Rock Hounding in Sierra County..Adventures by Jack
At the Alpine, Texas rock and gem show, at which I was a dealer, a customer named Paul who lived in Truth or Consequences (TorC) told me about several spots east of the Rio Grande across from TorC. He had found moonstones at one spot, and a fluorite mine at another. He had also found a mountain lion at the fluorite mine, so I had bought a 12 gauge shotgun to take with me just in case. Normally, I would check out the Gem Trails of New Mexico spots near by, and there are several, but time was short and I did not.
Comment: Rockhounding. The moonstone area was a bust. However, the whole area for at least ten miles south along the Rio Grande is volcanic and bears much more exploration than I had time for. There are numerous rough roads to follow to potentially exciting places.
Camping. You can camp anywhere in this area -- on peaks, in washes. The area is desert and beautiful. Flowers in May are blooming everywhere. The area in the hills above the river is all BLM land. I will camp in the "fishing meadow" mentioned below as a base camp the next time I go. The Rio Grande provides water for a bath after a long and dusty day in the desert hills and some evening fishing.
Conditions. In dry weather, a two wheel drive vehicle might make it along the Rio flood plain road, but even for this I recommend 4WD. For any of the forks leading higher, 4WD is totally essential. These are old mining roads that are not maintained. They are very narrow and at any moment could throw you hundreds of feet down into a gorge.
As a good canoeist I will scout unknown rapids, always stop and walk ahead if you cannot see the condition of a road in front of you. It may have washed out leaving you having to back up through extremely rough terrain. Also, tire placement is critical. Some of the volcanic rocks have sharp, jagged edges that could easily blow a tire. Some of the spots you will be in would make it impossible to change a flat.
The Dreamer first. On May 2nd I headed out to explore Paul's tips. After a brief but profitable (for once!!) stop at the Isleta Casino, I headed for my fluorite claim in Bingham. The kids at the Alpine and Lubbock shows had ravaged my dollar boxes, and I needed to restock. I arrived there late in the afternoon and spoke briefly with Allison Nilsen, owner of the Blanchard Rock Shop in Bingham.
Then, off to the claim which is 5 miles into the desert. The wind was howling so hard that I had to put rocks on my sleeping bag to keep it from blowing off the cot, but it calmed down by morning. Up at dawn, I explored an old hole in the claim wall and made some big finds described elsewhere in this site -- see BIG NEW FIND AT THE DREAMER CLAIM.
On the way out at noon, I stopped to show Allison my finds. She was suitably impressed. When I told her that I had found the best specimens in a vug that had also been a den of some sort of rodent, she remineded me of the possibility of Hanta virus which I have since researched. Then, it was off to TorC. Moonstone Site.
First, I checked out the moonstone site. Paul's directions were accurate in every respect except for distance. I did find the place -- a volcanic feature rising some 300 or 400 feet above the desert floor. Basically, it was a highly bubbly pumice-like lava, but none of the abundant small bubbles were filled with anything but air. I scoured the draws where Paul had found moonstones, and found none. There may be some there, but....
That evening, dirty to the point of discomfort, I stayed for $10.00 in the Elephant Butte Park just below the Elephant Butte Lake dam. It was virtually deserted, and I enjoyed their shower, shelter and walking along the Rio Grande which flows fast and clear from the dam above. This area below the dam is a special trout fishing area where you can catch two above 16 inches a day on single hook, barbless artificial lures. Search for the Fluorite Mine.
Refreshed on the 4th, I headed for the fluorite mine. Paul's directions were inadequate for what awaited me. To the East of TorC accompanying the Rio Grande south is a vast range of mountains. Paul had told me to enter a particular road south and "go about nine miles." What he had not told me was that, after about three miles, the road branches and branches and branches so that there was very limited possibility of finding what he had found. HOWEVER, this was a benefit. I generally took the higher of the successive forks that I encountered. By this time, I was not trying to keep any sort of mileage record. I generally was following a spine of hills paralleling the major mountain ridge to the East, and the road was very rough. After a couple of miles I saw in the distance to the East what appeared to be a major but abandoned mine and, closer and straight ahead, another mining structure. Heading for the closer structure, I turned up a steep, rugged road towards where I thought the structure would be. This was a false trail because this road led to the top of a hill and a steep 200 or so foot drop off the other side. But, it was interesting. The terrain was all volcanic. I poked around and found jaspers, rhyolites and lots of small quartz crystals. Pretty, but not keepers.
The mine was on another peak, and I could see the road winding down, up and around to it. It took another 20 minutes of slow going to get there. The mine was a large, narrow cut into the top of the peak. Inside the cut was a deep hole which had obviously traced the vein of whatever they had been mining. Again, the hill was all volcanic. I backed out and circled back up the hill along the cut. I found lots of banded onyx including some nice green pieces, some small plates of small citrine crystals, and green traces of copper minerals.
I circled back to the truck to get some water before exploring the structure built for loading what had been taken from the mine to discover what they had been mining. To my unhappy surprise, 50 or more bees were swarming around the truck and in the back of it. I am allergic to bee stings and carry a syringe of adrenaline in case stung. So, this was an extremely unwelcome development. These were serious bees, not the little stingless sweat bees that swarmed all over us at Mule Creek in March. My thoughts immediately turned to escape. It appeared that the little nasties had been attracted to the leaking water container in the back of my truck which was open.
Moving slowly, I closed the back of the truck, climbed into the truck and rapidly closed the window, killed the two bees that were actually in the cab, and took off down the other side of the hill watching 20 or more angry bees captured in the back of the truck (It's a cap). It took a good 5 minutes for the bees swarming around the truck to depart at which point I stopped and opened up the cap door to let the others out. In about 10 minutes I was out of the hills and onto the Rio Grande plain. I never did figure out what had been mined up on the hill.
I continued south hoping to spot the landmarks that Paul had told me about. I did not but drove up a number of washes and side roads to, as the bear did, see what I could see. One of these side trips
ended where the road ended, but the cause of the road's ending profited me. The road had been washed out, but the wash had exposed a small but thick (6 inches) seam of pure white banded onyx. I took 3 big pieces and left the rest for a future explorer.
Heading south, I arrived at a place where the road paralleled the Rio Grande for a mile or so. At the beginning of this confluence, was a sizable meadow with shade trees. A perfect camping site for my next venture to the area to explore and fish.
In Truth or Consequences, take third street (also Rte 51) east towards Engle. Immediately after you cross the Rio Grande, take the dirt road to the right. You will proceed through an area of rough, reddish conglomerate and a small residential area to a ranch. I didn't get the mileage to the ranch (3 miles??). At the ranch, there is a gate across the road. Proceed through the gate, closing it behind you. Immediately in front of you is a steep hill. At the top of the hill the road commences its branching and branching. To get to the "fishing meadow" described above, keep to the right towards the river. The road goes up and down some small hills, but generally parallels, and for the most part is on, the flood plain of the Rio. In 9.2 miles you will come to the fishing meadow. At any point you want, after the ranch gate, you can start branching off up hill towards the mountains to "see what you can see". I'll update this story after I've planned a longer trip to explore this promising region.
RELEASE OF LIABILITY
The descriptions of my trips will include directions, comments on the nature of the roads into an area, and the difficulty of accessing collecting sites by foot. These descriptions necessarily are based on my own particular set of observational and physical abilities which may be lesser or greater than yours. They are also based on the time of year of the trip. You can assume that the weather conditions at the time were reasonably good -- neither too hot nor too cold -- I'm not a glutton for punishment.
I urge you to take all reasonable precautions carefully assessing the match between your own abilities and the terrain you are entering either in your vehicle or on foot. Dress appropriately for what you intend to do, and be prepared for rugged conditions in you intend to enter them.
• Always take plenty of water
• Carefully watch the effects of the sun and heat or cold on your body
• Always carry a long, sturdy walking stick as it is a third leg for you on slopes and should be used to precede your body at all times where you do not have perfect vision of the next 5 or so feet ahead of you. This is essential to alert you to the presence of rattlers.
• Have first aid handy
• NEVER put your feet, hands or other part of your body into a hole, crevace or space that you have not totally assured yourself is empty of snakes or scorpions or other dangerous critters.