New Mexico Mineral Symposium
November 8-9, 2014
Collecting New Mexico in the 1950's and 1960's - MexTex and Blanchard Mines, Hansonburg Mining District
GAEA Minerals, Lakewood, CO, 80227
Our introduction to the Hansonburg Mining District was in the late 1950s, when we were exploring near San Antonio south of Socorro. We noticed some large rocks near a railroad loading dock. Being curious, we checked them out and found they contained galena, barite and quartz. We then noticed more of these ore samples near the turn off from the main highway to the loading dock. Our interest was now piqued, so we decided to follow the trail of ore specimens to look for the source. This led us to the turnoff at Bingham on a dirt road heading south which eventually led us to the MexTex mine. This was the beginning of many trips to this mining district and many collecting adventures as well. At this time the MexTex mine consisted of a large underground stope opening on the west side of a cliff overlooking a flat area below where the mine buildings stood. The main road to the mine forked with one branch leading to the stope above and the other to the mine buildings below. There was a chain across the road to the stope. With some experimentation we found that if two people held up both sides of chain we could just barely drive under it, saving us a long walk. About 200 feet inside the stopewas a pillar covered with linarite, malachite, fluorite, barite and quartz. Off to the right was a small area that contained quartz and fluorite covered with shiny, small black crystals. These later turned out to be murdochite (PbCu62+O8-xCl,Br)2 .
The MexTex Mine provided us with many specimens and inspired us to return many times. On one visit Bill Atkinson and I brought along our wives and two graduate students from Nepal, Biswa Man Pradhan and Yogendra Lal Singh. They were studying geology at UNM and were very interested to go with us as they had never gone mineral collecting before. We left after classes and arrived just before sunset. Upon arrival at the mine we posted my wife,Colleen, outside on the dump and told her to warn us if anybody came towards the mine. All went well until suddenly she came running in shouting that someone was coming! We immediately started grabbing our tools and packs and running towards our car. The Nepalese exchange students, not understanding what was going on, were understandably upset. As we emerged from the mine we looked down and saw lights from a car coming up the approach to the lower portion of the mine, where the buildings were. We threw our equipment into the trunk and climbed into the car. By this time it was totally dark and, not wanting to be seen or heard, we decided to make our way down with the engine and lights off. The two Nepalese students in the back seat were not only bewildered, but probably in fear of their lives. We probably had failed to mention this was a clandestine operation. We slipped under the chain and started out on the dirt access road. We were about a mile down the road when we saw the lights go on on the other car, which then started moving down their branch of the road. No time to be prudent, we accelerated as fast as we could go (the chase was on! -?). We sped past the fork in the road and raced for the main road. We made it to the pavement at least quarter of a mile ahead of the other carand floor-boarded the accelerator with the other vehicle behind us. We raced down the road as fast as we could, but the car behind us was gaining on us. We were debating what we should do and what they might do to do when they caught up with us. They drew closer and then passed us and disappeared down the road. Needless to say the Nepalese students were reluctant to go on any more collecting trips with us!
The other mine in the district that we visited was the Blanchard or Portales. Although it had mainly the same mineralogy as the MexTex, this mine also had a significant suite or other minerals. The most common was brochantite, occurring as fine light blue prismatic crystals filling vugs and fissures. At the time we were collecting this material was thought to be a new mineral, "blanchardite." Later studies proved it to be brochantite. One of the more interesting aspects of collecting at the Blanchard mine was dealing with Mrs. Blanchard. The Blanchard family had owned the mine for many years(For a detailed history and geology of the Hansonburg Mining District see Rakovan and Parley, 2009). Mrs. Blanchard lived in a small cabin along the edge of the access road. We always stopped to chat with her and get permission to collect. Although she often greeted us carrying a shotgun she was always pleasant and allowed us to collect. The only drawback was that when we returned from collecting she would want to see what we had found. We would have to unpack our specimens to show her what we had found. We would have to unpack our specimens to show her and often she would pick out several that she particularly liked. These she would set aside next to her cabin. Unfortunately, she never tried to preserve these specimens and the next time we visited, there they would be, left out in the weather. Many times I took my wife with me and she often remained behind talking with Mrs. Blanchard while we collected. One time, while my wife was talking with her, a cat came around the corner of the house. The cat could barely hold its head up because it had a large cow-bell tied around its neck. My wife exclaimed, "Mrs. Blanchard, what happened to your cat?" Mrs. Blanchard replied, "Well, the cat was catching birds, so I had to ‘bell the cat.’ ”
The 1950s and 1960s were magical times to be collecting. Mineral specimens were plentiful and we rarely saw other collectors on our trips. We only took what interested us for our own collections and rarely collected in quantity.
- Rakovan, J. and Partey, F., 2009, Mineralization of the Hansonburg Mining District, Bingham, New Mexico, New Mexico Geological Society Guidebook, 60th Field Conference, Geology of the Chupadera Mesa Region, p. 387-398.
35th Annual New Mexico Mineral Symposium
November 8-9, 2014, Socorro, NM