in rural Paris, Iowa, and Wordpress

The Real El Dorado

Mineral de Pozos, Mining Complex, 20 September 2012.

I live in the heart of the most profitable mining district in that vast part of North America and Central America administered by the Spanish as the Viceroyalty of New Spain. The Viceroys ruled absolutely as the incarnation of the King of Spain in the New World from the time of The Conquest in 1510 until the beginning of the War for Independence in 1810, that is to say, 300 years. The Viceroyalty had already been in existence for 100 years at the time Jamestown was settled by the English on the east coast of North America. I know little or nothing about the other Spanish Viceroyalty, the Viceroyalty of Peru in South America.

The Spanish began mining in this area in the mid-1500’s with indigenous labor of course. There are three colonial mining towns in my state, Guanajuato. My own favorite is Mineral de Pozos about an hour’s drive to the east and north. The most famous of all is probably Real de Catorce, a half day’s drive into the next state to the north, San Luis Potosí. For my money, however, Mineral de Pozos surpasses Real de Catorce as a place worth visiting repeatedly. And I do.

The heyday of big time mining around Mineral de Pozos was in the late 1800’s until the Revolution of 1910. The town itself was a rolicking, lawless place at that time with a population of about 45,000. Roughly 7,000 people live there today. Consequently, most of the buildings in town are crumbling, and rather uninteresting, ruins. The surrounding countryside, however, is dotted with abandoned mining complexes. Those are a delight to visit. The photo in the last entry, these photos, and the photos to follow were all taken at one of the more elaborate of those complexes.

During the Revolution one of the strategies of the insurgents, particularly Pancho Villa’s people, was to methodically destroy the mines, which were all run by foreign concerns from the United States, Britain, or France. By doing so the insurgents were able to cut off one of the big revenue streams to the dictatorship of Porfirio Díaz in Mexico City. The mining operations at the sites I am talking about were never put back into operation in any significant way.

What is the particular appeal of these abandoned mines to me? I have given that some thought. It is related to the appeal of the mountains themselves. I enjoy three days at the beach with the constant roar of the surf as much as anyone, but for no more than three days. On the other hand the silence of those mountains out there is a revitalizing thing for me that I cannot get enough of. That silence seems to be enhanced in some way when one is in the midst of these abandoned mines.

If I go on a weekday, I can depend upon having the mines entirely to myself. Toward the end of the rainy season, which is where we are now, the wildflowers and the herbs give the place an especially exotic, pleasing aroma . . . . Enough. You get the idea.

Occasionally as one hikes about, one encounters a mine shaft such as the one above. The initial drop can be as much as 500 feet according to my sources. All I know is that when one tosses in a pebble and then listens, one involuntarily steps back. The central part of this complex, where the first photo above was taken, is surrounded by barbed wire. Beyond the barbed wire none of these shafts are marked nor do they have any sort of barrier around them. One must watch one’s step out there. I am now allowed to crawl through the barbed wire and walk on out to the surrounding sub-complexes because I have generously bribed the goat herder who mans the main gate as a part-time job as well as his wife.

On my last expedition to Mineral de Pozos, thanks to the sharp eyes of my companion for the day, I came upon this mine shaft for the first time. It is undoubtedly much older than the one pictured above and was abandoned much earlier because it is an adit (for you crossword puzzle fans) rather then a dead drop and is much less nicely finished than the other. It was also off by itself with no buildings in the vicinity.

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