Boomtown Cerrillos

If you looked for the first time at Cerrillos’s dirt streets, collapsing adobes, empty buildings and abandoned mines, you might not notice that the village half way between Edgewood and Santa Fe is booming. But it is.

Since 2000, the population has increased by 54 percent, to a grand total of 321—and that in a state in which more people are moving out than moving in. Although the state’s business community is in recession, Cerrillos has acquired has a new arts and crafts shop, a bar and restaurant, and now a new book.

A goodly percentage of the town turned out April 3 at the Black Bird Saloon to meet Paul R. Second and Homer E. Milford and purchase copies of their new book, “The Galisteo Basin and Cerrillos Hills” (Arcadia Publishing, $21.99 in paperback, 127 pages including numerous back and white photographs, some of them previously unpublished)

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Cerrillos has always been its own kind of place, remote, laid back and idiosyncratic. Unlike neighboring Madrid, no major road runs through town; you have to detour to get there. That’s the way old-timers there like it, and some of them, like a gentleman named Ross whom I shared a table with, have been around for nearly half a century. At the Black Bird Saloon, gray hair and white beards were in ample supply, for the average age of residents, in their mid-50s, is two decades older than New Mexico as a whole.

I have aways been fond of Cerrillos, mostly for what it is not. It is not like any other place in the world.

I first discovered the village in the 1970s, when the Madrid Volunteer Fire Department held its annual fundraiser there. The streets were blocked off to traffic, and thousands of revelers from Santa Fe and Albuquerque thronged the village.

Nowadays, the village is a lot quieter but exudes a measure of contentment absent in the earlier decades.

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The region has some of the longest prehistory in the world. Peoples have moved through the area for 12,000 years and one settlement dates back 10,500 years. Pueblo Indians moved into the area from the 13th though the 16th century, and some were still living there when the Spanish arrived in the 1500s. In 1591, at a spring near today’s Cerrillos, Spanish silver miners created the first European colony west of the Mississippi River. Little silver was found, however, and mining attention shifted to Golden, but for 30 years Cerrillos remained the northern anchor of the Camino Real.

The authors note that Cerrillos may have helped finance the American Revolution. Spain, an ally of the Americans, helped fund the revolution, in part perhaps from silver pesos from the Mina del Toro Mine at Cerrillos.

Silver and turquoise were not the only minerals in Cerrillos. The authors write, “In the 1970s, Occidental Minerals Corporation evaluated a copper deposit….The plan was to set off underground blasts to break up the copper ore, inject sulfuric acid to dissolve out the copper metal, and pump up the copper/acid for processing. A ten explosions was the largest non-nuclear blast at the time.”

The book moves on from Cerrillos and the Cerrillos Hills to the Galisteo Basin and the village of Galisteo. A number of Pueblo settlements in the basin date back to the 13th century. The village of Galisteo formally became a Spanish community in the 19th century.

The book’s next chapter describes the Ortiz and San Pedro Mountains along the western edge of the Galisteo Basin, an area where rich mineral deposits have been found but creating as much controversy as wealth over the centuries.

The final chapter discusses the archaeologists who explored the region and unearthed their centuries of fascinating history.

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Although both of the authors live in Albuquerque, they have valid credentials for writing about Cerrillos and the Galisteo Basin. Second, with degrees in anthropology and geology from the University of New Mexico, was a historical and cultural resources planner in California and has written several books for Arcadia about the history and culture of New Mexico towns.

Milford, formerly a UNM professor, was the environmental coordinator of the state’s Abandoned Mines Bureau. According to a brief bio on the back of the new book, “he is considered to be the foremost authority on mining history in the American Southwest.” Several of those attending the book signing credited Milford with saving the historic turquoise mines on the northern edge of the village.

These mines are the core of the Cerrillos Hills State Park, the main draw for the few tourists who find their way to Cerrillos. On a cool spring or fall day, a stroll among the ancient mines is a journey into a past that deepens the sense that this is a place like no other.

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