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Apache Mesa Rare Earth Elements Deposits

Beach-placer sandstone deposit overlying the white sandstone in the Point Lookout Sandstone at Apache Mesa.
2015 photograph by Viginia McLemore
Dr. Virginia McLemore logging drill core.

The Point Lookout Sandstone on the Jicarilla Apache Reservation in Rio Arriba County contains geological layers called “beach placer deposits”. Beach-placer sandstone deposits are accumulations of dense minerals that form on beaches, or in shallow ocean water. They form by mechanical settling of heavy minerals by the action of waves, currents, and winds. The Apache Mesa deposit formed approximately 145 million years ago when seas covered New Mexico. Today, modern examples are found along the Atlantic Coast in the United States, southeastern Australia, and Andhra Pradesh, India, where they are mined for titanium (an ingredient in paint, tooth paste and other products and used as a metal), zircon (used in ceramics), and locally, monazite (a Ce-bearing rare earth elements (REE) mineral). Other potential commodities that may be found in these deposits include niobium, chromium, thorium, and rare earth elements (REE which are important commodities required to manufacture green technologies, like wind turbines and hybrid/electric cars and are essential in most of our electronic devices, like cell phones and laptop computers.

The Jicarilla Apache Tribe initiated a drilling program, led by Dr. Virginia McLemore, of the New Mexico Bureau of Geology and Mineral Resources, to evaluate the geochemistry and economic potential of these deposits. The Apache Mesa beach-placer sandstone deposits are similar in origin, texture, mineralogy, and chemical composition to other, similar age, beach-placer sandstone deposits elsewhere in northwestern New Mexico and to modern deposits elsewhere in the world. Although we found the Apache Mesa sandstone deposit on the Jicarilla Apache Reservation to be too small and low grade to be economic in today’s market, our understanding of the geology may be useful in the future. The project also provided an excellent training ground for an NM Tech student to learn about drilling and how to evaluate economic potential for NM ore deposits.

Open-file Report-587 presents the results of this work.

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