Posted by: Brad Nixon | October 28, 2019

Return to Santa Rita: Ghost Town in the Sky

Nearly two years ago, I wrote about the town of Santa Rita, New Mexico. I passed through Santa Rita again this summer and shot some photos, which were lacking in my previous blog post.

You may find Santa Rita on a map, in the southwestern corner of New Mexico, 15 miles east of Silver City on Route 152.

But it’s no longer there.

Here’s how Santa Rita looks from a viewpoint along highway 152:

Chino Mine Pano Brad Nixon 1000

Santa Rita’s a ghost town of a particular sort. There are innumerable ghost towns all over the world. What you see in them ranges from a few stone foundations hidden by overgrowth or drifting sand to extensive ruins, like the dozens of old buildings still standing in the former mining boom town of Bodie, California.

Bodie Brad Nixon 1193 680

Santa Rita was also a mining town. Copper had been dug out of the ground there since prehistoric times. The Spanish invaders learned about the copper deposits from the native population, and Santa Rita grew up near the copper mining that grew in scale from the 16th century until the present day.

Santa Rita was located out there somewhere in what is now desert air, amidst the mile-wide Chino open pit mine.

Chino Mine Brad Nixon 6449 680

As the scale of the works grew, late in the 19th century, Santa Rita became a thriving town. There were schools, a post office and a hospital. By about 1920, Santa Rita boasted 6,000 residents, which is a good-sized town in southwestern New Mexico.

But as the mine expanded, it encroached on the town itself, forcing the relocation of Santa Rita: not once, but several times.

By about 1957, the site was untenable. The town ceased to exist: the schools, hospital, post office and houses removed, the land consumed by the mine. As you can see, the Chino mine’s still in operation on a large scale.

Chino Mine Brad Nixon 6436 680

Just how large the scale is can be difficult to visualize. Here I am posed as Leonardo’s Vitruvian Man with one of the tires used on that ore hauler in the photo above. That truck is far larger than anything that can navigate a conventional road.

MV S6445-LR Chino mine big tire 680

Building and maintaining those mine roads is a significant bit of engineering in itself. In order to allow two-way traffic for machines of that size, the road can be 100 feet wide, constructed to carry enormous loads…

Chino Mine Brad Nixon 6432 680

… loads like this outsized bulldozer and its heavy-duty tow vehicle.

Chino Mine Brad Nixon 6443 680

The residents of Santa Rita relocated elsewhere in the area. Today, the mine employs more than 1,000 people, although precise figures aren’t available. The mine, workers and their families are mainstays of the local economy, although it has its ups and downs as the price of copper fluctuates.

The map below shows the site of Santa Rita (red flag) and the mine, with Silver City to the west.

Google Santa Rita NM

I’m of two minds about operations like the Chino mine. On one hand, it’s a fascinating look at industry on a truly massive scale, executed with specialized machinery that one rarely sees. Yes, the world demands a lot of copper and iron, as well as silver, gold, molybdenum, stone and aggregates and, of course, coal. Mining’s how we get them.

Chino Mine Brad Nixon 6435 680

On the other hand, there’s a mile-wide, quarter-mile deep hole in the high desert of New Mexico, and similar ones all over the world, from which mining companies extract those resources. Those holes might be dressed up to a degree once mining ends, but they’ll never go away. Associated with the operations are vast mounds of waste material, not to mention dangerously toxic substances often required for processing ore into the finished product.

One rarely gets a close-up look at such a site, since many of them are in remote deserts, jungles, mountain ranges: not beside a state highway with a convenient viewing point.

It gives one pause. Nothing’s simple, and there are multiple perspectives. The town of Santa Rita’s not all that’s disappeared. We have to think how to strike some sort of balance. How do you think we do it? Leave a comment.

Chino Mine Brad Nixon 6429 680

You can read my original post about Santa Rita by following this link.

Licensable, high resolution versions of some editorial use photographs in this post, and select images from other Under Western Skies posts are available on Click on the linked photos, or CLICK HERE to view the Underawesternsky photo portfolio.

© Brad Nixon 2019. “Vitruvian Man” photo © M. Vincent 2019, used by kind permission. Map © Google.


  1. Very interesting mining town, and mine.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. “Nothing’s simple and there are multiple perspectives.”
    There’s the rub.
    Thanks Brad

    Liked by 1 person

  3. The scale of these mines is hard to comprehend. When I still was in grade school, we vacationed in Minnesota a good bit, and my parents took me to see the open pit iron mine in Hibbing, Minnesota. It was astonishing. Like the Santa Rita mine, it’s continued to expand over the years. Hibbing itself seems in no danger from it, but I did read that there were plans to move the observation platforms designed for tourists this year, as the expansion of the mine will render the current ones unusable.

    Westmoreland does open pit mining of lignite coal in Texas. When I looked at their website, I noticed something interesting. For several years, they consistently won awards of one sort or another for environmental responsibility, but none is listed after 2013. I can’t help wondering whether the programs granting the awards have been discontinued, or whether a certain lack of responsibility has set in. Perhaps a balance, once achieved, has been disrupted.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hibbing is a name I immediately associate with iron mining. I’m certain it was mammoth.
      One has to wonder about where those environmental awards stem from, and what lies beyond one ceasing. As you say, it could be a shift in balance … on either side. Thanks for the comment.


  4. So glad I opened this up to read. My dad, ( I learned today while going thru his old papers) was born in Santa Rita in 1911. I remember his stories as a young boy around the mines, and dynamite. Not sure when his family left the area or if some remained until the end. Thank you for some insight to where my roots started.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ellen, thank you for your delightful note. I’m pleased the post gave you a bit more information about Santa Rita, but I’m more gratified that you have the stories from your father.
      Thanks very much for reading and commenting.


Leave a Comment. I enjoy hearing from readers.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.


%d bloggers like this: