The oldest working turquoise mine in North America is located near the capital of New Mexico, Sante Fe in the Sandia Mountains. Native Americans first worked this area around 1000 years B.C. The fifty two mile long byway between Sante Fe and Albuquerque, New Mexico is called the Turquoise Trail because of these mines. Turquoise from the Cerrillos mines was a precious trading item among native peoples in North and South America because it was thought to have special power when used in religious ceremonies and traded for other items not easily obtained by local means.
New Mexico’s nickname is the ‘Land of Enchantment’ and wherever you roam in this state there are examples of history and romance of the desert mysteries to draw you into the wind carved stone and remains of ancient civilizations. There are a number of people who think the desert is plain barren ground that has little or no life on it. This is not true, especially in Cerrillos Hills; from the crusty growth that established nitrogen in the ground to the various cacti, herbs, grasses, shrubs and trees show that life does flourish here. These in their turn, provide food and shelter for the reptiles and animals that call these hills home.
Several springs provide water to the area, with the wildlife flourishing nearby. The geology too, plays an important part in the area, with the total area of the Cerrillos Hills being about eighteen square miles, with the elevation ranging from 5,600 ft to 6,200 ft above sea level at the highest point.
An important reminder, please stay on the established trails when exploring Cerrillos Hills. Desert plants are fragile and take years to grow, a careless walk across the ground could damage decades of growth. A restoration project has been in place for some years, with establishment of a slow seep of water to see if near native plants can be re-introduced in the areas where the devastation of erosion is extensive.
Today, the park is a great place to come, visit and learn about the culture and type of life in this clump of hills where the sky blue turquoise prized by Native Americans of various ethnic groups and tongues traveled along the empires that rivaled those of European descent, as the written records and petroglyphs along the walls and in the mines show. Be sure and take plenty of water when you explore the trails of the park and stay on the trail to help preserve the treasure of this place for other generations to enjoy.