Tuesday, September 24, 2013

them thar hills

I love abandoned mines.

It is one of the tastes I acquired in my 20s.  While stationed in the San Joaquin Valley, I met a fellow airman who has remained on of my best friends.  Robin Olson.

You met him a few years back in naked youth -- my misguided attempt to prove that certain words would always increase hits on a blog.  It turned out that the post received no more hits than its contemporaries. 

What I did receive were several very odd email requests for additional photographs from two Arab countries.  Go figure.  They must be interested in retro male bathing fashions.

Robin had discovered several abandoned gold mines in the hills near the base.  We would spend hours scrambling over slag heaps and wandering down abandoned mine shafts.  All prohibited, of course, with scary-sounding "no trespassing" signs.  But we were curious.

Since then, I have wandered through abandoned mines on four continents.  Thanks to Robin.

Last year, one of your fellow readers, Dan Green, sent me an email while I was in San Miguel de Allende.  I don't think he knew of my mine interest, but he recommended that I take a day trip to Mineral de Pozos -- and the abandoned mines above the town.

I could not get there last year due to my other commitments.  But yesterday morning I headed east through some of the greenest fields I have ever seen.  It almost made me forget that this is a desert community with a strong farming component.

Then came row after row of sunflowers.  Mixed with swaths of pink cosmos.

And, just like that.  The green was gone.  And I was obviously back in desert country.  Just the type of environment for a good lost mine tale -- and mysterious murders.

Well, the mines are not lost. Just a little difficult to find.

They sit above Mineral de Pozos, once an extremely important and wealthy town that went by the moniker Ciudad Porfirio Diaz -- named in honor of the man who brought Mexico into the modern era.  The name changed with the Revolution, as did the fortunes of the town.

The 306 mines were operated by English, Argentines, and other foreigners.  When they went, the mines stopped mining, and the town slipped into the annals of near-ghostdom.

But I did not come to see the reviving ghost town.  I was interested in the abandoned mines.

A portion is readily accessible.  With a map and marked paths.  Paths I considered to be mere recommendations.  And it was obvious by the alternative paths, that other people did not feel constrained by the warning signs.

Most of the mines have been capped.  I assume for safety's sake.  While the Revolution was fought, most of the shafts flooded.  Sounds like a tort lawyer's dream come true.

But not all of the shafts are capped.  As I stood on the edge of this shaft, I could almost hear the trolls below beckoning me to jump.  Or maybe it was my ever-decreasing lack of balance kicking in.

It appears that a lot of the buildings were stripped of their stones.  Just as the Spanish did to the Indian pyramids to build churches and administrative buildings.

Some of the effects are rather eerie.  It looks a bit staged, but these ruins almost take on a ghostly quality.  As if chupacabra had taken up residence in one of the abandoned buildings.

It would be interesting to know what purpose these buildings served.  There are several of these chapel-shaped structures.  I suspect they housed mining equipment.  But, unlike the California mines that contained a lot of rusting equipment, everything metal has been stripped from the site.

This building may be my favorite.  The English have a penchant for stuffing bits of ruin onto their estates.  They call them follies.

And what I assume was once an administrative building would make the perfect folly.  Atop a hill across a well manicured lawn.  Viewed, perhaps, from the morning room.

But the hill is not populated only by mines.  There is also a former hacienda.  Ex hacienda el triangulo, in fact.

My first reaction was that it was merely an old movie set.  It had that far-too-organized-for-reality look.  But it is the real thing.  Having also fallen on hard times during the Revolution.

If I understood correctly, its fa
çade was used in the set design for The Mask of Zorro -- a movie I have not seen, but will now join my "Movies with a Mexico Theme" list.  In fact, it will be the first movie on that particular list.

I had the place to myself on Monday.  Whether that is usual or not, I do not know.  What I do know is that what was once a near-ghost town is attracting expatriates with a desire to create art.

My advice?  Come see it soon.  Before too long, the place will be -- well, something entirely different.

Robin -- You better get down here while the viewing is good.

And thanks, Dan.  It was a great suggestion.

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