Turquoise Mines ~ Not What You Expect

When I made the reservation for the turquoise mine tour, the guy said to wear sturdy shoes and bring a hat. Makes sense, we’re going underground; it could be dirty or cold or both. At check-in I asked his wife which kind of hat to bring: warm with pom pom or baseball cap. She said the latter, to protect from the sun.

Ummm? Protect from the sun? We’re going on a mine tour. And mines are underground. I know these things because I’ve been on one coal mine tour in West Virginia.

Turns out that turquoise is right out in the open! Scavenge the mountainside, find a vein of stone that’s been “kissed by the sky,” and begin excavation.

Accessing the Mines

climbing a turquoise mine

I don’t know these people. They were smart enough to bring a camera; I wasn’t. Because I thought we were going into dark underground and I don’t have the camera equipment to make that happen. Usually I can find great pics on Flickr, not so much this time.

The pic to the left shows the hiking experience: lots of loose rock, tossed aside because it was in the way of getting to the mineral vein. This flotsam and jetsam may have tiny remnants of turquoise, so take as you like (and I did). But mostly it makes for sliding and precarious movement. We did one hour of hiking, at high elevations and into cutouts like the pic on the right–but they weren’t overgrown.

People have been mining turquoise, lead, zinc and silver here, in Cerrillos NM, since 900 BC/BCE. So the mini-mountains aren’t so much mountains anymore. They’ve gone from slanted strength to concave strips. Over 2,000 mines in the area, and only 100 are turquoise.

landscape around Cerrillos NM

The view

Land Rights

If you want to mine, file a claim for 20 acres with the Bureau of Land Management. It costs $180 in setup fees and then $10 per year. Whatever you yield is yours to sell.

Why is Turquoise So Expensive?

Because you have to drive in a 4×4 vehicle over “roads” that make you wish you’d emptied your bladder in advance. Then you “chase the vein” and using picks, shovels, and hammers, wrestle the stone out of the mountain, hopefully without hurting the mineral.

Then you sand it six times, tumble it, polish it, and make it into jewelry. It’s time and labor intensive. And it’s time and labor of love.

turquoise stones

Kissed by the sky

Turquoise isn’t a Southwest Thing by Accident

map of turquoise mines

Magnificent Stones

The tour guide is a rock hound, let there be no doubt. Here’s his personal collection–if it’s a pile of the same thing, it gets sold in his store, otherwise, this is his art. And art it is… Click the pic to advance the slideshow.

Want to Go on a Tour?

Contact the Cerrillos Trading Post  and be prepared for a hike under the sun, not a train cart ride under the ground.

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Have you been on a mine tour? For what?

14 Responses

02.17.13

Woah! How have you not filled the trailer with rocks by now? Thank God I’m not with you, because the axles would be dragging.

Jeannine – I have coral broken off the reef in Hawaii, agate and crystals from my first-ever rock hunting in Texas, and now a few pieces of turquoise. I’m busting at the seems with the desire to get them polished (not the coral), but will wait to see what else I find and bring it all to Atlanta (some day). I am a newly born rock hunter. I don’t know the names or the details, I like the find, the focus, the pretty! You?

Definitely a cool experience…I’d have definitely gone home with some pebbles in my pockets:)
D.J. – The World of Deej recently posted..The Jekyll Island Club Hotel – A Legacy RevealedMy Profile

D.J. My pockets were heavy indeed! 🙂

02.17.13

Very cool to see it naturally. I have used the beaded turquoise in jewelery and now I have more appreciation for its beauty. What is your favorite mined stone?

Jef – good question. I don’t know enough about stones to be able to answer that. I’m just started to fall in love with them. So I’ll turn the question back to you….!

02.17.13

I collect exactly as you do. But I do have a book about rocks, now, so I’m learning more officially. I have a collection of agates from south Georgia that are filled with fossils from the sea bottom. The rocks range in size from a navel orange to a bowling ball. They’re fabulous and I’m hooked.

02.17.13

Beautiful! You said that there are over 2000 mines, but only 100 are turquoise. What are the other mines for? Did you buy any turquoise jewelry?

Your Comments That’s fascinating, and I know Bob will enjoy it.
though it might be hard for him to make one of those boulders into
a ring!

Bob can turn anything into a ring if he wants to badly enough! 😉

02.17.13

Please don’t encourage folks to break off coral from reefs!

Debbie – great point. The coral I have washed ashore, broken by (presumably) natural means. The lifeguards said it was ok to take it.

02.17.13

Cool! And sorry – my comment may not have been worded well. Glad yours washed up!

02.17.13

You are right mining for turquoise is different and is above ground, I hope you enjoyed it and was not to disapointed. Turquoise is getting rare and harder to find natural, most is stabilized and a lot of sellers don’t let you know and are selling it as natural. I dig turquoise out and I always enjoy it. We are some of the lucky ones and have hard turquoise that don’t need to be stabilized and polishes beautiful. I’m glad you were able to experience getting your own turquoise out so you know for sure its natural. Whats the turquoise? And you should keep it in your collection I do believe turquoise is just going to keep going up in value.

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