Audrey Headframe Park

Where in Arizona can you stand on a glass platform and peer into an abyss hundreds of feet deep with water flowing through the bottom? If you answered the Grand Canyon Skywalk you would be correct. Another right answer would be Audrey Headframe Park. You’ve probably heard of the first but may be less familiar with the latter. Here’s how to tell them apart. The Skywalk costs $75 and you’re not allowed to take photos while Audrey Headframe Park is absolutely free and cameras are welcome.

Audrey Headframe Park is the latest attraction in Jerome, the former mining town turned arts community that surveys the Verde Valley from its mile high perch. A headframe is the hulking structure positioned above a mine shaft that supports the pulleys and all other equipment needed for the cables to raise and lower elevators or ore cars. The Audrey Headframe was constructed in 1918 above the copper-rich Little Daisy Mine. The piece was named for the adopted daughter of the mine’s superintendent.

An army of volunteers have diligently restored the Audrey, making it the largest and oldest piece of wooden mining equipment in Arizona. It perches above a concrete-lined shaft that plunges 1,900 feet down through the earth’s surface. The headframe remained in service until the mine shut down in 1938. Before that happened, over $125 million dollars worth of ore was hoisted to the surface with the help of the mighty Audrey.

Visitors to the park can stand atop a glass platform and gaze into the 1,900-foot tunnel adorned by dramatic xenon lighting and specially-designed mirrors to penetrate the depths. Water seepage from mountain springs can often be seen glinting far below.

An array of other mining artifacts surround the headframe, including ore cars, timber cars, and drills. Informational plaques describe the purpose of each item. There is also an authentic man-cage on display, once used to raise and lower miners through the shafts. Visitors are welcome to climb into the cage. While posing for photos, take a moment to imagine riding one of these almost 2,000 feet below ground every day. Suddenly, your job might seem slightly more tolerable.

Also on exhibit is the original General Electric generator that provided power to Jerome, much of Yavapai County and a portion of Phoenix from 1916 to 2004.

The entire town of Jerome has been designated a National Historic Landmark and it’s easy to understand why. Standing in the park, amidst the actual equipment used to scrape unimaginable wealth from these hardscrabble slopes creates an evocative experience.

The Audrey Headframe rises like the timber skeleton of some great prehistoric beast and the wind whistles through the hinges of the man-cage. Gaze into the shaft gouged from the earth and glimpse a piece of history like you’ve never seen it before.

Audrey Headframe Park is located just outside the gate to the Jerome State Historic Park. It is open daily from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. There are picnic tables, walking paths and informational plaques. Admission is free.

By Roger Naylor