 and go right on FR 163 about 4 miles till you see the sign indicating the trail down into Kentucky Camp. It's a short 1/4 mile hike down into Kentucky Camp and they have a caretaker on site and a toilet available for public use. The largest of the remaining adobe brick buildings has been set up as an informal museum with photos and relics from the past. One of the cabins has been restored and serves as a "Bed and (no) Breakfast", and the small assayers office still contains the pit where ore was processed.

Here's the assayers pit in Kentucky Camp