Rancho Pint - The Mexico Page

Text and Photos ©2016 by J. Pint

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John Pint in a now collapsed mine entrance near the ghost town of Amparo, easily reachable from Etzatlan. For many years, Amparo was one of Mexico's four most productive mines.

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Once home to some of Mexico's richest gold and silver mines

By John Pint

Carlos Enrique Parra Ron, historian of EtzatlánEtzatlán is a busy town located 66 kilometers west of Guadalajara and is a fine place to visit after touring the nearby Guachimontones of Teuchitlán. The town's historiador, Carlos Enrique Parra Ron, recently invited me to see a small mining museum he has set up inside the recently renovated Etzatlán train station, now transformed into a cultural center.

The mines of Etzatlán go back at least to the 1500s when they were producing vast wealth for the Spanish crown. According to University of Guadalajara researcher C. René de León Meza, “norteamericanos” bought the San Juan and Santo Domingo mines in 1903 and incorporated the Amparo Mining Company in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

In 1916, the Amparo mines were the most important in Jalisco and their reserves were estimated at 550,000 tons. Between 1924 and 1931 the company produced 2,933 kilograms of gold and 138,597 kilos of silver. In 1928 the company had 523 employees who worked the mines 356 days a year. Amparo was one of the very few mining companies that kept operating right through the Mexican revolution.

Those are the statistics, but inside the Etzatlán train station, Señor Parra gave us a feeling for the human side of the Amparo operations.

“The owners were very much interested in culture,” he told us. “They set up an orchestra of 36 musicians as well as other orchestras of children and adults.  They built a theater and promoted literature and sport. In fact, the greatest actors and actresses of Mexico, after performing at the Degollado in Guadalajara, would some straight to El Amparo to give another performance. And Amparo was tops in medicine, too. In those days Jalisco had only two X-ray machines: one in Guadalajara and the other at Amparo.”

When asked how Amparo eventually turned into a ghost town, Parra said that 1927 marked the beginning of the end, with the arrival of “a man who had participated in the Russian revolution, who fought with the Republicans against Franco, who was involved with the assassination of Trotsky and who is also one of the three greatest muralists of Mexico.”

Of course, Parra was referring to David Alfaro Siqueiros, who had come to unionize the miners and allow them to participate in the riches of the Amparo mines. This turn of events caused the owners to have second thoughts about their operations. In the case of Amparo, profits had been dropping, so, rather than deal with a union, the owners preferred to pull out in 1938, leaving the Amparo mine in the hands of the union leaders.

“Once the union leaders took over,” said Parra, “they preferred to spend the mine's profits on wine, women and song rather than on equipment and maintenance, provoking a rapid decline that ended with the miners dismantling and selling all the machinery, leaving Amparo stripped bare and abandoned.”

After looking at photos and relics of Amparo's years of glory, we left the mini-museum to go see the ruins of the mining town with our own eyes.

One good thing about the road to Amparo is that it's dead easy to follow. From the train station you just head south on Calle Allende, which takes you straight through town and onto the winding road to the old mining camp.  After only 5.2 kilometers you come to El Mirador, offering a magnificent view of the town and surrounding hills. This is a popular spot, so the cobblestone road leading to it is kept in good condition, but if you plan to continue on to Amparo, you'll need a vehicle with high clearance.

Etzatlan lookout or mirador

From the Lookout Point, a nine-kilometer drive brings you to Amparo's plaza, where you'll find a recently built kiosk, but not a lot of human beings. Here we parked and walked a grand distance of 245 meters to the ruins of a once beautiful building where the miners received their wages after drawing a line (raya) if they couldn't sign their name. From here it is only a 350-meter walk to one of the old mine entrances, but in the rainy season be prepared to hop from rock to rock across two small streams.

In bygone years the mine tunnel looked in good shape, but, since my last visit, it has collapsed inside, leaving only the entrance intact, probably all the better since old mines are notoriously dangerous.
There are a lot more ruins to be seen at Amparo, but we jumped back in our vehicle and drove on towards Las Jiménez on a tortuous road which definitely requires four-wheel drive. The view, however, was spectacular and after 4.5 kilometers, we reached the milling area where rocks from the mine were crushed to ever smaller sizes until they were reduced to powder, from which silver and gold were extracted. Just above the crushers stand the remains of a once majestic building which, it is said, once housed huge transformers. I'm not convinced, since this building looks very elegant for so menial a task. Here local boys told us they are fixing up a place for tourists to stay. They looked delighted that a couple of gringos had shown up even before their cabin had been finished.

Ruins at Las Jimenez near ghost town of Amparo

If you'd like to read some hair-raising tales of life at this old mine, see “Ruins and memories of Mexico's El Amparo Mining Company” which features selected memoires of Engineer Salvador Landeros. If you find this interesting, you must surely read  The Dark Side of the Amparo Mine Story, which explains why and how mining operations at Amparo came to an end.

How to get there
From the Guadalajara periférico, take highway 15 (Nogales and Tepic) 25 kilometers to highway 70 which heads southwest towards Ameca.  Go about 17 kilometers to the Tala turnoff, but instead of turning, go over the bridge and continue straight towards Ameca for about 1.5 kilometers. Now turn right onto the road heading for Teuchitlán and Ahualulco. From this turnoff, it’s about 40 kilometers to Etzatlán. As you approach the town, you’ll see a Pemex gas station on your left. Turn left here and after 130 meters, turn right. This will take you to the old train station housing the mining museum. By the way, the railroad came way out here just to carry off ingots from the mine. Here you can turn left onto Allende Street and follow it south through the town and up to the Mirador. You'll find the entire route to Amparo (N20.70005 W104.08242) and Las Jiménez (N20.68398 W104.07251) here


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