Took a trip to Ruby with our friend John, which turned into a full day. The landscape in this part of AZ is beautiful, in some ways like the Patagonia/Sonoita area but with many more interesting mountain ranges in every directions. Lots of tall yellow grass, open valleys layered with small hills and rock outcroppings. We had a mellow, cloud-covered day with no breeze, perfect temps in the low 70s. For hiking around in a ghost town, it seems like ideal weather to me.
We drove out east to get John, since we were already up and he was still getting going. This added about 30 minutes each way to the total driving time, but it was well worth it since he's great company! We drove out of town (stopping for Egg McMuffin, which proved to be important & necessary fuel), then through Sahuarita, onto I-19 south, exit at Amado and another hour or so to Arivaca. Took a left here and spent about another 45 minutes on dirt road. Tim has been to Ruby many times and made sure we made the right choices at various Y's in the road.
When we reached our destination, about 5 miles north of the Mexican border, there was a small sign with the dirt road continuing a 1/4 mile into town. The caretaker's office stood in the center of town at the top of a rise. You could tell because it was the only sign of life and activity, and his RV was parked behind. We drove up to that structure and parked behind it, greeted by Ada the dog. The caretaker came out and introduced himself and took us inside the office (and I use this term loosely) and explained it was $12 for a self-guided tour and that all the funds raised (including the occasional grant) were being used to maintain & preserve the schoolhouse. We signed waivers.
We first walked up the hill past the office to look at two large structures. Both were dilapidated enough that walking inside was a dicey proposition, but they had walls and roofs. These were probably houses owned by someone of status, as they were large and standing above everything else in town.
Walking then downhill past the office, we headed back toward the town entrance where the school, general store, and prison were located. The schoolhouse is the largest building in town, and obviously the only one getting any rehab. Wooden floors were intact, as well as the adobe walls & roof. The building was spacious with 14' ceilings and many large windows, some of which had been recently improved with new wood and glass. Adobe walls were also intact, with a good portion covered in smooth stucco, but there were plenty of signs that maintenance is slow and irregular. Outside was a pile of adobe bricks, beginning to melt from being left exposed. Inside were stacked bags of cement that had long-hardened.
In the main classroom, you could see where the alphabet had been posted up above the chalkboards, from one end of the room to the other. The black chalkboards remained, just barely...there were no signs of the original desks. Lining some of the inside walls of the second room were posters from a couple of old scientific conferences (one on the cicada). Out back I found my favorite structure in town: remnants of a very tall metal playground slide, firmly planted with poles sunk into concrete, the slim metal slide itself workable but long rusted, with its wooden sides fallen into decay. It was ruthlessly steep and would never pass the various codes and safety regulations for today's schools...! Behind the schoolhouse were posts that framed an old basketball court and three "changing rooms" that Tim pointed out.
We next explored the old mercantile and the prison which stood not far behind. The prison was a thick concrete rectangle, not much bigger than a dorm room, with a single, tiny, barred window. The whole building could not have been more than 10 x 14 feet. It was completely intact and will be there long after everything else in town has fallen down. Inside was a heavy metal door that was locked. The whole set-up looked pretty uncomfortable for even one night's stay. I wonder if they put the prison behind the school to remind the kids of their fate if they fell into bad habits.
The walls of the old general store were decaying reddish adobe, no roof left, but you could tell this had once been a large space.
We walked across town past a few more decaying wood and tin-roof buildings toward the lake, full of dark water and obviously no more than a tenth of its full capacity. It's more of a pond. Off in the distance we could see a wide stretch of white, which turned out to be sand. Beyond this scenic sandy beach (John noted it was crushed mine tailings) was another, larger lake. A lone canoe with a couple of fly-fishers occupied it. We walked along a narrow road above. The brown, dark water combined with cloudy skies made the lake seem foreboding, but according to Tim the water's been tested thoroughly and is pure and clean.
We headed back the way we came as the fisherman portaged across the sand to their truck (parked on the other side of the beach), and walked uphill past the foundation of the stamp mil. Tall, concrete sides were extant and what looked to be a rusted-out boiler lay on the ground. We passed by a row of small residences (more like stalls), ending up at the next-best preserved building in town: a house on top of a hill. This was a square wooden structure with the wooden frame for the central door awning still intact, wood floors that could be walked on (at least by me), but interior walls rifled with holes and disintegrating sheetrock. It had the architectural look of a government-built and occupied structure: well-designed, efficient, functional but not fancy. This house on the hill was positioned near the mine, as if overseeing it.
From there we climbed up narrow road to peer down into the mine itself. This consisted of a creepy open gash in the hillside into which you could see a cross-section of the underground workings: old broken ladders, wood used to shore up sides, decayed wood long shed from its structures. Cold, moist air streamed out. There were no "danger" signs, just a little bit of wire strung across. Behind us was another hole that descended into pitch black. I didn't stray too far toward the edge. We checked out the Assayer's building (pictured), also fairly intact with smooth adobe walls and some old tables and other equipment inside.
Then we slowly meandered back to the car, stopping to look at the old tavern with its bar still standing, and the crumbling adobe walls of more housing. In ten years there won't be much left of these, as only dirt bricks and dry wood are holding them together. A few door jambs are still in place, and I took a picture of Tim standing in a doorway. Apparently much of the miner's housing were tents, which is why there were only a dozen or so structures for a town with a population of 1,000 to 1,500.
We drove back to Amado, had a late lunch/early dinner at The Cow Palace, and returned the way we came. Dropped John at home about 5:30 and back home a little after 6. Plenty of driving but would highly recommend this little gem of Arizona history.