There’s a lot to see above ground in El Paso’s 26,000+ acre Franklin Mountains State Park. Big views, thorny plants, secluded canyons and unusual wildlife are everywhere. Visitors can also see what a mountain looks like on the inside with a mine tour in the Tom Mays Unit of the park.
The El Paso area has a long history with mining. The local university, The University of Texas at El Paso, was originally known as Texas College of Mines. The school’s nickname is The Miners. The American Smelting and Refining Company (ASARCO) operated a smelter here for nearly one hundred years. Then the smokestacks from that operation were spectacularly demolished in 2014. Tin mines operated on the eastern slopes of the Franklins a few times in the 1900s. Mostly the tin ventures mined money from the banks of eastern investors, not any mineral from the ground.
The mine that GeoBetty Tours takes adventurers to has a more forgotten history. We know where it is, but the who, what, when and why are mysteries.
The small entrance, now behind a locked gate, was made using hand tools only and is just large enough for a person to crawl inside. Just twenty or so feet in, the shaft opens up to standing height for an average-sized person. From this point to the end of the 330 foot tunnel there are signs that explosive charges were placed to speed the excavation process. Does this mean that there was more than one period of exploration? When were these explorations done?
Several types of minerals can be seen: pyrite (fool’s gold), iron, sulphur, rhyolite and copper can all be found. The mine is mostly one shaft, but a few side tunnels exist and the main tunnel takes a sharp turn to the left about two-thirds of the way to the end point. For a while the excavation follow a vein of copper and at one point the entire wall is “painted” with blue and green signs of copper deposits. Is this mineral what the explorers were hoping to find?
Searching the archives at the El Paso Public Library for references to mining in the area turns up books, papers and other documents on the subject. None of them mention the west side mine or efforts to find copper in the Franklins. Who dug this mine and when?
Exploring this mine unearths more questions than answers. Adventurers don’t crawl back out into the bright West Texas sunshine with a detailed understanding of the history of this long tunnel into the Franklins. They will leave with an appreciation of what a mountain looks like from the inside and maybe even a hunger to search for answers on their own.
To see the mine with GeoBetty Tours you can reserve a spot on a scheduled event or book a private tour just for you or a small group. Call us at 915-526-1091 or send an email if you have questions. YOU MUST CALL US TO MAKE AN ACTUAL RESERVATION FOR THIS TOUR.
- Private Tour Cost: $75 for first person, additional people just $25 each.
- We’ll meet at the Mundy’s Gap Trailhead inside the Tom Mays Unit of Franklin Mountains State Park. BE PROMPT!
- Total tour time is approximately 90 minutes.
- Wear comfortable clothes and shoes that you don’t mind getting dirty.
- There is a 1/4-mile walk on a rocky trail from the parking area to the mine entrance.
- Temperature inside the mine is a relatively constant 65ºF.
- No food or drink allowed inside the mine.
- Bring a working flashlight, if possible.
- Hardhats/helmets will be supplied.