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Special Report: Southwest Gold Rush

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POSTED: Tuesday, May 6, 2014 - 8:52am

UPDATED: Thursday, June 5, 2014 - 10:49pm

It's a small area on the brink of becoming a ghost town but one Orogrande, New Mexico resident is hoping his passion will become a hobby for borderland residents. Orogrande in English translates to big gold. While there's nothing big or grand in the small town about an hour's drive from El Paso, Jerry Vanderburgh believes if you did some digging you'd find a little bit of hidden treasure.

Off u-s 54 just 50 miles from the heart of El Paso, lies the center of what used to be the Borderland's gold rush, Orogrande, a mining town formerly known as Jarilla junction renamed Orogrande in the early 1900s in the hopes of drawing investors. Today, it's mostly abandoned with few amenities but for those who don't mind living in this time encapsulated town.

"I actually love living out here. Yeah, it's quiet. Don't get bothered a whole lot,” Jennifer Miller an Orogrande resident explained.

Orogrande has a certain charm and for one man, a certain spark. "I mine as frequently as I can,” Jerry Vanderburgh, a long-time Orogrande resident and gold miner told us. The tall New Mexican has been living in the unincorporated area for more than a decade. While the company he keeps is usually busy chasing rabbits. He allowed NewsChannel 9 to join him and his dogs on a windy day where he shared his process and love for recreational gold mining. "This is my passion."

He's been mining since he was 12 years old and he doesn't discriminate on which precious metals he keeps and sells, "Silver, copper, ilmenite, which is a natural occurring alloy."

Along with his love for mining he also harbors a deep knowledge of how gold came to Orogrande. His treasure map are history and geology books. "I mine through the eroded gold. I'm not looking for the original veins,” Jerry explained his ‘scientific’ approach to mining, "And so I create a theory and then I try to prove it."

If he finds a vein then he most prove gold lies in it, shoveling dirt, pouring earth into noisy contraptions then using a plate with grooves in it to separate mud from money. “The plate was used back in Greek times, there’s no substitute for it,” he explained while sifting through the mud.

About ten minutes later and specks of gold shine in the New Mexico sun but as Jerry explains, he's not in it to make a buck. "I can't tell you the exact amount because I don't… mine for the money. The money is a by-product of it. I mine for the search."

And he's just one of many, prospector clubs are all over the borderland and the U.S., some using tools like Jerry’s and some using metal detectors. But no matter the method -- some see gold mining as a hobby which can pay off. "If I'm convinced there's a piece of gold in a spot and I work hard to get there and then find it; I hold onto it."

For education and recreation, Jerry is also hoping to show borderland residents the little blip of a town he lives in can be a great escape from all the urban noise he's hoping a resurgence will take place in Orogrande. Despite its reputation. "People tell me it's because it looks like Texas Chainsaw Massacre,” Miller explained to us.

One, residents are trying to change, "There's a lot of gold that hasn't been found,” Jerry said.

The Borderland experienced its own gold rush in 1905 when thousands of hopefuls came to this town hoping to strike it rich. That all changed when most of them didn't come up with much gold. And more than 100 years later the town of Orogrande's population stands at 52."

"I wouldn't mind. It'd be nice to see more people come out here,” Miller explained after asking her how she would feel if more people came out to the town to mine gold.

If you're willing to roll up your sleeves and get dirty, "There may be between 400 and a 1,000 ounces of gold remaining in Orogrande,” Vanderburgh said, Orogrande may be a new hobby lined in gold.

Jerry said the largest gold nugget he’s found weighed 6 ounces. You don't need a permit for recreational mining in New Mexico. But the state does require a one if you plan on using mechanized tools for digging or if you dig up 2 square yards of dirt or more. That's about as much earth you can put into the back of a pickup truck.

Comments News Comments

Most all Gold Mines stopped, not because there was not gold, but there was not enough of it to pay. There is always small amounts of gold left over at all old gold mines and old claims. But don't dig on someone else's land !

In Orogrande, NM, or anywhere if you pan for gold on someone else's property, you could get a warning or a bullet if you keep panning on someone's else's land. In Orogrande when gold was $25. per ounce, if you didn't get a lot of gold, many people just stopped. Oh, but now at $1300.-$1800. per ounce, that One Ounce is worth panning all day.

We used to pan for gold in McKelligon Canyon. Didn't get much panning by hand. Anywhere there are mountains with water run off, there could be gold washed down. Also didn't want to stand in the sun for hours on end panning in McKelligon Canyon. The earth was formed with gold, just under the top layer, when the earth was first formed. It's most everywhere if you keep digging. Most of what has been found is/was very close to the surface and it washed down into small streams and gullies.

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