The dust from the desert road was a bit subdued because it had rained quite heavily the previous evening. We were on the final leg of the journey to one of our favorite hiking/carnelian collecting locations near Engle, N.M.
Carnelian is a bright orange to red translucent agate gemstone that is used in jewelry and other decorative items. It has been collected in this area for over a hundred years. Most of the large pieces are long gone, but with a lot of hiking, good eyes and a bit of luck, we always seem to make the trip worthwhile.
As we approached the carnelian beds, the winds were blowing at about 25 mph to 30 mph. This was welcome because it would have been very hot if it had been calm.
We opened, drove through, then closed the last gate, which prevents the grazing cattle from entering onto the railroad tracks that run through the area. After parking at an ill-defined pull off, we loaded our backpacks with water, shovels, picks, and a few apples.
A Little Hike To Find Gems
It usually takes a good four- to five-mile hike to find decent quantities of this mineral and it is very important, especially from mid-spring through mid-autumn, to carry plenty of water. Within three minutes of starting our walk, we noticed the first telltale sign of our quarry: The translucent, bright orange-red glow of a little gemstone. It was only a small piece, but at least we knew that there were still some in the area.
The author chips a piece of carnelian to assess its quality.
As my husband Martin bent down to pick up the chunk, the rattling sound hit him like a jolt. The snake was on the opposite side of a small sage bush.
“Didn’t mean to take your piece of agate, Mr. Rattler,” Martin said with eyes as big as silver dollars as he backed up very cautiously.
“Guess we’ll leave that one for the snake. I believe he thinks it is his,” I said to Martin.
The rattlers are usually not very active in this area until May. It was only mid-April, but I guess this guy was trying to get a jump on the season.
As we moved farther from the road, more and more carnelian was found. Along with these pretty gems, bright red jasper, and a few very attractive chunks of petrified wood were picked up as a bonus.
A Scenic Hike
After about three hours and a gallon of water, we decided it was time to return to the vehicle. We took a different route back and got there just as the sun was setting behind the distant mountains with a blast of iridescent crimsons, yellows and blues.
Venus was the first stellar object to peak out at us, but within a few minutes the sky was ablaze with stars. After spending a few months near bright lights, one forgets the degree to which the universe glows during a moonless night in the desert.
We sat around the campfire eating our dinner of creamed Alaska red salmon over noodles admiring the heavenly spectacle of planets, stars, galaxies, and flaming meteors.
It was another great trip to the carnelian beds of Engle, and we hope to return again someday to hike, and find many more of these precious gemstones.
Making The Trip
From Truth or Consequences, N.M., follow Route 51 to the end, about 16 miles to Engle, which consists of only a few small buildings. Turn right and drive exactly 13.6 miles on a sometimes very rough dirt road. There is a road off to the right that immediately crosses the railroad tracks. There are gates on either side of the tracks. Open and be sure to close them after you pass through.
A nice piece of carnelian.
The carnelian beds run on either side of this small road for a few miles. It is best to hike away from the road as the closer ones get picked quicker.
Though heavily prospected in the past, there are always more gems exposed by the very efficient erosion, and by the grazing cattle.
Remember that this is a very remote area. Carry plenty of water and fuel and make sure your vehicle is in good running condition. You may not see anybody and help is a ways off.
And be careful where you step especially during the warm months. Snakes could be active anytime of year but mostly from May through mid-November.