When last we met, I had just returned from a vigorous ramble through the Cerrillos Hills State Park where my turquoise fever, instead of subsiding, became rather more advanced, and I determined that I might like to reconnoiter a portion of the public land that lies just north of the park boundaries to see what I might see.
A mysterious, anonymous reader left me a comment shortly after I published Part 1 of this trilogy, warning that "individual mining claims have been legally registered across the landscape and are worked and fiercely protected on that land." Alas, the warning was delivered well after the completion of my backcountry adventure, though I was aware ahead of time that there might be active mining claims in the area and, accordingly, packed in only a camera, a honeycrisp apple, and plenty of water in place of the pickaxe, black powder, and shovel that I might otherwise have preferred to convey into the "forbidden zone."
Seriously, though, it is my understanding that BLM land may generally be used responsibly by the public for purposes of hiking and similar low-impact leisure activities; tracts may be registered for purposes of mineral exploration, however, and anyone that goes into the area seemingly intent on working a miner's legal claim might well face the wrath of said miner. While I might have held out hope that a little chunk of color might reveal itself from the drab tailings of some old, disused shaft, I certainly would not have endeavored to poke around any area appearing to be actively worked, and neither should you; it's wrong, and it simply isn't worth the risk.
My trusty, dusty old Palladium boots served me well through the journey, protecting my ankles from the numerous low-growing cacti that guard the hills. I will confess, however, that those boots are on the heavy side, and the long trudge through deep, sandy gravel up the creekbed (we call them arroyos around here) into the BLM land that was my destination left me rather in need of an extended period of rest, during which time I found that previously mentioned honeycrisp apple to be a welcome, if rather insubstantial, refreshment. Reasonably revived, I commenced to work my way east towards the front (south) side of Grand Central Mountain, encountering along the way a great number of lovely cholla cactus skeletons, one of which I might like to have collected had I not been required to haul it back out via that long, burdensome arroyo:
I was not long in happening upon some old mine sites. A few had been capped and marked by the New Mexico Abandoned Mine Land Bureau:
And not too far from those, this:
A very uncapped, unmarked vertical mine shaft. I suppose this is what I hoped I might see out here, and yet, faced suddenly with that gaping, black, seemingly endless pit, I began to question the wisdom of my bounding alone out into this remote and slightly scary tract of land. That shaft was no joke; if I had attempted to peer in and lost my footing in that loose dirt I would certainly have gone down far, fast and hard, irreversibly concluding, I do believe, my time on this earth. Notably rattled, I paused long enough to snap a few photographs and then continued on my way.
Continuing along the sunny south-facing side of Grand Central Mountain, a bright-white object concealed in the dry grass caught my eye:
Do you see it there? My mood, rather darkened by my encounter with the gloomy pit, brightened considerably as I approached the white object, which revealed itself to be a lovely shed mule deer antler!
I have never before found a shed antler, and determined that this one was well worth hauling along with me for the duration of my ramble! My prize safely crammed into my backpack, I rounded the eastern slope of the mountain, and beheld in the distance a landmark I dearly hoped I might catch a glimpse of: the famed Mount Chalchihuitl.
The NM Office of the State Historian describes mount Chalchihuitl thusly:
...the largest known prehistoric turquoise mine in North America, with turquoise artifacts found from the site dating from around 1000 AD. Native miners excavated thousands of tons of waste rock at Mt. Chalchihuitl before Spanish invasion in the 16th century. Archeologists have recovered cultural materials at the site that confirm that this prehistoric mining occurred, including grooved stone axes, mauls, picks, hand-held hammers, anvils, and lapidary stones, mostly made of igneous rock. Pieces of pottery found at the side indicate that the greatest periods of activity at the mine were 1000-1150 and 1300-1600 AD. The name “Chalchihuitl” is a Nahua word derived from the word “xui,” meaning blue. Nahuatl is a group of related languages that was spoken by the Aztecs, and has been spoken in central Mexico since the 7th century AD. The word “chalchihuitl” is used to refer to other green stones such as emeralds and jade, and has a connotation of preciousness. Southwestern peoples have valued opaque, blue-green turquoise stones for trade, ornamentation, and ceremonial use for thousands of years. These stones appear in Navajo, Zuni, and Hopi creation myths.
This short video provides a little more information about the history of the mine at Mount Chalchihuitl:
Mount Chalchihuitl itself and much of the land surrounding it is currently privately owned. I didn't dare go near it; I was perfectly content to have such a nice vantage point from my perch on the side of old Grand Central! Barely a stone's throw from that vantage point, I stumbled upon a disturbed area of the mountainside that, upon closer inspection, revealed a tunnel leading directly into the mountain.
I remembered reading about a tunnel that had been dug deep into Grand Central Mountain in the late 1880's, and wondered if this could be it.
There was a gate preventing entry, and for good reason; check out that warning sign:
That's serious stuff, and not to be ignored! The view from between the bars:
Now the fact is I had gotten a rather late start on my day, and I had stopped to investigate enough little things here and there that by the time I rounded the north side of the mountain, it was already getting a tad late for my taste, especially considering we had just turned back our clocks an hour for the winter making the afternoon that much shorter. Its too bad, because old maps I had been studying had revealed a few disturbed areas of land on the far side of the mountain that had been minor sites of turquoise exploration before the turn of the century that I was hoping to get a look at. It didn't take long to find them; the land is easily traversed, and landmarks I had read about or seen on maps were easy to spot in person. Scrambling up from a gully I looked out towards where those sites should be and caught my first glimpse of actual...
TURQUOISE!!!!!! Not quite the turquoise the area is known for, but a fun and very unexpected find nevertheless! There were a few old mine sites in that vicinity, different from the previous ones I had seen in that these were sort of wide pits that had become overgrown with vegetation:
Closer inspection revealed that within the pit, some lucky miner must have followed a vein rather deeply into the rock:
Rather deeply indeed!
Climbing back out... could it be???
TURQUOISE???? The color sure was pretty, but it appeared to just be a hair-thin crust of color on the very surface of the rock; if it was turquoise it surely wasn't worth chipping off of the rock, and I didn't have any tools, anyhow. Good thing I was able to collect that nicely colored specimen on my camera!
Evidence of a 1960's "pit party" reminded me that I was awfully thirsty, and my water supply was getting low; it was time to leave the backcountry.
I had seen more interesting things than I had expected to see, found an antler, didn't get bit by a rattlesnake, fall down a mineshaft, or get chased off at gunpoint by a fiercely protective miner, so I considered my Cerrillos Hills backcountry ramble a real success. I can't say I plan on returning; I feel pretty fortunate to have emerged from that little adventure with my life, so I'm glad to have captured some of it on film, and I'm pleased as punch to be here to share it with you! Thanks for joining me, and don't forget... this is a trilogy! In Part 3, I'll introduce you to someone who has been finding stuff in these hills for years, and makes some truly extraordinary creations... a real FinderMaker!