The Morenci Mine is the largest open-pit copper mining operation in North America today and operated by Freeport-McMoRan Copper and Gold, Inc. The first mines here were underground operations in an area known as Metcalf starting in 1872. By 1937 the high-grade ore was depleted and open-pit mining processes began for the extraction of lower-grade ores. The mine has expanded continuously ever since and in so doing swallowed up the original towns of Metcalf and then Morenci. The present Morenci townsite is in an area known as Plantsite that is approximately 3 miles down the canyon from the original site. Although the terrain is more open than the original Morenci site, notice that the housing is still situated on terrraces on the surrounding hills. Morenci is an unincorporated town owned wholly by Freeport-McMoRan and it offers its employees, and other local residents, all the amenities one needs in a town. Mostly along Burro Alley is the Morenci Plaza with restaurants, a bank, small businesses, a grocery store, a hardware store, bowling alley, post office, motel, child care center, library, theater, and community center (with gym, pools, and a Starbucks).
However, you will probably be more astounded by the mountains of rock and dirt strategically piled all around. Some of these are “stockpiles”, that is, ore that is being prepared for processing, and others are “tailing fields” which are processed material that is stored to reclaim and recycle water used in the processing. Eventually, these fields will be returned to as natural a state as possible.
As you travel US 191 through and above Morenci you will observe some of the mine facilities including an ore crusher right along the highway as you enter Morenci Canyon. As you climb up through the mine you will be near the original Morenci townsite at about US 191, MP 171 – 172. Unfortunately, Freeport-McMoRan no longer offers mine tours. However, the newest route for US 191 basically runs through the middle of the mine so you will still get a close-up view.
For more information about Morenci and its facilities, go to: https://www.morencitown.com/
Note: Staying at the Morenci Motel includes access to the Community Center.