Above: Herculano Montoya of Cienega at the Tiffany Turquoise Mine near Turquoise Post, Cerrillos, New Mexico; 1937–1939. Photograph by Bill Lippincott/Palace of the Governors Photo Archives.

EVEN AFTER 1,000 YEARS of Native peoples and then Spanish colonists pulling gems and minerals out of the Cerrillos Hills, south of Santa Fe, the mines held on to something special—veins of turquoise that, in 1889, a gemologist for Tiffany & Company declared as fine as any Persian version. Not only that, but its color perfectly matched that of the famous Tiffany box. The company thereupon purchased rights to every piece of turquoise pulled from the mines. In the end, there wasn’t all that much, says Douglas Magnus, a Santa Fe silversmith. Magnus bought one of the mines in the 1980s and has enjoyed it more for the romance than for the motherlode that never came. “Overall, the geological deposit was small,” he says. “They used dynamite in the 1890s into the 20th century, and a lot of fractures occurred. The amount of work I’ve put in versus what I’ve taken out is way out of proportion. It’s scraps, leftovers.” Then he laughs. “On my tombstone, ownership of that mine is probably what I’m going to be remembered for.” 

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All Cerrillos mines are on private property. Visit the Cerrillos Turquoise Mining Museum on NM 14. See Douglas Magnus’s work at douglasmagnus.com