Grants began as a railroad camp in the 1880s, when three Canadian brothers won a contract to build a section of the new Atlantic and Pacific Railroad. The Grant brothers’ camp was first called Grants Camp, then Grants Station and finally Grants. The town prospered because of logging in the nearby Zuni Mountains: Timber from the mountains was shipped to Albuquerque, where it was milled and sold throughout the west.
After the decline of logging in the 1930s, Grants gained fame as the U.S. “carrot capital.” The creation of nearby Bluewater Reservoir, along with the area’s volcanic soils, provided ideal conditions for farming. Grants also benefited from its location on U.S. Route 66, which brought tourists – and the businesses that catered to them.
In 1950, Patricio (Paddy) Martinez, a Navajo shepherd and prospector, discovered uranium ore near Haystack Mesa. He sparked a mining boom that lasted until the 1980s. Uranium was an important commodity because of its nuclear properties. It is the only naturally occurring isotope that can be converted into plutonium in a nuclear reactor. Plutonium is used to power nuclear reactors to generate electricity – and also in nuclear weapons. The rapid growth of defense efforts during the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union meant heightened demand for uranium during the 1950s and 60s. The collapse of mining by the early 1980s drove the town into a depression, but it has enjoyed a resurgence based on tourism and the area’s scenic beauty. Recent interest in nuclear power has revived the possibility of more uranium mining in the area, and energy companies still own viable mining properties and claims.
The New Mexico Mining Museum says it is the world’s only museum devoted to uranium mining. The museum is housed in the Grants Chamber of Commerce. Upstairs you can view a collection of world minerals, ancient artifacts and an historical survey of Grants and Cibola County. An elevator takes you down to the underground mine exhibit. Former miners helped build the exhibit, which includes mining galleries, equipment, ore cars, a lunchroom and tunnels. Miners’ recorded voices talk about their lives underground and the effects of uranium mining.
Address: 100 North Iron Avenue, Grants, New Mexico
Phone: 505-287-4802 or 800-748-2142
Hours: 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., Monday through Saturday. Closed Sundays and holidays.
Admission: Children Ages 0-6 FREE, Ages 7-18 $2.00, Ages 19-59 $3.00, Senior $2.00
Nearby, takes some time to visit El Malpais National Monument. The Northwest New Mexico Visitor Center is located in Grants and is a jumping off point for hiking, caving, and exploring the lava country of Northwestern New Mexico.