Bat Cave Mine at the Grand Canyon

Estimates stated that the cave held 100,000 tons of guano with a net worth of $12 to $15 million as fertilizer. Read about elaborate schemes to mine the cave.

At Grand Canyon West, run by the Hualapai tribe, Guano Point features panoramic views of the Grand Canyon and Colorado River. It is named after the Bat Cave Mine 2,500 feet below, across the canyon.

The cave was discovered in the 1930s by a young man on a river trip. Harold Carpenter was sailing in Granite Gorge and noticed a hole in the north wall of the canyon about 600 feet above the water. He climbed the cliff and reached the cave after three days. Harold explored the cave finding a large chamber rich in guano (bat droppings).

Bat droppings are rich in phosphates and nitrates which are used in fertilizer. In 1957, the U.S. Guano Corporation estimated that the cave held 100,000 tons of guano with a net worth of $12 to $15 million. They saw dollar signs but the hard-to-reach cave held challenges for recovering the black gold.

The first attempt at mining the guano involved building a tramway to connect the cave with the barge dock below. The company went bankrupt because of expenses due to motor repairs and sunken barges.

The second endeavor was to fly the guano out of the canyon. The King-Finn Fertilizer Company built a landing strip on a sandbar upstream from the cave. They used the existing tram to lower the guano to boats that floated it to the landing strip where helicopters brought it up to the rim. Finally trucks would drive the product to the west coast. This turned out to be too expensive and the effort was abandoned.

The next project was to build a tram across the canyon. Cables stretched from Guano Point at the south rim to an intermediate tower 850, feet below” then 7,500 feet across the canyon to the cave at the north rim. It was an engineering marvel. The guano was vacuumed out of the cave, transported to the south rim where it was trucked to the Kingman Arizona airport.

In 1959, the cable cars were used in the film Edge of Eternity, The film, which also was shot in Kingman, involved a mystery of three brutal murders in and around the Grand Canyon. The sheriff’s efforts lead to the killer fleeing with a socialite as a hostage, and after a chase by car and helicopter, the movie climaxes with a fight in the cable car a mile above the canyon floor.

In the end, the amount of guano had been overestimated. It contained a mere 1,000 tons, not 100,000 tons as estimated. The unprofitable mine closed in 1960. The nail in the coffin for the tramway came when a U.S. Air Force jet clipped its wing on one of the cables. The pilot survived, but the tram did not.

In 1975 the mine site became part of Grand Canyon National Park. The National Park Service later proposed removing the tramway remnants within the park, but there was public protest against demolition of these interesting historic relics. As of 2007, some remnants of the old operation remain at Bat Cave and on the Hualapai Indian Reservation.

Guano Point is still a popular stop for Grand Canyon West visitors. Tourists can inspect the remnants of the old mining operation. 

Sources: http://www.grandcanyonwest.com/Media/images/bat_cave_brochure1.pdf; http://www.meadview.info/batcave.htm; http://www.showcaves.com/english/usa/caves/Bat.html