Lincoln County, New Mexico
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Located in south-central New Mexico, Lincoln County has a varied, diverse geology and lots of minerals that go with it....
But wait a minute .... Lincoln County ….. hmmmm….. gosh, that sounds kinda familiar …. ring any bells?
How about Billy the Kid, Chisom, Pat Garrett and the Lincoln County War?
Immortalized in both cinema and book (The Left Handed Gun (1958), John Wayne’s Chisum (1970), Sam Peckinpah’s Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid (1973), Young Guns (1988), and The Kid (2016) ) this is one of the holy grails of places to visit for history buffs. At the time New Mexico was a territory, not a state, with many factions vying for control of land, water, and mineral resources and the resulting economy related to the migration of settlers to the region. You can read a full description of the Lincoln County War HERE.
Some mineral deposits were probably known and worked in more ancient times. According to Griswold (1964) gold placers were discovered in Dry Gulch near Nogal in 1865. More intensive exploitation of mines became possible with the arrival of the railroad in the 1870’s. From 1880 to 1906 about $4 million of gold, coal, iron, silver, copper, and lead were produced in Lincoln County. Since 1906 mining has focused on iron ores. Currently there are about 240 active mining claims in Lincoln County.
Lincoln County is also full of ghost towns, many related to (mostly) defunct mining operations. Of these, the most famous is Lincoln, the epicenter of the Lincoln County War. Here's a few that are directly related to mining:
Ancho: located near gypsum and clay deposits that resulted in mining operations and a brick-making plant.
Coalora: related to the coal fields north of Carazozo, this was a stop on the El Paso and Northeastern railway created in 1900 for transporting coal.
Deseo: started as a result of mining in the White Oaks area.
Estey City: started as a mining town related to the copper deposits of the Estey district. Today this is part of the White Sands Missile Range so no access is possible.
Galena: named for the lead deposits nearby, it’s name was later changed to Nogal.
Jicarilla: a gold mining town in an area between White Oaks and Ancho
Lincoln: a supply center for mines in the area, and famous for the Lincoln County War.
Parsons: a gold strike in the mid-1880s by RC Parsons started the town. The town is in ruins but the Parsons Hotel still operates.
Vera Cruz: named for a gold mine on the west side of the Tucson Mountains.
White Oaks: Related to gold mining in the nearby Jicarilla Mountains. One of Billy the Kid’s hangouts was supposed to be located in White Oaks.
Overview of Lincoln County Geologic Setting
Have you visited Lincoln County? It lies east of I25 and south of I40, a little off the beaten track….why go there? Maybe you’ve been to the southernmost ski area in the United States or bet on the horses at Riudoso Down (both in Riudoso). Perhaps you were driving across southern New Mexico on your way to or from Roswell (those UFO's were calling) and noticed a black, shiny lava flow (called the Carrizozo Malpais). Or maybe you’re interested in the early history of nuclear bomb testing at the White Sands Missile Range.
Most of Lincoln County is rugged terrain, with mountains located in the southwestern part. Like much of New Mexico, Lincoln 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. These thick sequences of sedimentary rocks were later modified by tectonic events that resulted in magmatic events (intrusion of magma, volcanic eruptions, and mineralization of host rocks), uplift, folding and faulting.
A roughly linear region extending from Mexico north to Montana underwent igneous activity in the Tertiary Period, resulting in volcanic mountains, associated intrusive igneous bodies, and mineralization with economic valuable minerals like gold, copper and lead. In Lincoln County, these mineral deposits are well shown in the Capitan and Sierra Blanca districts.
The most recent tectonic events are associated with the Rio Grande rift zone that run through the area, best exemplified by the lava flows of the Carrizozo area.
The Carrizozo malpais (lava flow).
This complex geology results in diverse mineralogy in parts of the county. Mining geologists will often designate a particular area as a mining district where a particular group of minerals can be found. The original mining was for economically and/or industrially valuable resources such as copper, gold and silver; clay, coal, or gypsum. Few active mines remain, but many of the areas have collectible minerals.
Mining Districts and Minerals of Lincoln County
The mining districts and other areas where minerals of mining interest have been reported in Lincoln County include the following; this list is from the compilation Minerals of New Mexico (by Stuart A. Northrup, 3rd edition revised by Florence A LaBruzza, UNM Press, 376pp). Please note that these minerals are not necessarily clusters of large, sparkly crystals; many are found as microscopic crystals in host rock.
Actinolite, aegirine, albite, allanite, anatase, andalusite, anhydrite, barite, calcite, chlorite, epidote, fluorite, goethite, gypsum, halite, hematite, hornblende, ilmenite, ilvaite, kaolinite, labradorite, limonite, magnetite, microcline, microlite, muscovite, oligoclase, olivine, orthoclase, phlogopite, plagioclase, quartz, rutile, serpentine, siderite, staurolite, sylvite, thorite, titanite, tourmaline, tremolite, zircon
Azurite, barite, bornite, calcite, chalcocite, chalcopyrite, covellite, galena, gold, gypsum, hematite, ilmenite, limonite, magnetite, malachite, muscovite, pyrite, quartz, silver, tenorite
Gallinas Mountains District
Adamite, agardite, anglesite, argentite, arsentsumebite, austinite, azurite, barite, barytocalcite, bastinasite, bornite, brochantite, calcite, celestite, cerussite, chalcedony, chalcocite, chrysocolla, conichalcite, cornubite, covellite, cyanotrichite, digenite, dolomite, duftite, epidote, fluorite, freibergite, galena, goethite, gold, hematite, hemimorphite, iodargyrite, limonite, linarite, magnetite, malachite, mimetite, mottramite, muscovite, olivenite, orthoclase, phlogopite, proustite, pyrite, pyromorphite, quartz, shattuckite, siderite, spangolite, tennantite, tremolite, vanadinite, wulfenite, xenotime, zircon
Arsenopyrite, azurite, calcite, chalcocite, chrysocolla, cuprite, descloizite, gold, kaolinite, limonite, magnetite, malachite, mottramite, nickel-skudderite, pentlandite, powellite, pyrite, pyrrhotite, scheelite, vanadinite
Acanthite, argentite, augite, barite, bornite, calcite, cerussite, chalcocite, chalcopyrite, chlorargyrite, copper, cuprite, dolomite, fluorapatite, galena, gold, hubnerite, molybdenite, polybasite, prehnite, pyrargyrite, pyrite, quartz, silver, sphalerite, talc, tennantite, tetrahedrite, thomsonite, turquoise
Actinolite, albite, anhydrite, augite, biotite, calcite, epidote, fluorite, gold, gypsum, hedenbergite, hematite, hematite var specularite, hubnerite, limonite, magnetite, plagioclase, pyrite, pyrolusite, quartz, scheelite, sulfur, torbernite, tourmaline
The Sierra Blanca, Lincoln County, NM. Photo by Dusty Matthews from Keller
Lincoln County Smoky Quartz
Most of Taos Rockers specimens from Lincoln County are from the Sierra Blanca, a 4000 foot thick sequence of volcanic rocks, with later stage igneous intrusive bodies. Tertiary age intrusive events related to contemporaneous volcanism produced numerous veins in the country rock where late stage magmatic fluids, enriched in dissolved silica, crystallized slowly to produce magnificent smoky quartz crystals. Any active mines and collecting areas are now closed as the area is part of a national forest.
Smoky quartz specimen from Lincoln County, New Mexico. About 3.9" high.
These smoky quartz crystals range from light, smoky grey to darker shades of grey. Some are single, prismatic crystals and other form crystal clusters. You can see these in the Taos Rockers online store and in the adobe-and-viga shop in Taos, New Mexico.
Want to know more? Check out these links
Review of current mining in Lincoln County, NM, from The Diggings
Overview of Lincoln County, NM, mineral deposits, from Mindat.org
Smoky quartz from Lincoln County, NM, from Mindat.org
Overview of the Lincoln County War
Mineral deposits of Lincoln County, New Mexico
Tectonics and general geology of the Ruidoso--Carrizozo region, central New Mexico
East-central NM mineral resources
The NM Bureau of Mines maintains an archive of scholarly works about New Mexico geology, minerals and other resources. It can be searched by county, author, and year. Over 200 articles on Lincoln County are accessible.