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Socorro County, New Mexico

If you had been traveling 300 years ago through the area that is now Socorro County, New Mexico, you would appreciate why it was named “Socorro” – to give aid. Similar to other counties in the southern half of New Mexico, the landscape is desolate, with only the Rio Grande supplying fresh water. When the Spanish first explored the region, the indigenous pueblo peoples welcomed them, and gave them much needed corn, enabling Onate’s expedition to continue northward.

Socorro was an outpost on El Camino Real, and the home of San Miguel Mission, built in the 1600s. In the Pueblo Revolt of 1680, San Miguel Mission was abandoned. The town of Socorro was not refounded until late in 1816. Spanish, then later European and American, prospectors began exploring the regions abundant mineral deposits throughout the 1800s. As with other southern New Mexico counties, mining became economical once the railroads arrived in the 1880s. Mining was so important to the region that in 1889, the region’s first university, the New Mexico School of Mines, was founded. Now known as New Mexico Tech, this university is known internationally for its outstanding science and technology programs. Click HERE to find out more about New Mexico Tech.

At present there are about 164 active mining claims in Socorro County, and over 13,000 closed claims. Active claims are mostly for copper, lead and manganese. Gold and silver have been found in parts of Socorro County. With all those inactive mining claims, it’s no surprise that Socorro County is home to many ghost towns, mostly located close to now-closed mining areas. These include Fort Craig, Kelly, Riley (Santa Rita), Rosedale and San Marcial. Click HERE for a guide to Socorro County ghost towns. 

Rockhounding is an official past-time in Socorro County – you can read about it HERE; there’s also a NMBGMR publication Rockhound Guide that gives both general and specific information for rockhounding in Socorro County, click HERE for the guide.

Overview of Socorro County Geology

Most of Socorro County is rugged terrain, with mountains located mostly in the southwestern part. Like much of New Mexico, Socorro County geology reflects a long geologic history of sedimentation in a stable area of the continent (known as the craton), subsequently buried and turned into rock, then modified by tectonism that resulted in magmatic events (intrusion of magma, volcanic eruptions, and mineralization of host rocks), uplift, folding and faulting. These events stretched from what is now Mexico up to Montana producing various types of primary and secondary economic mineral deposits.

Hansonburg District

The Hansonburg Mining District is the largest of the hydrothermal Rio Grand Rift fluorite-barite-galena deposits found within and along the southern half of the rift; it is located about 5 miles south of the town of Bingham, New Mexico.

Primary minerals include fluorite, barite, galena and quartz, with minor amounts of sphalerite, chalcopyrite and pyrite. The mining district has not produced significant metals since its inception due to difficulties in separating the metals from other minerals, and to the lack of water. From 1950-1961 this district produced over 90% of New Mexico’s total production of barite. Since 1985 most of the district has been under claim for the purpose of producing collectible mineral specimens. 

The Blanchard Mine Group is a distinct set of mines located about 1 km south of other mines of the Hansonburg district, on a separate hill. This includes the Portales and the Sunshine #1 through #6 adits, famed for production of world-class fluorite specimens. After a series of unsuccessful mining, smelting, and exploration attempts from about 1958 to 1987, the Blanchard Mine Group was restaked by Ray DeMark and Brian Huntsman. Today the mines are operated for mineral specimen production.

The fluorite deposits for which the Blanchard is famous form in the highly fractured “paleo-karst” areas of limestone beds – the mineralizing solutions had easy access to open spaces in the solution cavities and fault-related fractures and breccias in these rock units.

For more information about the Hansonburg District, many publications are available from the New Mexico Geological Society; click HERE for one.

Magdalena District

The Magdalena mining district is located in the Magdalena Mountains, a fault-block range located northwest of Socorro. The mining district is in the western part of the range, where extensive faulting exposes Precambrian core rocks capped by paleozoic sedimentary rock units and younger volcanic rocks. The mineralized area lies in a belt about 8 miles long on the western side of the Magdalena Mountains. Hydrothermal activity related to post-Permian igneous activity in the area caused the mineralization, localized in the extensive fault and fracture systems of the mountains, mostly in the Kelly Limestone (Paleozoic), resting unconformably on the Precambrian basement rocks. 

Primary ore minerals consist mostly of sphalerite, galena, chalcopyrite and pyrite. Contact silicates such as garnet, amphibole and chlorite occur scattered through the mineralized zone. Oxidized zone minerals include oxides and hydroxides of lead, zinc and copper. The most famous is the green-blue botryoidal smithsonite that characterizes these deposits.

For more information about the Magdalena District, many publications are available from the New Mexico Geological Society; click HERE for one.

Luis Lopez Manganese District

The Luis Lopez Manganese District is located in the northern Chupadera Mountains, southwest of Socorro. The ore deposits occur in the rhyolite volcanic rocks of the ~30 mya Socorro and Sawmill Canyon calderas, and are thought to be from 7 to 3 million years old. The secondary hydrothermal mineralization leading to the manganese and iron deposits of the district were related to the high heat flows associated with the last phases of magmatic activity close to Socorro Peak. Most mineralization occurs along fractures, faults and breccia zones. 

Mining Districts and Areas of Socorro County

The information in this section is from the book Minerals of New Mexico (1996), Stuart A. Northrop, 3rd edition revised by Florence A. LaBruzza. UNM Press, 346pp

Please keep in mind that many of the minerals listed occur as fine-grained, or finely disseminated, crystals, not as spectacular crystalline mineral specimens. The Taos Rockers online or adobe-and-viga shops have specimens available from districts with a *.

Abbey district

Apachite, calciovolborthite, chrysocolla, conichalcite, galena, goethite, hematite, ordonezite, stibiconite, tripuhyite

Cat Mountain district

Anglesite, azurite, barite, calcite, cerussite, chalcocite, chalcopyrite, chrysocolla, cuprite, fluorite, galena, gold, hematite, malachite, mimetite, mottramite, pyrite, quartz, silver, tenorite, wulfenite

Chupadero district

Azurite, barite, calcite, carnotite, fluorite, galena, gypsum, malachite, natrolite, quartz, sphalerite, zirkelite

Council Rock district

Barite, calcite, cerussite, chlorargyrite, fluorite, galena, gold, hematite, magnetite, malachite, psilomelane, quartz, siderite, talc, todorokite, zoisite

*Hansonburg district

Alabantite, albite, anglesite, anhydrite, antlerite, argentite, atacamite, aurichalcite, azurite, barite, barytocalcite, beaverite, bornite, brochantite, calcite, caledonite, carbonate-fluorapatite, celestite, cerussite, chalcanthite, chalcocite, chalcopyrite, chrysocolla, cinnabar, conichalcite, copper, corkite, coronadite, covellite, crandallite, creedite, cuprite, cyanotrichite, dickite, dolomite, fluorite, fraipontite, galena, goethite, gold, goslarite, gypsum, hematite, hemimorphite, hydrozincite, jarosite, langite, lepidocrocite, libethenite, limonite, linarite, magnetite, malachite, marcasite, molybdenite, mottramite, murdochite, olivenite, opal, otavite, plattnerite, plumbogummite, plumbojarosite, pseudomalachite, pyrite, pyromorphite, quartz, rhodochrosite, rosasite, scrutinyite, serpierite, siderite, smithsonite, spangolite, sphalerite, stolzite, stromeyerite, sulfur, tennantite, tsumebite, turquoise, witherite, wulfenite

Hop and Mill Canyons district

Bornite, calcite, chalcocite, chalcopyrite, chrysocolla, covellite, cuprite, galena, gold, malachite, pyrite, pyrolusite, quartz

Jones district

Actinolite, augite, azurite, calcite, chalcocite, chalcopyrite, fluorite, galena, gypsum, hematite, limonite, magnetite, malachite, marcasite, orthoclase, plagioclase, pyrite, quartz, sphalerite, talc, titanite, tremolite

Joyita Hills district

Anglesite, barite, bornite, calcite, chalcocite, chalcopyrite, chrysocolla, covellite, fluorite, galena, limonite, malachite, quartz

Ladron district

Albite, anatase, apatite, argentite, augite, autunite, azurite, biotite, bornite, bromargyrite, calcite, calomel, chalcocite, chlorargyrite, chlorite, chrysocolla, cinnabar, clinochlore, coffinite, copper, covellite, cuprite, epidote, fluorite, goethite, gypsum, hematite, ilmenite, iodargyrite, kaolinite, magnetite, malachite, metatorbernite, microcline, muscovite, opal, paraschoepite, prehnite, pyrite, quartz, rutile, silver, soddyite, stephanite, thomsonite, titanite, tremolite, uranophane

Lemitar Mountains district

Anglesite, ankerite, apatite, barite, bastnasite, biotite, bromargyrite, calcite, cerussite, chalcopyrite, chrysocolla, copper, dolomite, epidote, fluorite, galena, gold, hematite, hemimorphite, magnetite, malachite, muscovite, phosgenite, pyrite, quartz, rutile, scheelite, silver, smithsonite, sphalerite, titanite, wulfenite

*Luis Lopez Manganese district

Andesine, augite, barite, biotite, calcite, chlorite, coronadite, cryptomelane, diopside, epidote, fluorite, goethite, hematite, hollandite, kaolinite, labradorite, magnetite, montmorillonite, muscovite, oligoclase, olivine, opal, orthoclase, psilomelane, pyrolusite, quartz, ramsdellite, rhodochrosite, romanechite, sanidine

Magdalena district

Acanthite, actinolite, albite, allanite, allophane, andalusite, andesine, andradite, anglesite, antigorite, antlerite, aparite, aragonite, argentite, arsenopyrite, augite, aurichalcite, azurite, barite, barytocalcite, beidellite, biotite, bornite, brochantite, calcite, celadonite, cerussite, chalcanthite, chalcocite, chalcophanite, chalcopyrite, chlorargyrite, chlorite, chrysocolla, clinochlore, clinozoisite, copper, covellite, cristobalite, cuprite, cyanotrichite, delafossite, diopside, dolomite, dundasite, epidote, fluorite, fraipontite, galena, goethite, gold, goslarite, greenockite, grossular, gypsum, halloysite, hastingsite, hedenbergite, hematite, hemimorphite, hetaerolite, hydrozincite, hypersthene, ilmenite, ilvaite, jarosite, kaolinite, ktenasite, labradorite, limonite, linarite, magnetite, malachite, melanterite, minium, montmorillonite, mottramite, muscovite, nontronite, oligoclase, opal, orthoclase, plagioclase, plumbojarosite, psilomelane, pyrite, pyrolusite, pyrrhotite, quartz, rhodochrosite, rosasite, rutile, sanidine, scheelite, serpentine, serpierite, shattuckite, siderite, silver, smithsonite, spangolite, sphalerite, tenorite, thaumasite, titanite, tourmaline, tremolite, willemite, wollastonite, wulfenite, zincite, zinkosite, zircon, zoisite

Magdalena Mountains Manganese district

Calcite, kaolinite, psilomelane, pyrolusite

Mockingbird Gap district

Anglesite, azurite, barite, calcite, cerussite, chclcocite, chrysocolla, copper, cuprite, fluorite, galena, gold, hematite, limonite, malachite, muscovite, pyrolusite, siderite, sphalerite

North Magdalena district

Anglesite, apatite, argentite, barite, calcite, cerussite, chalcocite, chalcopyrite, chrysocolla, conichalcite, covellite, descloizite, duftite, fluorite, fornacite, freibergite, galena, gold, gypsum, hematite, iranite, limonite, malachite, mimetite, mottramite, quartz, silver, sphalerite, stromeyerite, tetrahedrite, todorokite, vanadinite, willemite

Ojo Caliente No. 2 district

Cerussite, chalcocite, chrysocolla, epidote, gold, hemimorphite, malachite

Rayo district

Azurite, chalcocite, malachite

Rosedale district

Gold, hematite, malachite, pyrite, pyrolusite, quartz

San Jose district

Albite, allophane, apatite, argentite, biotite, calcite, chlorargyrite, fluorite, gold, kaolinite, malachite, oligoclase, orthoclase, pyrite, quartz, sanidine, silver, stephanite, zircon

San Lorenzo district

Autunite, calcite, carnotite, chalcocite, chrysocolla, copper, cuprite, dolomite, gold, haumannite, malachite, manganite, manganosite, psilomelane, pyrolusite, quartz, rhodonite, silver, tenorite, torbernite, tyuyamunite, uranophane

Scholle district

Apatite, azurite, bornite, calcite, carnotite, chalcocite, chalcopyrite, covellite, djurleite, malachite, metatyuyamunite, muscovite, pyrite

Socorro Peak district

Albite, andesine, anglesite, apachite, argentite, azurite, barite, biotite, braunite, bromargyrite, calcite, caledonite, cerussite, chalcocite, chalcopyrite, chlorargyrite, chlorite, descloizite, epidote, fluorite, fornacite, galena, gold, gypsum, hemimorphite, kaolinite, limonite, linarite, magnetite, mottramite, muscovite, nitratine, oligoclase, orthoclase, psilomelane, pyrite, pyrolusite, quartz, rhodochrosite, rosasite, sanidine, siderite, silver, vanadinite, willemite, wulfenite

Spring Hill district

Massicot, sternbergite, stetefeldite

Water Canyon district

Anglesite, aragonite, azurite, barite, calcite, cerussite, chalcocite, chalcopyrite, chlorargyrite, cinnabar, copper, coronadite, covellite, cryptomelane, cuprite, dolomite, galena, gold, goslarite, hematite, hollandite, jarosite, kaolinite, limonite, malachite, massicot, mimetite, minium, muscovite, orthoclase, plumbojarosite, psilomelane, pyrite, pyrolusite, quartz, silver, sphalerite, talc, tetrahedrite

*San Marcial

Carnotite, hematite, magnesiohornblende, magnetite, mordenite, palygorskite, titanite, tridymite

Valle del Ojo de la Parida

Analcime, natrolite, thomsonite

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For more information, you may find the following links of interest:

Geology, alteration, and genesis of the Luis Lopez manganese district, New Mexico

History and geology of the precious metal occurrences in Socorro County, New Mexico

Circular 38 Geology of the Luis Lopez Manganese District Socorro County New Mexico (1956)

 

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