New Mexico Mineral Symposium
November 13-15, 2015
Memories of the San Juans - the 1970s
In August 1968 I was drafted into the United States Army from a job at Summitville, CO where I was employed as a mine engineer with the Cleveland Cliffs Iron Company. This was my first job in the San Juan Mountains and looked forward to returning to the mountains once I had served my two years with the military. When I was discharged in July 1970 Cleveland Cliffs had already shut down the Summitville operation, but I had secured a job at the Camp Bird mine in Ouray, CO. I arrived on 10 August 1970 to start employment as a mining engineer and re-start my mining career that would last for the next 40 years.
The 1970s were a golden decade in the San Juan Mountains of Southwestern Colorado for mining and the mineral collector. The Sunnyside, Idarado, and Camp Bird mines were the three major operations in full production and producing a plethora of mineral specimens. At the peak of mining in the mid-1970s the payroll at the Sunnyside mine was 200 people, the Idarado mine 400 people, and the Camp Bird mine 100 people. Small mines were also in development and mining stage and accounted for another 100 people. This accounted for 800 people in the mining industry and had the largest payroll in the San Juans. Tourism was also a major source of local revenue but was confined to the summer months.
The Sunnyside mine was known for the beautiful combinations of crystallized rhodochrosite and fluorite specimens that were being found in the Washington vein and recovered by miners. At this time the Sunnyside mine was the premier locality for rhodochrosite in Colorado and specimens could be procured locally from the miners or dealers. About 1972 rich gold or shoots were discovered in adjacent veins and high grading and became big business at the Sunnyside mine and specimens could be discreetly purchased at the saloons from miners.
At the Idarado on Red Mountain Pass hundreds of fine quartz crystal groups were being recovered by miners in large vugs along the Argentine vein. The mine also produced some very rich gold specimens for a short period of time. PB-Cu-Zn replacement ore bodies were also being exploited and a number of fine specimens of galena, sphalerite, and chalcopyrite and associated minerals were being recovered by miners.
At this time the Camp Bird mine was developing and mining similar base metal replacement ore bodies adjacent to the Orphan and Walsh veins. These deposits were almost identical to the ones being mined at the Idarado mine. Hundreds of attractive specimens of galena, sphalerite, and chalcopyrite were recovered along with accessory minerals. Many of these fine specimens are still in Colorado collections.
By the end of the 1970s the three major mines had ceased operations and a great era in mineral collecting came to an end. I made the most of it in those ten years and built a very nice San Juan collection especially from the Camp Bird mine where I ended my early career as Mine Manager. I was fortunate to see the base-metal replacement ore bodies mined from start to finish. I’m now retired and can look back at my mining career in the San Juans and can say that I enjoyed every day of it and met many fine people and a few scoundrels. Amen!!
Cleveland Cliffs Iron Company, Camp Bird mine, Sunnyside, Idarado, rhodochrosite, fluorite, galena, sphalerite, chalcopyrite, San Juans
36th Annual New Mexico Mineral Symposium
November 13-15, 2015, Socorro, NM