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Mines and Minerals of SILVER CITY

New Mexico’s Copper Capital

One of my favorite roadside overlooks is located 15 miles east of Silver City, New Mexico, on State Highway 152. The view, often veiled by dust rising from the endless procession of ore-haulage trucks far below, takes in the huge Santa Rita open-pit copper mine. Also known as the Chino Mine, the Santa Rita Mine, 1,500 feet deep and 1.5 miles across at the rim, was created by a century of drilling, blasting, and hauling more than a trillion tons of overburden and ore.

Over its long life, Santa Rita has yielded 8 million tons of copper and it still producing 140,000 tons of the metal each year. Its history is equally impressive. First worked by Spanish miners in 1804, Santa Rita is the oldest operating mine in the United States. It’s also the place where several landmark advancements in mining technology got their start.

Santa Rita is just one of the attractions near Silver City that are related to mining, minerals, and geology. Others include the Tyrone district, the site of another big copper mine and a historic turquoise mine; and the Fierro-Hanover district, a former source of iron and zinc, the setting for the 1954 movie “Salt of the Earth,” and a collecting site for interesting ore and mineral specimens. Also nearby are two unusual geological features, one a regional landmark, the other a state park.

This piece of oxidized copper ore is displayed in downtown Silver City.
Turquoise from the Big Burro Mountains can still be found in museum collections.
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Rock & Gem March 2019, Special Section : Tools of the Trade, Answers to Agate Questions, Prehistoric Texas : Home to Mammoths & Dinosaurs, And More.....