The Anaconda Company and Santa Fe Railroad built a spur (about 9 miles long) from the mainline near Laguna, NM (from a junction called "Quirk") to the Jackpile Mine, named for the mine manager Jack Knaebel who was sometimes credited with the discovery. This mine opened in the early 1950's and was once the world's largest surface uranium mine and employed several hundred workers, mostly from the Laguna Pueblo from whom the Anaconda Company (later Atlantic-Richfield) leased the mineral rights. There were also several underground mines in the same area. The rail spur was constructed to haul the uranium ore from the mine to the milling operation at Bluewater, NM, about 60 rail miles to the west (about 15 miles NNW of Grants, NM). Over its life, the mine produced approximately 24 million tons of ore and handled over 400 million tons of associated overburden and waste rock. There had been proposals considered to extend the rail further northward to serve the L-Bar and St. Anthony uranium deposits (about 4-5 miles) but this extension never materialized.
At the Jackpile Mine was a small company-provided housing area for mine engineering and management staff (around 30 people at times) since commuting in the 1950's to the nearest towns (Grants or Albuquerque) would have been prohibitive. The company even operated a small school and kept a teacher on staff to instruct children of those living in the company housing area.
The uranium market collapsed around 1980 and the mine was closed and about 800 people lost their jobs. In 1989, after several years of negotiations between the Pueblo of Laguna and the Atlantic-Richfield Company, a monetary settlement was reached whereby the Pueblo took responsibility for the environmental restoration of the 2700 acres of disturbed land. The Jackpile Reclamation Project ran from 1989-94 with the tribal-owned Laguna Construction Company performing the earth moving and associated mine reclamation work. New Mexico State Road #279 goes through some of the old mine and reclaimed areas and the magnitude of the operation and restoration effort can be readily observed by car.
The rail crossing/trestle at Rio Moquino burned down around 1990 but most of the grade and a lot of the rail is still present. The spur was not reclaimed during the project since it was thought someday it may have some use or economic value to the Pueblo of Laguna. Permission to visit the spur and/or photograph the area typically requires approval from the Pueblo of Laguna administration.
Thanks to Dr. James H. Olsen, Jr., PE for contributing information about this route.