In the late fall of 1998 Stan Esbenshade and I got the chance to spend five days underground in the Ojuela mine in Mapimi Mexico looking at and digging in the various chimneys there. We were there to check on the progress of one of the crystal extraction crews working for Top Gem Minerals in the San Judas Chimney looking for the purple adamite that Mike New had worked on in 1981.
Two years prior Mike New and I had been in Mapimi to get the extraction process started with the coopertiva and the subsequent extraction crews before I headed off to the Elmwood mine to start that project, which is another story. Crystal specimens were being extracted in Ojuela, but not quite what we had hoped for. My father was becoming frustrated with the progress and decided to sell his half of Top Gem Minerals, which he had started with Mike and Norma New(formerly Hilltop Minerals) and himself formerly Gemini Minerals, hence the name Top from Mike and Norma and Gem from my father Joe Kielbaso.
Stan and I were dropped off for the week while Mike New ventured on southwards to check on the progress at some other concerns we had going, like Mina Navidad for the pink fluorite and Cerro de Mercado for the apatites in the state of Durango.
Stan and I stayed with a local by the name of Lazaro de Adna and his family in Mapimi. We had a small room out back with an ocotillo thatched roof complete with scorpions in the thatch! There was at least a manual water heater that we could build a fire under and get a few minutes of hot water for showering after a brutal day underground.
Every morning we had our lunch made by a nice older lady downtown and we would pick it up on the way out to the mine. After hopping in the back of an open pickup truck in the center of Mapimi we would grind gears and bound off towards the mine, which was up and out of town about thirty minutes.
After arriving and dismounting from the truck and trying to warm up a bit from the icy morning air Stan and I would start putting on our belts and electric mine lights. The locals had nothing to do with the electric cap lamps and chose to use the old standard carbide lamps. Once entering into the adit and proceeding a few hundred yards the temperature rose quite quickly and it was necessary to start dropping outer wear. The locals went down to shorts, light shirts and old car tire sandals. Stan and I being gringos stayed with our heavy gear, which we would soon hate!
We started progressing down thru tunnels and open stopes with nothing more than what was called "Chicken Ladders", which are poles like telephone poles with notches cut into them to create a sort of step ladder. These chicken ladders would span stopes at a forty five degree angle and and would be sixty feet at times to span the open chasm, so one could descend from top to bottom or vice versa. Keeping ones balance was always a bit tricky I thought while more or less shimmying down holding both hands around the pole.
After a thousand vertical feet of ladders, cave ins and just plain walking we arrived in the working area of group one, which was on level five looking for hemimorphite and simultaneously working the San Judas Chimney for the adamite.
The group one consisted of three men; the leader "Hombre del Fiero", Carnal (the deer), and Mario. The group was digging the hemimorphite area when Stan and I showed up. We took a quick trip over to the San Judas Chimney to see if they had mucked out the area Mike New dug in 1981 for the purple adamites. We surveyed the area for an hour or so listening to what was working and what was not working and how more money would always help get things moving faster! On the way back to the hemimorphite area on level five we took a detour over to La Ciguena to scout out a carmenite and calcite area that Mike told us existed and that he had gotten quite a bit of material back in the eighties. We could not spend much time in the area as the air was pretty bad from the various sulfides breaking down. We dug an hour or so by hand repeatedly heading back and forth to better ventilated areas to grab a bit of fresher air and recharge. After striking out for the carmenite we headed back to the hemimorphite digs and settled in.
Every evening we had to work our way back up the thousand vertical feet and end up at the surface. The Hombre del Fiero who was 72 years old was able to make it back to the surface in forty five minutes from the San Judas area. It took Stan and I three $%#%*@ hours of pure hell to get out the first day from the San Judas area! When Stan and I made it to level three from level eight, I flopped over in the stope and asked Stan to just put me out of my misery right there...damn those cigarettes!
Somehow we survived the first day coming back up and proceeded to work another three days in the hemimorphite area and collected some very nice things.
On day four we decided to go exploring chimneys about half a kilometer away in the Americas Dos part of the mine, which is where the wulfenites on green mimetite came from in years past from areas including La Campana and San Juan Poniente.
Getting to the wulfenite area was quite interesting to say the least. There was not much vertical travel, but plenty of walking thru tunnels and stopes with a couple of goat paths skirting the sides of open shafts that seemed to take up the whole tunnel and descend straight into crystal collecting hell and subsequently the shafts turned out to be number three and four. After walking for a couple of hours and about a half kilometer we arrived in a partially collapsed stope in La Campana, which was totally muck bound around the edges where the wulfenite occurred. Stan and I hammered and chiseled for a while with minimal success. We decided that our time was not productive in this area and headed back for the San Judas area. This area would later be accessed from below when the water level had dropped more in the mine from the ongoing severe drought in the area around 2008 and produce thousands of specimens of the by-pyramidal wulfenite with mimetite.
After a week of collecting underground in Mina Ojuela, Mike New swung back around to pick us up and we headed back towards the border and back to the Elmwood mine for myself and the Morenci mine for Stan.