In the fall of 2000, Pat McMahan and I took a trip to Chihuahua Mexico to meet with my friend Fernando and his associate Armando Mendosa. Several years earlier I had talked with Fernando about the possibility of working with him on mining the La Alianza claim in the Laguna area. Permission to collect agates on established claims in Mexico is difficult, if not impossible, to get. However, I have worked with Fernando for years, and he was willing to talk about it. After much discussion, we drafted an agreement and the four of us signed it later that day.
In previous years I had worked on the Agua Nueva ranch which is 20 or so miles to the northeast of the Laguna area (see other mining pages). The rock formations on the Agua Nueva Ranch are similar to the rock formations in the Laguna area except that there are far fewer agate deposits. I was also convinced after examining several of the deposits in the Laguna agate area that the host rock in the Laguna area was harder. If this would prove to be true, it would cause the mining to be more difficult. This turned out to be both true and false.
We rented a CAT 320 excavator to do the work. I considered using a bigger machine but, after studying the route to the mine, I determined that getting a bigger machine to the mine site was impractical. The La Alianza claim area has been worked by hand for 50 years or more. There are many small agate deposits and hand workings within the confines of the claim. Other claims surround the La Alianza on all sides except the west (see Laguna Agate claim locations). Several years ago a small dozer was brought in to build a road to the main working area near the center of the claim and to push some of the waste away from the digging areas. The road was necessary because there was no direct access to the La Alianza, and other claim owners were refusing the use of their roads. Most of these roads wash out during the time of heavy rains in August and September. Our first job was to repair this road and make it possible to set up a camp close to the mine. This was accomplished in a day or so, and we were ready to go to work. Pat, Armando, Lalo (Armando’s son), and I started the operation in March 2002.
The small dozer that was used earlier was a disappointment to the claim owners. They had hoped that substantially more agate would be produced with the machine than what had been produced by hand. However, little agate was found. The problem was that the machine was not powerful enough to move the agate bearing rock. It did a fine job with the loose overburden, which for the most part had the agates removed, but it could not dig any new agate bearing rock.
Once we had moved the excavator to the mine, I made a CAT road across the old workings and up the right side to the top. The best quality agate that was found with the dozer was in the top of the deposit, so we decided to work there first. Making a new cut in the hillside I was surprised that some of the ground was so soft. This was good news, and I was encouraged. I encountered much harder rock later, but found that underneath the hard rock it would get softer again. I moved large amounts of the soft host rock, however we were not finding any agates. When we finally did find one we thought there would be a lot more agates close by, but that was not the case.
The good agates in this deposit are very good but they are also scarce. We did not find any concentration of good agates – just small groups here and there throughout the hillside. Yet we encountered groups of thousands of agates all with black siderite or white quartz interiors. It was discouraging working for hours with that machine, finding nothing, and then bam - one good one!
Not only did we have difficulty finding agates, our operation was also filled with equipment problems. I have never had as many problems with a rented piece of equipment as I had with this one. Just let me say that in the 30-day rental period, the CAT “slept” for 9 days! When we finished mining and divided up the rock, we had produced just enough good agate to cover our expenses.
When we started, our plans included some prospect digging on other areas of the claim. Because of our equipment problems, we did not have time to do this. People who worked here years ago in particular call one spot “the point of the beautiful ones”. If we are able to help Fernando and Armando next year, we would like to explore this area.