Laguna to Jackpile Mine

The Jackpile Mine Spur

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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.

My great-aunt Eloisa ran the post-office and a general store in the early 20th century in Seboyeta, NM. By the time I was born she was very old ... she was retired, I guess you could say ... but her old-west house with its three foot thick adobe walls and its vacant store front and its altar for saints and candles in the middle and her kitchen and apricot and apple trees thriving downstream from her outhouse and the slices of their fruit she dried in her deep windowsills were all there across the ditch from the bull ring and the road that led to her sainted grotto. She spoke only in Spanish behind thick glasses; her skin was as pale as mine and she had blue eyes and she put raisins around her bad eye to draw out its pain. When she was young she drove in to Albuquerque to kidnap my father, who was slowly starving from the sins of his father, so she could fatten him up. My dad drove us out there to Tia Eloisa several times a year. In the summer we hauled up tar to her corrugated roof and patched it while she cooked beans and tortillas and green chili and calito. I was afraid of her until she told me, translated by my father, that when we visited her we visited the great volcano the gringo named Taylor. Tia Eloisa died in her sleep, rosary in hand. Eight years later my brother and I went back and found her rambling post-office home, yard and all, completely bulldozed. The Jack-Pile Anaconda uranium strip mine had destroyed everything to the south and east. Someone had put a trailer home with a powerline pole where her post-office had been, and then removed said trailer home, leaving the three steps and the power pole behind ... and all those years the Albuquerque sky in March was tainted uranium yellow and bone dry. (J. Ambrose Lucero, with fond memories and anger, and as culpable as the rest).

J. Ambrose Lucero
Albuquerque, NM
12/11/2011

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I work in the area now and the rail spur is now completely removed. You can still see the old rail beds in some places but the rail, the ties and even the bridges are gone.

Bob Regner
Albuquerque, NM
1/25/2013

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I lived at the Jackpile mine for over 5 years, and went to school in Seboyeta one year (1956-57). Seboyeta is on a Spanish Land Grant, and about a mile north of the common border with the Laguna Indian Reservation. I have been to the grotto north of Seboyeta, as recently as 2007. The Jackpile mine was totally contained within the Laguna reservation, and could not have come within a couple of miles of Seboyeta. If something got damaged in Seboyeta (especially on the north side), I don't see how it was done by the Jackpile mining operation. FWIW

T. M. Riddell
Pueblo West, CO
1/5/2014

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