Best Of :: Shopping & Services
It took a while, but we finally grew tired of the frantic, often bitter crowds and the harried help at Last Chance, and have renewed our former fondness for Dillard's Clearance Center, which is now located at Metrocenter on the east side. Neatly arranged racks of clothing, some of it very current and season-appropriate, are the order of the day here. Weekly unadvertised sales that knock up to 75 percent off of the already reduced prices make us feel like members of a special club, and we dig the impressive shoe department, arranged by size and style (rather than just tossed onto racks in piles, like at other clearance stores). Deeper discounts can be had from special racks of dresses and skirts priced as low as $4.99, and the menswear department always has a huge selection of name-brand and designer suits starting at ridiculously low prices. We're going back!
Four Peaks Amethyst Mine holds the distinction of being both the last commercial amethyst mine in North America and one of the most inaccessible. Surrounded by the Tonto National Forest, this mine sits on the southernmost peak of Four Peaks in the rugged Mazatzal Mountains, at an elevation of 7,200 feet. There are only two ways to get there: by helicopter or a two-hour drive with an all-terrain vehicle to a place 5,000 feet up called "The Saddle," followed by a 41/2-mile, two-hour hike across all four peaks. Because of its high, remote location, the amethyst mine can be worked only by hand.
Miner Mike Blank makes the hike once a month, a trek that mine owner Kurt Cavano describes as "calf-burning" but which Blank says "isn't so bad. I'm pretty used to it." Until she got pregnant late last year, Blank's wife used to make the hike with him. They would dig rocks out of the mountainside with picks and chisels for two to three weeks, accumulating layers of dirt under their fingernails and in the cracks on their hands. (The Blanks' baby girl, whom they named Amethyst Jewel, was born this past spring.)
There's no running water at the mine. There's nothing outside except a small wooden, white tool shed and an outhouse. "But you don't want to use the outhouse," Blank says with a wry smile. "It's pretty scary in there."
Blank camps on the mountainside at night or sleeps inside the mine, where it's generally about 10 degrees cooler. The mine entrance looks like a cave in the side of the peak, and the main area is only about 18 foot by 6 foot. But after more than 12 years of digging the same vein, the mine itself extends more than 90 feet underground. There's an emergency exit tunnel about 15 feet long dug through the middle of the mine's west wall, its entrance marked by a couple two-by-fours nailed into a makeshift doorframe. "So we don't get stuck like those poor guys in Chile," Blank says. The only light comes from three dusty mining lamps hanging from cables in the upper corners of the cave, powered by the generator outside. On the sides of the mine, thick veins of tiny purple amethyst crystals sparkle in the light.
Four Peaks Amethyst Mine was discovered in 1925 by Jim McDaniels, who reportedly thought it was a letdown because he was looking for gold. Commercial amethyst mining didn't begin there until 1942. The current owners, East Coast businessman Cavano and his London-based partner, Jim MacLachtan, purchased the mine in 1997. A couple thousand pounds of ore are shipped out every year via a helicopter, which also shuttles supplies in every month. The stones mined here are diverse, ranging from pale pink, translucent crystals to deep purple gems with red hues, like the amethyst found in the Ural Mountains of Siberia (which does not mine its amethyst). Gems are tumbled and cleaned in Scottsdale, sent to Thailand for cutting, and shipped back to Arizona, where they're set in rings, necklaces, and bracelets at Sami Fine Jewelry in Fountain Hills. Some of the mine history and gems are on display nearby at the River of Time Museum at 12901 East La Montana.
Twice a year, Sami Fine Jewelry and Cavano give a handful of helicopter tours of the mine (480-837-8168, www.fourpeaksmining.com). The next tours are scheduled for October 15 and 16.
For Sami Fine vice president Stephenie Bjorkman, getting first pick of high-quality gems from Four Peaks Amethyst Mine is only part of the fun. "It is the only commercially run amethyst mine in the United States," she says. "And it is right here in our very own backyard."To see more photos of the amethyst mine, visit www.phoenixnewtimes.com/bestof2011.
The Western Ranchman is supplied with freshly hatched baby chicks on a weekly basis. Warning: Once you see how cute they are, you'll be jumping on the urban chicken bandwagon faster than you can say "farm-fresh eggs." Luckily, the North Phoenix feed-and-tack has everything you will need to begin your journey into the world of backyard chickens. The family-owned and -operated business has been doing this since 1966 — way before chickens became the must-have pet of aging hipsters.
Underground wine cellars are typically reserved for the ultra-wealthy with custom homes. Thankfully, Sun Devil Liquors makes their cellar and pub available to one and all to come and access one of the best wine selections (craft beers, too!) in the Valley. Sun Devil already has a crazy-great liquor store on ground level. Descend the stairs in the back of the store to the cellar and peruse dust-covered bottles old and new, sidle up to the bar and enjoy one of the featured wines or brews, or take a bottle back to the lounge. This subterranean hang reeks of old-school sophisticated alcohol enjoyment.
In 1900, cries of "There be gold in them hills!" could be heard ringing through the streets of downtown Phoenix. But these miners were not referring to the Superstitions and legends of lost Dutchmen. These were claims for mining rights on South Mountain. Today, most of the mines have been filled and covered, but several holes are still visible and accessible (though, for the record, we do not recommend you try to access them). The primary mine on the mountain was the Max Delta in the San Juan Valley, and it still can be seen from San Juan Road. Some clever online research can uncover hikes to a couple other mine entrances that have remained intact since Phoenix incorporated the park in 1924. Good luck!
Anybody who's ever tried to dig deep in Phoenix soil knows about caliche — hard deposits of calcium carbonate that take countless whacks with a shovel to break up and dig out. But for those who seriously want to break some ground (and turn that caliche to dust), nothing does the trick like a jackhammer. And there's no place like A to Z Equipment Rental and Sales to pick up a monstrous, vibrating machine that breaks through 60 pounds of damn near anything and sounds like a Gatlin gun. A to Z's electric "demolition hammers" range from 20-pound models to 60-pound beasts that require two-wheel haulers. Rental rates vary, so you'll have to contact A to Z for an exact price, but shattering layers of concrete and asphalt like a demolition warrior is just about priceless.