Mistressed Out

Mine is no longer ours

Ah, progress. It's given us better medicine, faster computers, tastier snack cakes. But often as not, progress in Phoenix involves the obliteration of our already tenuous local history. And while we've grown used to city landmarks being torn down to make room for another Osco, we've learned to rely on our outlying towns -- quaint, cactusy bumps in the road like Bisbee and Carefree and Wickenburg -- for local color.

But those burgs are also about to be eaten up by urban sprawl -- or so says Ron Kaczor. And Kaczor ought to know. For the past 14 years, Kaczor has been the operations manager of the Mistress Mine, an 1880s gold mine converted into a mining museum/dinner theater/aura-cleansing bed-and-breakfast located on private land within the Tonto National Forest northeast of Carefree. But after 117 years of ownership, the Steinegger family has sold the 40-acre property to Carefree resident and Arm & Hammer baking soda heiress Pem Meyer, who plans to build a $4 million home on the site. And she wants Kaczor and his pet mule, Gabby, out of there.

An ordained Buddhist priest, Kaczor refuses to diss Meyer, who has been quoted as saying that the mining attractions (which included a carpeted tepee, a mule stable, and a century-old wood pile) are "unsightly" and wants them gone.

Mine all mine: Ron Kaczor bids farewell to his Mistress Mines this month.
Emily Piraino
Mine all mine: Ron Kaczor bids farewell to his Mistress Mines this month.

New Times: Okay. So some rich lady bought up your land and you have to close up the gold mine museum -- one of the few remaining tourist attractions out that way. What the fuck?

Ron Kaczor: (Laughs.) It's just the way things are going. I've seen it over and over again up in the Carefree area -- with Desert Mountain building another golf course, taking land from the national park. It just doesn't stop, the expansion, the destroying of the old. Cave Creek is a great example of people coming in who have no interest in the history of Arizona, who move here and want the same life they had in Chicago or Minnesota, but they want it where the sun shines every day.

NT: That's not new, either.

Kaczor: But people used to move here because they embraced the cultural differences, not to destroy them. I remember in the '60s, [people] loved the Hispanic and Native American cultures, and everyone was mixed, and you weren't a part of "Normal." But then "Normal" came here, and it got so boring. And these are the people who are destroying things -- they want their shopping malls and their green grass and their palm trees and their golf courses. Lily white people living behind walls and gated communities with homeowners associations. The average Arizonan back in the '60s would have lived in the wash before they'd live in that kind of development. And now that's all there is.

NT: What's a Southwesterner to do?

Kaczor: There are people out there, trying to hold off the inevitable. They're in New River and Desert Hills. They're holding on, and then something happens like that atrocity, Anthem, comes in and takes all their water. Politics as usual. I used to fight and boycott all this back then, but in my 14 years up there on the mountain, I developed a Buddhist mind and I realize that this is all inevitable; that this is what's thought of as progress by most people: tearing down our history to make room for more shopping malls and golf courses.

NT: But what have you done to fight it?

Kaczor: I'm through fighting. Back in the '60s, I fought the Vietnam War, I laid down across the Poughkeepsie Bridge, I chained myself to the nuclear power station in Seabrook -- for what good? Forty years later, we have Bush as president. I cope by getting out of here as often as I can, going to Bali and Thailand and other places where people think.

NT: Is it possible that the baking soda heiress will just allow the mine to continue, and she'll live there?

Kaczor: No. I think her basic fear, because of who she is, is liability. Rightfully so -- this is America! She'd be dealing with potential insurance liabilities all day long. We're a country of ridiculous laws, all this anal-retentive behavior. You just have to laugh at it. Society's going down the tubes, and we get to watch it.

NT: She's been quoted as saying she wants complete privacy. What if we promised to be really quiet when we visit the mine?

Kaczor: Well, I suggested keeping the museum and the theater and everything down below on the mountain, but the thinking seems to be that it would all be in her way.

NT: It's ironic that a woman who's probably dripping in gold wants to shut down a historic gold mine. I suppose her thinking is it's just an old hole in the ground.

Kaczor: She has no understanding of preserving Arizona history or that I worked for 14 years to preserve that sense of history. She wouldn't have a Scout troop out and show them how to make soap and rope and paintbrushes out of yucca. I've enjoyed being that person, but it's over now. She has to protect her fortune, and in order to do that, she has to cancel her biggest liability -- me.

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