Local geologist and author hits back roads of Mohave and Yavapai counties

When Luis Vega was a boy he liked nothing better than to explore the back roads near Phoenix where he lived, often prospecting for gold in old Arizona gold camps.

His interest in the earth's surface led Vega to turn a hobby into a profession when he became a geologist after graduating from the University of Arizona with a major in geology.

A Kingman resident since 1976, Vega worked as a geologist at the Mineral Park Mine, owned by the Duval Corp., from 1976 to1981.

Because Mineral Park was running out of ore, part of the mine geologist's job was to prospect northwestern Arizona, Southern California and Southern Nevada.

This gave Vega and his wife, Paula, a former teacher with the Kingman Elementary School District, a chance to explore the back roads of the Southwest.

When Mineral Park closed in 1981, Duval Corp.

assigned Vega to travel through the Americas, prospecting for mineral deposits from Canada to the tip of South America, where he traversed the Andes on a mule's back.

But some things don't change – much of Vega's traveling was done with a four-wheel drive vehicle, even though getting stuck meant being stranded for weeks, he said.

"We gained an appreciation of every area we visited, and a realization that the beauty of nature should be accessible to everyone," said Paula, who was able to accompany Vega on many of the trips.

"When we came back to Kingman in 1998 we noticed the influx of people to the area," Vega said.

"Many were not familiar with the geology and folklore of the area."

The Vegas decided to write a book about the trails and back roads they visited after meeting an out-of-town couple during one of their many back road excursions.

"The man asked if we knew anything about the coal mines in the area," Vega said.

"Where he comes from there are coal mines.

I explained to him that there are no coal mines in Mohave County."

Written from December to July 2000, "4 Wheel Drive Roads of Mohave County Arizona," was published in September of that same year.

The book is a guide to 16 trails and back roads in Mohave County worth traveling.

Each "road log" in the book details the easiest way to get to the trail, the level of difficulty in traveling, including what type of vehicle that will be needed, and points of interest, Paula said.

A favorite trip included in the book is a 17.8-mile trip from Mineral Park to Canyon Station Loop.

Highlights of the trip are "challenging road, buried treasure, ghost towns, wild horses and modern mine," Vega said.

The first 200 copies of the book quickly sold out.

Since then 1,500 copies have been sold, Vega said.

Spurred by success, the Vegas recently published a similar book: "4 Wheel Drive & Back Roads of Yavapai County."

There will be a book signing from 1 to 3 p.m.

April 6 at the Mohave Museum of History and Arts, 400 West Beale St.

Both books are available at the museum, the Powerhouse Visitor's Center, Hastings Books and several other locations.

Vega will also be the guest speaker at a presentation, "Geology and Mining in Mohave County," at 6:30 p.m.

April 3 at the museum.

Vega said he hopes to inform people and to share some of the geological aspects of Mohave County that make it so unique.

"From a geological standpoint Mohave County is a very interesting place," Vega said.

"When people see rock formations and a dried-up lake, they want to know something about it – they want an understanding of what they are looking at.

"When we look at the earth we think it has always been the same, but it changes.

Even the Colorado River has not always flowed the way it flows today."

When they are not traveling or writing, the Vegas stay busy.

Luis does geological consulting work, and they are both members of the Mohave County Sheriff's Office Search and Rescue team.

The couple was on the team that helped find two brothers who became lost in the mountains near Flagstaff a few months ago.

They also do classroom presentations called "Play Safe," in which they emphasize how to avoid problems while outdoors.

"We teach them the four rules," Paula said.

"Tell someone where you are going, check out your surroundings, stay put, and leave it alone."