The Central Mining District is a 45 square mile area in Grant County and includes the population centers of Bayard, Hurley and Santa Rita. The district also includes one of the largest open pit mines in the world (at Santa Rita) and a large copper ore processing facility south of Hurley.
Mining goes back a long, long way in Grant County. When the Spanish explorers first arrived to this area, the native Americans were already well established using copper from what is now the area of the Santa Rita mine. The Europeans brought in increasingly sophisticated technology, and over the years much of the development of Grant County was related to the successes and failures of local mining.
Santa Clara, formerly called Central, is nine miles east of Silver City on US 180. The oldest village in the District, its history is closely tied to Fort Bayard. Soldiers from the fort would go to Santa Clara for recreational pursuits.
At Santa Clara, NM 152 branches off US 180 and climbs north through four miles of lovely, thickly forested hills to its crossroads with NM 356 at Hanover. A mile from Hanover on NM 152, an overlook offers visitor a view of the enormous Santa Rita open pit copper mine–1500 ft. deep and 1.5 miles across! To the east is the Kneeling Nun, a geological formation which has served as a landmark through history. It holds special significance for many residents.
The geographical center of the mining district is Bayard. An interesting stop for visitors to Bayard is the mural at Juan Chacon Union Hall on Hwy 180 East. This mural was created by students with help from local artists to honor local residents past and present. The strike at the Empire Zinc Company mine in Hanover, New Mexico, October 1950 to February 1952, was the inspiration for the movie “Salt of the Earth.”. Also based out of Bayard is the Bayard Historic Mining District Tour. Tours are on the second Tuesday of each month and begin at 10 am from the City Hall in Bayard. The tour is about 1 hour in length for a fee of $5.00 per person. The guided tours are onboard the Corre Caminos transit buses and are fully accessible. For more information, call 505-537-3327 or write Bayard City Hall, PO Box 728 Bayard, NM 88023. Reservations are recommended.
Hurley, four miles south of Bayard off of Hwy 180, was a true company town. The company (the Chino Mine branch of the Nevada Consolidated Copper Co., later Kennecott Copper Corporation) owned pretty much everything: schools, stores and homes. Central to the community was the old Hurley Company Store. Later, Phelps Dodge operated a smelter and converter right near the center of town. The two smokestacks were visible for miles. The stacks were taken down in 2007. Today, copper mining operations in the area are owned and managed by Freeport McMoRan. Rather than using a smelter, copper ore is now processed a few miles south of Hurley using a process called electro-winning. An interesting stop for visitors is the former Hurley Company Store which has been restored and is now the JW Art Gallery.