1998 New Mexico Collecting Tour Report
This was a 5-day, commercial tour (not with the NJG&M club) that I went on in August of this year. I arrived at the rockshop in Bingham, New Mexico (a small dot on the New Mexico map between Socorro and Carrizozo) on the evening of Sunday, August 16th after an uneventful 8 hour drive from Denver. I was tired, but already very excited to look for fluorite, one of my favorite minerals. After meeting and talking for a couple hours with the tour leader, Tom Nelson and his wife Allison, I decided to call it a night.
The next morning, two other rockhounding enthusiasts arrived at the rockshop, George Hahn and Mark Biddle. Mark would be with us for only that day (Monday) and George was going to stay until Wednesday. A short while later we were heading to the Oscura Mtns to the east of Bingham. It was a short drive, maybe 5 miles, but took a half hour due to some of the dirt roads being rocky and/or washed out. We were heading specifically to the Royal Flush and Mex-Tex mines, two of many mines and tunnels that scour the Oscuras. These mines are just to the north of the more famous Blanchard claims.
After arriving at the Royal Flush mine, all of us were immediately in awe. If it weren't for the iron gates enclosing the mines entrance, one could easily drive a truck through it. Tom unlocked the gates and we entered with tools in hand. As we walked approximately 150 feet into the tunnel, we noticed that there were pieces of blue, green and purple fluorite everywhere! With a few pieces in our pockets, we then continued up the left side of the tunnel to where Tom had previously scouted a few days prior. The main part of the tunnel was possibly 20 feet high, but after climbing up the side, we were within inches of the ceiling. Here we could see purple fluorite and galena crystals 2 inches on a side! I was in Heaven! Unfortunately, they were above us which means that we couldn't hammer them out. You should never try to collect anything in the ceiling because you never know when that 20-ton slab of ceiling rock is going to collapse.
We found a crawl space in which Tom has found some nice material, so crackhammers and chisels started flying. Since the space was so small and tight, the four of us took turns hammering and pulling the specimens out. George was first, and the first to bring out a large plate of blue/purple fluorite. It was gorgeous. Another 15 or so smaller specimens later and he was ready to come out. We couldn't stay in that crawl space for too long because it would get hot, the oxygen would get depleted and we had to lay on sharp barite fragments which can easily cut your clothing and skin. A couple minutes later, Mark went in for his fill. He also brought out some beautiful specimens of fluorite, galena and barite, as did George. I was now VERY eager.
My turn came, so in I went. With my flashlight (provided by Tom), I could see all of the crystals up close as they naturally appeared in situ. There was a little ledge attached to the wall we were working on. It had a few nice crystals on it, but I was wondering what was beneath it. I decided to find out, and I'm glad I did. After chiseling away at it for five or ten minutes, it broke loose from the wall. I turned it over and, lo and behold, there were hundreds of blue and purple fluorites up to 1.5 cm! Jackpot! The shelf was around 4 feet long - too big to pull out of there - so I began breaking off pieces and handing them out to the others. The largest chunk I broke off was approximately 1.5 feet long. I was now tired and running out of air, so out I came. We left the largest chunk in there - it was a couple feet long - and still impossible to move. We left it for the next lucky rockhound. Oh, did I mention that this crawl space was only a few feet wide by a few feet tall? Not exactly big enough for this 6'1" rockhound. I was sore and got some debris in my left eye. I knew I should've worn eye protection, but I chose not to. Stupid me. The abrasiveness of the debris caused major irritation for the next two days.
A little more surveying of the mine tunnel found where the green fluorite was coming from. George and Mark were starting in on it as I was finishing up in the crawl space. Unfortunately, the green fluorite was crumbly and no crystals could be extracted intact.
Next up was the Mex-Tex group of mines. We couldn't go into the main one because of some recent collapsing of the entrance overhang, so we surface collected near the entrance. We all found specimens of fluorite, brochantite, amethyst and smoky quartz, linarite, atacamite, and malachite. I think Tom even found a microscopic spangolite specimen. After a little while here, we drove a little further up the mountain to another Mex-Tex mine. Here we found mainly amethyst, although the color of it isn't deep like the amethyst that comes out of Brazil. It is a lighter shade of purple, yet still beautiful in its own right. We all took a few large specimens. Mark had to go back home to Philadelphia that night.
On Tuesday, we went to the southwest corner of New Mexico. Calcite, malachite and chrysocolla were waiting for us at the Apache #1 mine (or was it the #2?) and turquoise was plentiful at another mining area, both just south of the town of Hachita. I saw opaque calcite rhombs the size of my fist, although Tom has some the size of a large toaster at his rockshop. The largest one that I brought home is 2 inches in length. The malachite/chrysocolla is massive and not crystaline. At the turquoise area, we found seam after seam of the sky-blue mineral. Most of it was chalky at first, but it has since hardened. I got a small boxful of turquoise within just a couple hours. We stayed in a Deming, NM motel that night.
Wednesday took us to the Mule Mtns. near Mule Creek, NM which is northwest of Silver City, and 5 miles east of the Arizona border. We would be looking for hoppered and sceptered amethyst crystals. These crystals form in pockets of rock slabs in a mountain creek bed. I don't know what the host rock was. To find these pockets, we had to pry up the slabs of rock and look under them for hollowed out areas. If we saw a hollowed-out area on the bottom of the slab, we would then probe around (with a screwdriver) in the rock/soil beneath where that hollow area was. A soft spot meant a pocket. Most pockets were filled with tiny quartz crystals, but one pocket was different. It was filled with lots of soil and crystals! Most were small; many are large. The pocket extended down about a foot and then went nearly horizontal another 1.5 feet. The three of us took turns cleaning out the pocket which seemed to go on forever, probably because we were being very careful digging with our fingers and screwdrivers. As George had to be back in Albuquerque that evening, we all agreed that he would take most of what had been found at that point and off he went. Tom and I then continued to dig for another couple hours. I think we pulled another 150 amethyst crystals out of that pocket after George left. Some of them are too beautiful for words. None are more than 4.25 inches, but some of their terminations are very nice. They remind me of cathedral spires and scepters, and most have some sort of hoppering instead of the typical flat termination faces that we all see in deep-purple Brazilian amethyst. Tom and I split up our bounty. He let me take the best 5 crystals first, each of them several inches long, and then we split them evenly after that. We both got some really nice specimens. Not a bad days work, although it was hot! We stayed in a Silver City motel the next two nights.
On that Thursday, Tom and I went to Watson Mtn. which is in the mountains north of Gila, NM. We had to drive about 45 minutes on a winding dirt road, then had to climb a couple hundred feet up a steep mountain, but it was worth it. Tom easily found the fluorite vein and we started digging. We got some purple, magenta, and clear fluorite octahedral crystal plates out of the vein. There was also green fluorite, but it was massive, not in crystals. I carried 50 pounds of material down the mountain as Tom carried the tools. Most of the material had a lot of yellow and white clay on it. When I got back to Denver, I cleaned off most of the clay although there is still a little bit of white stuff in the crevices between the crystals. Some of the crystals are an inch or two long, although they don't have the aesthetic appeal of the fluorite we got from the Royal Flush on Monday.
On the last day of the tour, Tom, Allison, their friend Bill and I went to the Nitt Mine which is below the Kelly Mine south of Magdalena, NM. We found pieces of smithsonite, azurite, chrysocolla, malachite, pyroluscite (?) and hemimorphite on the Nitt's mine dump. Tom found a really nice specimen of blue smithsonite by digging a foot or two into the dump. It looked to be 2 inches by 1 inch.
This was definitely a trip worth taking. We all had lots of fun, both when digging and just socializing. I'm going to try to make it back down to Tom's place sometime next year (maybe in the spring) and try my luck at finding even more specimens.