Ambrosia Lake, New Mexico--A giant uranium district
William L. Chenoweth
Wildcat drilling on the northern flank of the Ambrosia Lake dome, McKinley County, New Mexico, made the initial uranium discovery in the Ambrosia. Lake district in March 1955. This orebody occurred in the Westwater Canyon Member of the Jurassic Morrison Formation. This discovery, made by a single individual, triggered a huge exploration drilling effort, and, within two years, the ore trends in the western part of the district had been well established.
The small companies that made the early discoveries entered into partnerships with major petroleum and mining companies to develop, mine and process the ore. The checkerboard pattern Id the mineral ownerships resulted in a large number of shafts being sunk to develop the deposits. Many unanticipated problems resulting from the attempts to develop and mine in poorly consolidated, friable sandstone lying below the water table caused delays in bringing the mines into production four mills were built to process the ire under contracts with the U.S, Atomic Energy Commission (AEC).. the sole market for uranium in the United States. Exploration extended the Ambrosia Lake ore trends to the east in the late 1962 and early 1970's with the discovery of a deep, large, high grade, cluster of orebodies.
Production reached an all-time annual high in 1962, when 10,903,811 pounds of uranium oxide (U3O8) in ore were produced. The large discoveries at Ambrosia Lake were partly responsible for the AEC establishing limits for its procurement program during the period 1962 through 1970. Beginning in 1967, some uranium was produced For commercial sale to electric utilities. After 1971). the utilities were the only market for uranium As the demand tor uranium increased, the price of uranium rose in the mid-to-late 1970's, new mines were opened and production increased.
Falling prices and an oversupply of uranium in the early 1980's forced most of the mines to close. Currently (February 1989) there are only two underground mines in operation: however, uranium is also recovered from water that has been recirculated through many of the closed mines.
During the period 1956 through 1988, mines in 33 sections of the Ambrosia Lake district produced 189,769,000 pounds U3O8 in ore and mine water. This amounts to about 19% of the entire domestic uranium-ore production. Ambrosia Lake is truly a giant uranium district.
- Chenoweth, William L., 1989, Ambrosia Lake, New Mexico--A giant uranium district, in: Southeastern Colorado Plateau, Anderson, Orin J.; Lucas, Spencer G.; Love, David W.; Cather, Steven M., New Mexico Geological Society, Guidebook, 40th Field Conference, pp. 297-302.