New Mexico has a long history of mining. Native Americans mined for turquoise for hundreds of years before the arrival of the Spanish. Then, like many Western states, New Mexico experienced the boom and bust cycle of mining during the 19th century. The focus was on extracting lead, zinc, silver, gold, copper and, in the 20th century, uranium. As a result, the state’s landscape is dotted with old mines and ghost towns. Here are 14 New Mexican towns that sprang to life as a result of mining.
We’re aware that these uncertain times are limiting many aspects of life as we all practice social and physical distancing. While we’re continuing to feature destinations that make our state wonderful, we don’t expect or encourage you to go check them out immediately. We believe that supporting local attractions is important now more than ever and we hope our articles inspire your future adventures! And on that note, please nominate your favorite local business that could use some love right now:
1. Santa Rita
Santa Rita is the ultimate mining ghost town - the settlement was obliterated to allow mining operations to expand.
However, the yawning mouth of the Chino mine (also called the Santa Rita mine) remains. The pit's diameter is roughly 1.75 miles across and growing. The mine opened in 1909 and has been producing copper ever since.
The site lies about 15 miles east of Silver City. (Although Silver City is obviously also a mining town, its population exceeds 10,000, so it can't be described as tiny or even small!)
The Kelly mine is located close to the town of Magdalena. It produced lead, silver, and zinc. The headframe is visible to this day.
Hagan was a coal-mining town. It did well at the start of the 20th century but a layer of shale cut off access to the coal. The mine closed in 1939 so there was no reason for the town's inhabitants to stay.
4. Lake Valley
The Bridal Chamber mine once made Lake Valley a place of opportunity. A massive 2.5 million ounces of silver were extracted from here.
Once the gold standard was introduced, this mining town couldn't survive. During WWII, the mines were briefly used to produce manganese, but it wasn't enough to save this ghost town.
Dawson, near Cimarron, was a true company town, devoted to coal mining. The Phelps Dodge Corporation ran the operation.
Tragically, 263 miners were killed here, in 1913, during an explosion. Then, a decade later, a second explosion claimed the lives of 121 more miners.
6. White Oak
When a vein of nearly pure gold was uncovered in Baxter Mountain, White Oaks became a true Wild West town. There were dance halls, gambling dens, brothels, and eight or so saloons.
When the gold was mined out and the railway bypassed the town, it faded from prominence.
During the 1870s and 1880s, Chloride was a significant silver producer. According to estimates, mining here produced silver valued at between $3-5 million! During this time, the population hovered between 1000-2000.
The adoption of the gold standard meant the end of Chloride's mining prosperity.
Nowadays, there are a few permanent residents and quite a lot of the original buildings are intact.
Mogollon was known for gold, silver, and copper mining. The metals extracted from the mines here were worth roughly $19.5 million!
Mogollon functioned better as a mining town than it did as a stagecoach stop. Apparently, the same guy held up the stagecoach 23 times in one year before he was finally captured!
Today, Mogollon has a population of 186 residents. Many of its historic buildings are still standing.
10. Pinos Altos
Pinos Altos also has a population under 200. Prospectors flocked here after gold was discovered in a local creek.
One of the private gold mines in Pinos Altos is called the Kept Woman Mine.
Madrid was a coal mining town and it did well until railways switched to using diesel fuel. For a while, it became a ghost town. But, in the 1970s, artists reclaimed Madrid.
Learn more about the area's mining history with a visit to the Old Coal Town Museum. Afterwards, be sure to stop at the Mineshaft Tavern to refuel.
The mines around Cerrillos produced gold, silver, and turquoise. The jeweler, Tiffany's, had a turquoise mine here!
Delve deeper into mining history with a jaunt through Cerrillos Hills State Park, which is above the town.
Hillsboro began life as a tent city populated by prospectors seeking gold and silver. Like Madrid, it has since become a haven for creative types.
Organ is a community on the edge of White Sands that was originally a mining camp. Organ's mines produced gold, silver, lead, and iron. Mining wasn't allowed in the actual town. Instead, operations took place at the nearby Torpedo mine.
Have you ever lived in a mining town? Which of these places in New Mexico have you visited?