Travel Hooray – Arizona Hiking: 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 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 gold: miracle cure or snake oil?

Irish’s dreams
of establishing a nearby health resort complete with therapeutic mud baths fell
through, 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 corridors
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 your’re 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

miles round trip


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.

6 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily

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


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