updated 9/3/2007 10:36:03 PM ET 2007-09-04T02:36:03

Riding all-terrain vehicles in the hilly countryside was a frequent pursuit for 13-year-old Rikki Howard, her 10-year-old sister, Casie Hicks, and their family, a neighbor said Monday.

The hills, visible from the family’s mobile home, also are popular with other ATV riders, Seth Johnson said.

But the terrain and clumps of brush concealed a derelict mine shaft, not uncommon in a state with a long history of gold and silver prospecting.

Rikki and Casie were riding an ATV with their father Saturday night outside this northwestern Arizona community, a collection of homes scattered in the desert, when their vehicle plunged into the 125-foot-deep shaft.

The girls’ father was riding ahead of them on a dirt bike and didn’t see them fall. He called authorities to help him search through the night.

They weren’t able to follow the ATV’s tracks into the shaft until early Sunday, Mohave County Sheriff’s Department spokeswoman Sandy Edwards said.

When the entrance was discovered, the father called out and Casie answered, officials said. Rescuers rappelled into the shaft and found Rikki dead.

Casie was taken to University Medical Center in Las Vegas, where she was upgraded to serious condition on Monday.

Johnson said the family was staying in Las Vegas with Casie. “They’re just about as distraught as humans can be,” he said.

The mine shaft is next to a dirt road, concealed by brush and marked by no signs or barriers.

“It’s like a serpent’s mouth waiting to swallow you up,” Johnson said.

The family declined to comment, the hospital said.

Several relatives, who went late Monday afternoon to the mine site, also declined to comment. Family members placed a cross that read “In loving memory: Rikki.” They placed yellow daisies on the cross and laid purple and orange tulips and a pink teddy bear at its base.

The ownership of the shaft had not been determined, said Laurie Swartzbaugh, deputy director of the Arizona State Mine Inspector’s office. She said many abandoned mines date back to the early 1900s and sometimes it’s not possible to trace ownership.

“There’s a significant amount of abandoned mines out there that are hazardous to the public’s health,” she said. “Most of those mines are from old prospectors who would go in and they would mine and they’d just pick up leave.”

Swartzbaugh said that since Jan. 1 the office has secured 108 abandoned mines.

Chloride is about 200 miles northwest of Phoenix, or 80 miles southeast of Las Vegas.

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