Hello and welcome to the second installment of Annette’s Adventures! In my last blog, I introduced you to my position as a monitoring tech for the Abandoned Mine Lands (AML) program in New Mexico, and to the Cerrillos Hills Mining District. This month, we will be journeying to the Orogrande Mining District in southern New Mexico!
Our trip starts in the Luis Lopez Mining District, located just south of Socorro, NM. My task here was a training trip with the inventory team. Inventory is when we go into an area and mark all the mining features in a GPS unit, it is the first step in AML remediation. We planned a monitoring day in Orogrande to address some known vandalized mine closures. Our day was scheduled to start early, wheels up at 7:45 AM! The inventory team for this trip was Eric, Rob, Dan and I. Usually we make breakfast and lunch and don’t get out of the RV until 9AM or later. A call for wheels up at 7:45 meant that we had to have coffee, breakfast, lunch, and gear packed and in the truck an hour ahead of our operating schedule. We were all aware of the early morning wakeup call and agreed that we could do it. It was my personal preference to camp in my car for the trip, after all, who wants to sleep in an RV with a bunch of snoring men?
On the day of our scheduled trip to Orogrande, I woke up to my alarm and noticed that the north side of my windows were white, I could only see out the south side of my car and what I did see was snow! This was the second time this year that I woke up to snow while camping in the desert. I got up, got dressed, and went inside. Coffee was ready and Rob claimed breakfast duty, so I started making sandwiches and throwing snacks into the cooler. We pulled together our gear and ran out the door. At 7:45 am the guys were still milling about but they jumped in shortly afterwards and off we went. Wheels ended up at 8am!
We get on the highway and head south, oops, we went too far, had to turn around at the next exit and head north to the highway 380 and go east. As soon as we start heading east, we notice the inclement weather increasing. Rob was driving, and I cannot tell you how thankful I was for that. Who better than the master mechanic to drive the crew across the mountain pass in a winter storm? I saw two vehicles had slid off the road, obviously the roads were slippery and driving conditions were sub-par! Thankfully (in addition to Rob) we had Lady Bug, our 3 seat Polaris Ranger, attached to the top of the flatbed of the truck and she was heavy enough to keep us on the road. Through the pass, we crossed the Valley of Fire and turned south at Carizozo, both have been on my list of places to visit since moving to New Mexico. A quick pit stop in Alamogordo, and off to meet our point of contact for Orogrande, Eddie DeLuca.
We met Eddie at the appointed location and followed him down a dirt road to a good spot to unload Lady Bug and split our group. Dan and Rob were going rock hounding around Eddie’s claims while Eric, Eddie, and I piled into Lady Bug and drove off to the first vandalized mine feature. As we walked up to the closed adit, Eddie tells us that this location is a known rattle snake nest, um ok! Eric crawls in and takes a picture of the “monument” after which I take the remaining required images and note the damage in my GPS unit. Back to Lady Bug and off to the next location, the Vulture Mine. On the way, Eddie tells us the story of how it got the name “Vulture”. Apparently, there was a large bird that nested in a cave above the mine for a season, Eddie met the bird face to face and decided to name the mine “Vulture” to honor the bird. After our work was complete at Vulture, we head over to Lucky Mine, which has two side adits and a large opening on top of a hill. At the first “Lucky” adit we learned about the people that move through the area. It amazes me that such a beautiful desert landscape has such an unseen flow of population through it. At the top opening of “Lucky” I reach my concentration limit; the ground is covered in turquoise! I proclaim out loud that it is too hard to work and not get distracted by all the cool looking rocks! It is too beautiful and all I want to do is pick up turquoise and look at it. The guys laugh and Eddie tells me to feel free to pick up any rocks that I want and then they leave me to my business. Notes and images recorded, we continue to visit a few more closures. At one of these closures, Eddie puts a large rock in my hand and says “here, give this to your sister”, to which I replied “Wow, thank you”. I snuck a text of the rock to my sister and gave Eddie her reply, a genuine and overly excited “OMG!!! Tell him THANK YOU”.
Some say they save the best for last, and I imagine that was Eddie’s plan. The last location to visit was Nannie Baird Mine. Nannie Baird is one of the older mines in the area. Our drive took us along the old train trestle, we turned west off the trestle road, a short way up a valley we turned up a hill and stopped where the GPS device told us to. The hillside was a veritable swiss cheese of prospect pits, shallow shafts, and deep adits. I explored the variety of mine entrances while Eddie looked around for the repaired closure; the area was remarkable and stunning.
The mine entry that we were looking for was covered with bush and deeper into a hole than I usually go. With the weather starting to turn, the wind and rain increasing, I strap on my hard hat, go into the tunnel entrance, take my pictures, and exit the tunnel to record the data. I sit with my back to the wind and tuck the Yuma2 (GPS device) into my torso. I hear something hit my rain shell and comment out loud “Is that rain???”, the synchronized reply was “NO, that’s HAIL!!!!”. I look up and both the guys are trying to stand, but they are leaning so far into the wind that they are practically parallel to the ground!
Data recorded, we jump into Lady Bug and drive off. On the way back we are detoured to an adit that was missed on the drive in. I crawled into the entrance culvert and stayed there until the data entry was complete. As we made our way back to our meeting spot, we stopped to check out a large open pit while we waited for the rest of the crew. The pit was an area known for turquoise and garnet. Wow, that was a treat! Then back to the rest of the team, load up Lady Bug, say goodbye to Eddie, and start the trek back to camp.
The journey home was not without incident. A quick stop at the gas station in Alamogordo turned into replacing the alternator at AutoZone. How does that happen? I have never seen anything like this before, and I think that is the genius of having your master mechanic double as the driver. Rob noticed a battery light on, saw an AutoZone across the street, drove over to take a measurement and just like that a new alternator was purchased! Less than twenty minutes after arriving we are departing from AutoZone and headed home. I sat in quiet amazement for the first few minutes of the drive. How many times have I been out on a long stretch of highway, broken down and needing repair? Not this trip! We headed home from there without incident, took a quick pit stop in the Valley of Fire to admire the basalt, and pulled into camp after dark, where snow still covered the ground. We all said good night, crawled into our respective cubby holes and snuggled in for another cold night in the field…
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