“I’m headed for a land that’s far away
Besides the crystal fountains
So come with me, we’ll go and see
The Big Rock Candy Mountains”
If I were writing this song today, I have found the perfect inspiration. There are one or two singular outcroppings of quartzite rock just off the Continental Divide Trail (CDT) — big ol’ white knobs of rock standing each one alone above the ridge just south of the Burro Mountains. Those knobs remind me of a mountain of rock candy, shattered and spilling bite-sized bits down the sides of the ridge in river-flows.
There are old tracks that go up to the outcroppings if I wanted to venture up for a closer look. And actually, I have – had a closer look, that is.
Couple of years ago, when I was hiking pre-Covid days with the Tuesday Group, we ventured off the CDT up the old track to one of those quartzite outcrops. The ground was scattered with chunks of quartzite, some of which were very pretty – some solidly snow white, some bits darkly-veined. Taking our mid-hike snack break, we sat on the larger blocks of rock while some in the group rock-hounded, filling their pockets or packs with manageable chunks. I refrained from collecting only because of the added weight that I didn’t want to carry 2+ miles back to the trailhead.
It wasn’t until we were packed and ready to start back to the CDT and our vehicles, that our resident historian-slash-geologist told us a bit more about this formation, its history and its mineral makeup. “Did you know that this area was mined for uranium?” he asked us. Umm…uranium? Isn’t uranium radioactive? And we have pocketfulls of the stuff?? “Well,” he reassured us, “not very high level.” I noticed a few of the group covertly emptied their pockets of the now-suspect rock, diligently brushed off their fannies where they had been sitting, and headed back down the track, quick-stepping to abandon the area.
This region is known for copper mining, along with silver and gold. All the way back to the Apaches who ranged this area, copper was extracted. But the fact of uranium is not as well know, probably because the metal was not found in enough quantities to warrant major investment. Still, there were, and possibly still are, a number of mining claims in the area that proved out for limited uranium deposits. I was curious and Google came through with a 1952 report by US Geological Survey on the geology, the formations, and the mine claims that is an interesting bit of history to read. And looking closely at my cell-phone picture, mining piles show evidence of abandoned hopes.
Now, I just admire the Big Rock Candy Mountains as I hike the CDT just below them. I step past the flow of candy quartz and hum the tune remembered.
“I’ll see you all this coming fall