Western Life

Gold Mining in New Mexico

In the past two centuries, New Mexico has yielded a large amount of gold from lode and placer deposits. Spanish explorers and Mexican settlers were the first to discover the metal in the area, but gold mining wasn’t actively pursued for an extended period, as the presence of the Apache tribe made mining difficult and dangerous. After the white man settled in the area, beginning in 1848, the retrieval of the precious metal increased significantly. Between 1848 and 1977 New Mexico had the 12th highest amount of gold mined in the United States. The state’s climate is extremely dry which has limited the extent to which its gold had been mined, meaning that there are still numerous deposits available.

Most of the gold retrieved in New Mexico today is a by-product of copper mining. This hasn’t stopped weekend prospectors from arming themselves with metal detectors, however, even though the area is not known for producing large gold nuggets. Fine gold deposits are more likely to be discovered using simple dry washers. Placer mining, the mining of stream bed deposits for minerals, can be done in several areas in the state. This includes the gold camps of San Pedro, Golden and Tuerto, all situated on the flanks of the San Pedro Mountains.

On the mountain’s southern flank, gold has been retrieved from the stream gravels of the San Lazarus Creek. The development of these placers came as a result of the erosion of small fissures and crevices in intrusive rock or molten rock layers containing quartz and gold-pyrites. As there are many patented mining claims in the San Pedro Mountains, it is advisable to explore gulches that are adjacent to the private lands.

Most of the state’s placer deposits were formed during the Quaternary, in parts of alluvial fans and drainages leading from adjacent mineralised areas. This gold is characteristically angular which indicates proximity to the source. There are placers in the Mora River and some in the Rio Grande that appear to have travelled long distances. This suggests they were formed from erosion that occurred before the Quaternary. Erosion in the area has been occurring almost continuously since the tertiary period.

Most placer deposits can be found adjacent to New Mexico’s lode deposits. In these the oxidation of gold-bearing sulphide ores helps to free the gold, facilitating the erosion and sedimentary re-concentration. Districts where free gold can be found include Pinos Altos, White Oaks, Red River and Hopewell. In these places, gold mining tours and outings can be arranged and prospective miners continue to look for their fortunes in the New Mexico area.

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