Ancient Turquoise Mines
Volcanic Turquoise in a Variety of Hues
Turquoise is not the only mineral in the Cerrillos Hills. Spanish explorers found gold, silver, and lead. Francisco Coronado sent specimens of Cerrillos turquoise to Spain in 1541 to add to the crown jewel collection according to local legend. Several decades later, a Spanish explorer, Antonio de Espejo, wrote about the treasures mined at a place of “little hills,” giving birth to the name Cerrillos.
After the Spanish discovered the wealth in the Cerrillos Hills, the Tano Indians were used as slave labor. Fifty years of difficult, often violent, co-existence came to an end in 1680 with the Pueblo Revolt. The Tano miners went on strike after several cave-ins. They refused to excavate, protested mining, and hid the mines. Their defiance coincided with the Pueblo Revolt, which drove the Spanish out of the region for twelve years. The Spanish reconquered New Mexico twelve years later, but they never found the mines. They were forgotten for 150 years.
Turquoise in the American West
The stretch between Tijeras and Santa Fe was known for mining in the 1800s. The area attracted a lot of miners in the 1800s. Two prospectors from Leadville, Colorado “rediscovered” the Cerrillos turquoise mines in 1879. They found one of the mines hidden by the Tano. Word traveled quickly, with miners swarming to the hills of Cerrillos. The settlement started as a tent city, but rapidly grew into a commercial hub for miners and ranchers. The railroad completed a spur in 1880, bringing an influx of people to the area, including some of the most notorious, like “Billy the Kid.”
The rapid growth of the town provided opportunity for people settling in the area. The miner’s good fortune trickled down to the businesses that provided for them. Newcomers built hotels, saloons, dance halls, shops and short-order houses. One of the town’s most successful businesses was the Cerrillos Supply Company, which stocked equipment that the miners needed; e.g. shovels, picks, tools, steel and fuses.
Tiffany & Co., and several other jewelry companies in New York, began marketing turquoise as a fashionable gem. Tiffany & Co. acquired mines on Turquoise Hill and mined turquoise for their jewelry. New Mexico’s production of turquoise was valued at $1,600,000 in 1899, with most of it coming from Cerrillos. However, the mines began to shut down by 1900. Like all of New Mexico’s mining towns, the people living there had to move when the mines closed. Cerrillos was considered the capital of New Mexico at its peak; home to more than two thousand people, with four hotels and twenty-one saloons.
The mine yields tapered after 1900, but a small, resilient population remained. The town preserved numerous buildings from the community’s heyday and the museum at the trading post has an impressive variety of artifacts from the American West.
In the Area…
The noteworthy tree on Main Street (when approaching the church) was the hanging tree. Every old west town needs a hanging tree, right?
Saint Joseph’s church still holds mass on Sundays and provides ambiance for photo opportunists.
The Cerrillos Hill State Park is just outside of town. 1100 acres, with 5 miles of multi-use trails and an ADA trail to the village overlook. Rangers market the trails and there are interpretive signs about mining on The Turquoise Trail. The State Park is located a half mile north of the village on CR 59. For a true “western” experience, spend the afternoon with a horse from Broken Saddle Riding Company.
High Feather Ranch B & B
29 High Feather Ranch Rd
Los Cerrillos, NM 87010
Hacienda Dona Andrea
78 Vista Del Oro
Los Cerrillos, NM 87010
More Local Businesses to Check Out…
- Casa Grande Trading Post
- Sculpture Garden
- Ortiz Mtn Educ Preserve
- Astronomy Adventures
- Cerrillos Hills State Park
- Broken Saddle Riding