Gold in the Southwest: New Mexico (Part 2)
Pretty and Pure
Before I begin listing New Mexico's placer gold districts and providing a few details on each, I'd like to make one comment about placer gold here in the "Land of Enchantment." And that is simply this: it's some of the prettiest and purest placer gold you will find anywhere, anytime.
Most placer gold here runs in the .900 fine range (out of a possible .999 pure value), with specific locations running as high as .918-920. Most of the gold I recovered in the past from districts such as the Old Placers ran about .917 fine.
I've mined in a number of different U.S. states (as well as old Mexico) and I have never seen prettier placer gold anywhere. New Mexico placer gold is very yellow, extremely lustrous, and contains very little in the way of silver or copper alloy for the most part.
Placer Gold Deposits of New Mexico (Original Geological Survey Bulletins)
OK, that said let's get to the heart of the matter, New Mexico placer gold districts:
Some of the prettiest gold-bearing terrain you'll come across can be found in the Elizabethtown Placer District in Colfax County. The District lies about 35 miles northeast of Taos, New Mexico in the northern part of the state (not all that far from the Colorado border) and was first "rushed" in 1866.
Gold placers are found here in gulches along the lower slopes of Baldy Mountain and along the Moreno River and its smaller or feeder tributaries. However, the most extensive placer gold concentrations were worked in the Moreno Valley from Anniseta Gulch near the old ghost of Elizabethtown (also known by oldtimers as "E" Town) to a spot about 3 miles north of "E" Town called Mills Gulch. Other productive placer locations in the area include Spanish Bar and Grouse and Humbug Gulches.
Over $3,000,000 in Placer Gold
At one point in the late 1800s a large-scale (and extremely expensive) water project was completed that brought enough water from nearby Red River to allow bucket dredges to work the Moreno Valley placer gravels. By the time large-scale mining efforts ended in the "E" Town District in 1904, over $3,000,000 in placer gold had been recovered there (when gold was at an average spot price of $22 per troy ounce).
Ghost Towns of the Southwest
The placer gold in the District was derived from old Tertiary stream deposits that were laid down on higher terrain and then "fanned out" in the Moreno Valley below. In the higher terrain gulches sterile gravel overburden is fairly shallow (a few feet in depth or less) but in the Moreno Valley itself overburden gravels can be as deep as 35 feet or more.
Good News and Bad News
If you're looking to find the best placer gold values in the "E" Town District, you'll want to focus your attention in the area on the higher elevation gulches and "feeder" streams (some are wet and some are bone dry). Here paystreaks and fairly rich small-scale pockets of placer gold can be found resting atop "false" bedrock clay layers and in cracks, crevices, and depressions in decomposed bedrock sections. Also, be advised that the shallower overburden gravels in the District can contain isolated but quite rich "lenses" or paystreaks. That's the good news.
Now for the bad news. I don't know of one area in the "E" Town District that is open for public panning or small-scale mining. (Note: I'd love to be proven wrong in this regard so if you have any info about the "E" Town District to the contrary, please let me know via e-mail so I can pass that along to my readers. Thanks. J.R.)
The Future Of Small Scale Mining
The last time I visited the District "No Trespassing" signs and locked gates prevented any sort of real exploration or attempts at small-scale mining or panning. The lands encompassing the best of the placers in the "E" Town District are now, for the most part, within the boundaries of private ranches or homes with acreage. So it goes throughout the West and Southwest in the 21st Century...
There's more to come, so stay tuned. Be safe out there in the meantime.
If you liked this post you may want to read: "Gold in the Southwest: New Mexico (Part 1)"
(c) J.R. 2010
Questions? E-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org