The Real Story
You may think you know the history of turquoise, one of the most eagerly sought of all gemstones, but chances are very good that you don’t know the whole story. Nearly everyone has seen the images of Native Americans wearing, working with, and trading turquoise in the Great American Southwest, so it’s no surprise that most people associate this gorgeous gemstone with the Navajo, Zuni and Hopi tribes.
In reality turquoise mining in America has a rich and appropriately colorful history that began long before those tribes even existed.
It was the railroad and America’s early tourists who created the popular image of Southwestern turquoise.
In their quest for souvenirs adventurous travelers who journeyed by rail to the area “discovered” turquoise and Native American crafts and jewelry. Thus was born the iconic imagery that has endured to this day. But in fact, the Navajo and other tribes were actually latecomers to the turquoise mines. In reality turquoise was much more widespread in the United States and Mexico, particularly throughout the Pacific coast extending south to Baja California.
The heavenly stone we know as turquoise is opaque with blue, greenish, dark-blue, or white hydrated copper aluminum phosphate mineral (CuAl6(PO4)4(OH)8·5H2O). Sometimes it has inclusions of pyrite or dark veins of limonite resembling spider-web.
Turquoise color depends on its chemistry—copper provides the preferred blue tint, while inclusions of iron result in a greenish color. The copper-rich Pacific Coast region therefore produced—and continues to produce—the heavenly color most sought by collectors and artisans. This arid, copper-rich region, from the Southwest to the Pacific Coast has proven to be ideal for the millennia-spanning process that creates these awe-inspiring gems as geography and climate combine to produce specimens of unsurpassed beauty, stunning in their rich coloration.
Experts believe that indigenous people began working with turquoise many centuries before the Spanish arrived, perhaps as far back as 200 B.C.
Archaeological exploration and research has revealed ancient turquoise mining operations in the highly productive Pacific Coast region, the Mojave, Baja and in southeastern California, known as the San Bernardino mining district. Hundreds of mines have been found along and adjacent to the Pacific Coast—the Turquoise Trail—a sign of how eagerly this precious resource was sought. In time, some of these mines developed reputations as among the world’s finest resources.
The early Turquoise Miners
Particularly noteworthy among the early turquoise miners were the Anasazi Indians, forerunners of today’s Pueblo Indians. The Anasazi were a prosperous, well developed group that created a vast civilization that stretched throughout the U.S. Southwest and was characterized by hundreds of miles of roads and a number of large communities. Skilled builders, the Anasazi built several structures that remained the largest in North America until the nineteenth century!
These “great houses” rose several stories high and contained literally hundreds of rooms creating “an apartment house” of a size unknown anywhere else in the world. In a 1920 National Geographic article it is said that “No other apartment house of comparable size was known in America or in the Old World until the Spanish Flats were erected in 1882 at 59th Street and Seventh Avenue, New York City.”
The Anasazi themselves worshiped turquoise and believed it had great powers, which is why turquoise had a major role in all ceremonies and prayer. Archaeological findings show that Anasazi medicine men, like healers throughout Mesoamerica, coveted turquoise and went to great lengths—both physically and geographically—to secure the prized gemstone.
Ultimately turquoise became a major trading commodity as it was frequently bartered, its enduring allure making it a popular trading medium for parrots and shells and other decorative elements. Recent discoveries indicate that turquoise was even bartered for chocolate (in the form of cacao beans) with traders from Mesoamerica. So successful was their turquoise mining, that ultimately it virtually became the Anasazi’s sole source of commerce as well as currency accepted throughout the wide spread civilization.
An intriguing part of the history is what happened to the Anasazi. Their fate remains one of the all-time great archeological mysteries. Something—perhaps an environmental catastrophe or major warfare—caused the Anasazi to abandon their homeland and the mines that meant so much to them.
Virtually concurrent with the disappearance of the Anasazi is the appearance of the Aztecs and the Navajo. The Aztecs valued turquoise over gold and there are stories of the conquistador Pedro de Alvarado and the Emperor Montezuma playing games of chance in which Alvarado received gold if he won but paid in turquoise if he lost.
Long before Spanish explorers arrived, more than millennia of turquoise mining had been done throughout the Turquoise Trail. Numerous tribes in the pre-Columbian-era revered turquoise and there was substantial mining activity, primarily in the area stretching from the Cerillos area south of Santa Fe, New Mexico to northeast of what is now Baker, California in the Mojave. The early natives were extracting turquoise centuries before the Spaniards arrived. The arrival of the early Pacific Coast explorers— Spanish conquistador Vasco Núñez de Balboa was the first European to see the Pacific Ocean, in 1513—brought a new appreciation and trading partner for the beautiful turquoise of the Turquoise Trail.
It was the Spanish who taught silversmithing techniques to the Navajo who quickly began to combine the precious metal with their highly coveted turquoise for jewelry to be used only for ceremonies and religious rituals—until it was discovered by rail-riding tourists.
In more modern times of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the “Great American Turquoise Rush” of 1890-1910 was on. The “Rush” was given a boost when George Kunz, a special agent for the U.S. Geological Survey, and perhaps even more importantly, a Vice-President of world renowned Tiffany’s, declared in 1892 that turquoise mined in the area was equal to, or perhaps even superior to Persian turquoise which to that point had been the world standard. Needless to say Kunz’s comments stirred an even greater interest in turquoise found in the region. (Tiffany’s was so enamored of turquoise that it became the foundation of the company’s iconic blue box.) It is this legacy which has established the Pacific region as perhaps the finest source of turquoise today. Miner James Hyten established a claim on Turquoise Mountain in 1896, naming it the Gem (later known as Stone Hammer for the primitive mining tools found there.) Hyten ultimately sold his interest to the Himalaya Mining Company in 1900. By the end of the year, the company would ship $28,000 (more than $400,000 in 2018 dollars) in turquoise to New York. Six years later the mine was sold to the Toltec Mining Company. The company also operated the Toltec Turquoise Mine which displayed numerous signs of prehistoric mining and which had given the mountain its name.
Two millennia after the Anasazi flourished in the area, Ed Nazelrod, a free-spirited and adventurous entrepreneur “rediscovered” several of the mines which had sat dormant for many years.
Nazelrod’s efforts were rewarded with the discovery that the ancient mines, as well as newly explored areas continued to yield fine quality turquoise. His mining operations produced not only gorgeous turquoise gemstones, but also fascinating information about earlier inhabitants of the area, particularly the Anasazi, believed to be the ancestor of today’s Pueblo Indians, such as the Hopi and the Zuni.
Artifacts found by Nazelrod including stone hammers, mauls and adzes to chisel the pieces out of the rock show that the Anasazi laboriously hand worked the mines to extract turquoise for use in a variety of cultural adornments.
PCH Mining Company
In February of 2017 PCH Mining began acquiring turquoise mines along the Pacific Coast of California and Baja California.
At the time of acquisition, the mines were operational but lacking heavy equipment. In April of 2017 PCH Mining began investing in production by adding additional crews and heavy equipment to three of the mines. PCH Mining continues to make capital expenditures towards its turquoise mining operation along the Pacific Coast of California and Baja California.
Enamored by this legacy of history and culture—and the sheer beauty of the turquoise—PCH Mining is dedicated to restoring the region to its past glory.
While some of the earliest mines are no longer producing turquoise, fortunately there remains a supply of high quality turquoise —the kind that adorns finer jewelry and accessories—
PCH has acquired the famed Nazelrod Apache Canyon mining company and is mining the famed Nazelrod claims.
Apache Canyon Mining Company was first established by Nazelrod in 1971 to mine turquoise on the legendary Turquoise Mountain in the Halloran Springs District of San Bernardino California.
Nazelrod worked Apache Canyon on Turquoise Mountain for 40 years, discovering, claiming and working numerous other mines as well. Each of these mines produced very high grade natural turquoise, each with its own distinctive color and matrix. Committed to traditional mining methods, all Nazelrod’s work was done using hand tools only.
PCH Mines in collaboration with Robert Nazelrod is mining this small group of quality producing mines such as well known operations: Cinco Minas, La Bonita, La Prieta, and El Cardon.
Painstakingly hand mining to locate and extract fine quality turquoise that equals or exceeds that found anywhere in the world.
To the enrichment of turquoise lovers around the world, PCH Mines is projected to have five turquoise mines in full production by the end of 2018.