Enough Rocks Already


Even before our recent trip to Germany, I think I would have understood that “Verboten” meant I was forbidden from collecting any rocks in this area. So then how was it that I came home Saturday hauling a bucket of rocks up the stairs to our apartment? Well, one of the advantages of membership in the Albuquerque Gem and Mineral Club is the opportunity to go on field trips such as this one that was a visit to a mining claim owned by a member of the club. With his permission and guidance our collecting was allowed.

A number of the group members elected to go on the guided tour of one of the underground workings.

I was more interested in exploring the geology of the area from above ground where there is plenty of fresh air, sunshine and blue sky. This was a part of New Mexico we had passed by on travels across the vast desert just north of White Sands Proving Grounds but we never had occasion to stop there. I couldn’t picture what the area would look like where we would be collecting minerals. It was several miles off the highway, jolting across rutted dirt roads, and as we approached I noticed a range of mountains ahead of us.

As I later learned, the Blanchard Mine is on the western flank of the Sierra Oscura Mountains, an area we never would have thought to explore for a hike because of its remoteness and proximity to White Sands Missile Range property. The base of the mining claim area is accessible without a high clearance vehicle, but the last 2 miles of road up the ridge required four-wheel drive and steel nerves on the narrow ledges. I parked my car at the base and rode up to the top in a more suitable vehicle with some other club members.

About halfway up. My car is down there at the bottom with several others.
An abandoned ore bin left from commercial mining days.
One of the collecting spots at the top.
A fluorite sample I collected.
Flourite crystals also form in cubic shapes.
Barite forms bladed crystals.
Imbedded black cubes are galena (lead).
The bluish green minerals are formed by weathering of copper but we didn’t know which of several it might be.

A little bit of everything from the collection.

The club member who owned the mine claim gave us an informative talk before we began collecting. I learned a lot about the history of mining in this area and about the geology. One of the most interesting facts was the difference between a patented and unpatented mining claim. If a mining claim is patented then the owner has deed to the land, as well as owning the mineral rights. Unpatented mining claims are usually located on land owned by the federal government. The owner of a patented claim can enforce “no trespassing” on the land, as opposed to this mine which was unpatented and located on BLM land. As the sign said, the public could be prevented from collecting on the site, but anyone could come out and explore the area. That’s good to know for the future when we might want to do some hiking instead of rock collecting. We have limited space in our apartment so I need to focus on enjoying hikes in wonderful, rocky New Mexico, instead of bringing home these irresistible specimens that I’m then struggling to find room for.

Rockin’ It

I think I have a love-hate relationship with rocks. I was hating every single one of the rocks that littered the countless ruts in the maze of dirt roads we were navigating in our attempt to find a trail that started at an abandoned campground in the Manzano Mountains. I winced at every thud and jolt under the body of our car as we inched forward at a snail’s pace. No one in their right mind would take a Toyota Corolla on these roads. Lee could tell I was greatly annoyed at having been persuaded yet again to do one of these “exploratory” hikes.

But after two hours, when we finally got to the base of the mountains and started up the trail, all was forgiven. I was no longer upset with Lee and I was absolutely loving the rocks I was seeing in this part of the mountains. I was pretty sure they were metamorphic rocks, which we don’t see as often as igneous and sedimentary rocks. The intense heat and pressure that’s required to form metamorphic rocks gives many of them fascinating wavy layers in patterns referred to as foliation or schistosity. I could have hauled home pounds of beautiful specimens but limited myself to a few photos. Rocks are meant to stay where God put them for us to enjoy and cars are meant to stay on the paved roads. Me and rocks will get along just fine if we both stay where we belong.

On the Trail

Enjoying Schistocity

Rockin’ On

What in the world am I going to do with all of these rocks I collected during the Albuquerque Gem and Mineral Society field trip that Lee and I went on yesterday? It was fascinating to poke around in the vast desert arroyos and marvel at the variety of interesting rocks. I couldn’t stop picking them up and putting them in my bucket for further study. But now that I have them here at home I can’t imagine what I’m going to do with them. I’m just not a collector.

The field trip was billed as an expedition to the Rio Puerco, which we had no idea of what to expect or exactly where it might be. Since we know the 230-mile extent of this river (‘rio’ is the Spanish word for ‘river’) currently has no water in it, we figured it would be somewhere out in the desert. Lee didn’t care about collecting rocks but decided to go so he could check for desert wild flowers.

We both enjoyed seeing this desolate area southwest of Albuquerque, way down a dirt road we never would have explored on our own. It was actually an escarpment that was cut by multiple arroyos that would have drained into the Rio Puerco basin in the valley below at such times in the past when there might actually have been water. I studied geology last semester, but can only make a guess, at this point, to say that because there used to be a lot of sediments carried down the arroyos could be why there are now so many interesting rocks laying around everywhere.

One of the arroyos. Look closely and there are vehicles, as well as a fellow rock collector in the distance.
Lee got lots of flower photos. I just saw a few cactus blossoms.

I’m taking a ‘Geology of New Mexico’ class this semester. The rocks are one of the many features of our Land of Enchantment that I appreciate and enjoy. But I think I just have to leave them out there where God put them in the first place. That way they will be there for others to enjoy and for me to see the next time. My main goal is to know what rocks I’m looking at and to understand how they might have gotten there to begin with. Of course, you could never know for sure. Some eager ‘collector’ like me could have gotten tired of having a bunch of rocks sitting around and taken them and dumped them out at a random location nowhere near where they were collected. Hmm….is there somewhere I could take my collection and leave it to mystify the next person?

Earth Day at Ghost Ranch

The day started with a field trip organized by the Albuquerque Gem and Mineral club–my first field trip since joining the club. The meeting spot was a 2-hour drive north of Albuquerque, near Abiquiu, which meant we had to get an early start. The morning clouds hadn’t yet cleared and as we drove by Santa Fe we encountered a brief flurry of snow.

The field trip required a short walk up an arroyo to the site of an abandoned flourite mine. A member of the group showed us a couple of samples and gave some pointers on what to look for. Lee and I weren’t very serious about collecting specimens but enjoyed poking around in the rocky hillside picking up a few small samples to keep.

After about an hour the day began to warm up with the promise of good hiking weather. It was a short drive to Ghost Ranch, where we had hiked once before. There were a couple of other hikes there that we knew about, so after a stop at the Visitor Center we decided to do the 5-mile hike that goes up and back down Kitchen Mesa. It was a good choice–perfect weather and wonderful views from the top of the mesa.

The trail goes around the back side of the mesa and doesn’t get too steep except for the one spot near the top that requires squeezing through a narrow rock chimney.

From the top you can look down at the buildings of Ghost Ranch and off in the distance Abiquiu Lake is visible. We had never gone down to the lake so after the hike we took a different road home that circled the lake and then cut over to join Hwy 550 at Cuba. New sights to see, as well as some old favorites–a perfect way to spend Earth Day.