Mining in New Mexico / Turquoise Mines of Cerrillos

Today, there are unique hiking trails opened to tourists in the Cerrillos New Mexico area that passes many of these historic mines. The Cerrillos Hills Historic Park which is on the northern edge of Cerrillos is a permanent landmark commemorating the mining in New Mexico that once dominated the area. This state park is a day use facility that offers five miles of trails for hikers, horseback riders and mountain bikers. These trails offer safe access to dozens of mines from the 1800’s. The old town of Cerrillos is located on the Turquoise Trail which is one of New Mexico’s most scenic and popular Byways. Also on the Turquoise Trails are the old mining towns of Madrid and Golden. When you’re hiking the trails in the park you’ll enjoy some great vistas in all directions. Mountains, canyons and desert views abound.

hiking trails at cerrillos new mexico

Hiking Trail at Cerrillos Hills Historic Park

When the Spaniards explored the southwest, they sent back to Spain many of the minerals found in the region. For whatever reason, turquoise was not a gem that was famously attractive to the Spaniards even though the native populations were mining it doe centuries before. The boom for turquoise mining in New Mexico appeared around 1879-1880. Part of the reason for this was that at about this time, the turquoise mining that had long gone on in Persia was starting to play out. The declining production from Persia coinciding with the added demand from the U.S. made turquoise prices jump. This combination meant quite profitable mining in the Cerrillos Hills area. The turquoise mines of Cerrillos held a vast deposit of the mineral.

turquoise mine

Closed off vertical shaft mine

An added boost for southwest American turquoise came in the 1880’s when the railroad, most notably the Atchison Topeka & Santa Fe reached into Santa Fe and beyond. This brought many tourists with money to spend and the turquoise was a sought after quantity. Probably the best example of this was found in Santa Fe itself when the railroad along with Fred Harvey publicized the romance of the southwest and the Native pueblo Indians who worked with turquoise. While Santa Fe for decades was a busy trading hub, the Atchison Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad and the hospitality genius of Fred Harvey helped make Santa fiFe a popular tourist destination. The Native pueblo Indians and art was a prime attraction. The pueblo Indians made many fine products using turquoise and the mineral was and still is a favorite. The Harvey Houses of the era showcased Indian jewelry and turquoise was a standard gem used along with silver. In fact, when most people think of Indian jewelry they usually think of both silver and turquoise.

cortez turquoise mine

Closed off Cortez Mine

As mentioned above, when the Spaniards explored the southwest prior to it’s colonization, the Native Indians had been mining turquoise for centuries. The Spaniards never seemed to place much importance on this particular mineral. Also, as mentioned above, turquoise mining in the U.S. never really took off until the 1880’s and this was some 60 years after the Spaniards had left the continent and thirty years after the U.S. took over New Mexico. When the railroad came to the southwest, the economics and demand changed for ever.

There are some ninety abandoned vertical mines in the Cerrillos Hills Historic Park and the immediate surrounding area. Before the park was opened there was a major effort to identify the old mines and have them covered with safety screening. Some mines were filled in yet still identified on the hiking trails. Hiking trail routes and mines are shown on free literature available at the park. Visiting the town of Cerrillos and hiking the trails at Cerrillos Hills is a good and unique addition to your New Mexico trip planner.

(Photos from author’s private collection)

 

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