The treasure of Azure Mountain

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The turquoise: a study of its history, mineralogy, geology, ethnology, archaeology, mythology, folkore, and technology Deposits of turquoise, formerly of importance but now largely exhausted, are situated among the Burro Mountains, Grant County, near the southwest corner of New Mexico. The principal occurrence centers about the Azure mine, which is 10 miles S. Turquois was mined in this region in prehistoric times; excavations and heaps of debris, containing stone implements and coiled pottery, mark the site of the ancient operations, and have determined the location of some of the modern workings.

The deposits were probably exploited also under Spanish rule. John E. He is supposed to have stumbled upon some old workings while on a hunting trip in and to have been instrumental in locating the first claim, the Caviate [sic]. The Burro Mountains consist in the main of a core of pre-Cambrian rocks, chiefly granitic, intruded by quartz monzonite and quartz monzonite porphyry.

Much of the region has been severely fractured and mineralized, and to the south of the turquois deposits are copper veins formed through secondary enrichment.


The turquois lies both in the granite and in the porphyry dikes traversing it, and is found in places along the contact. It has been deposited in fractures where the rock has undergone alteration. Burro Mountains — The Azure mine, located 10 miles S. It has been operated in modern times more extensively than any other turquois mine in this country, and its stones are the equal of the Persian gems. The deposit has been worked by an open cut, measuring about feet in length, to feet in width, and 60 feet in depth, with tunnels at several levels.

Shibaoshan is a tall, steep hill in a wooded rural area, remarkable for the pagodas built into its cliffs and the grottos with stone sculptures. These date from the Nanzhao and Dali periods before the thirteenth century. They include a seated Buddha flanked by his two favorite disciples, a standing Guan Yin, various multi-armed deities and small Buddha images. The most unusual is a stone vagina. Local women come here, especially when they get pregnant, to pray and to rub the stone.

They believe this act will ease the pangs of childbirth.

Shibaoshan is also host to the three-day Bai Singing Festival at the end of the seventh lunar month. In the caravan heyday, Shaxi was a stopover for groups on the way to and from Tibet. Merchants might also pick up salt here from nearby mines. Going south, they needn't detour to Eryuan and Dali to reach Xiaguan, but could simply continue down the valley of the Heihui River over what used to be called the Bo'nan Road. The road is never very high above the river, nor does it cross any hills. Villages are visible in the flanking hills and all along the riverbanks.

Bai and Yi, as in Shaxi, are the main participants. Except for furniture, most items on sale are the same as in Shaxi, with the exception of walnuts, a specialty of Yangbi.

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Yangbi is a Yi Autonomous County, with at least four Yi sub-groups living in the hills, which make up most of its territory. Until a generation ago, the Yi lived at a level of basic subsistence. Then the government introduced the planting of walnut trees. Yangbi is not the only place in Yunnan cultivating walnuts.

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But the soil in Yangbi seemed to be particularly good for walnuts, producing a thin-shelled, tasty, slightly sweet nut. Soon after their introduction, Yangbi became dubbed the "hometown of walnuts. Nowadays walnut plantations cover 71, hectares in the county. The annual output has reached 50, tons, valued at one billion yuan. Government statistics claim that as a result 70 percent of the county's population has been lifted out of poverty.

Harvesting begins in September and, to coincide with it, the county government stages a month-long Walnut Festival in Yangbi City. Events include rites to the Walnut God, food-tasting events, cooking competitions, markets and rounds of singing and dancing performances. As the caravan road crosses into Yangbi County, the towering peaks of the Azure Mountains rise to the east. In the caravan era, Yangbi — originally called Shangjie — was an important junction on the Bo'nan Road. The city has a modern section of nondescript concrete and steel buildings around the city stadium, the main venue for festivals.

But Yangbi also has an extensive old quarter, largely Hui-inhabited, full of traditional tile-roofed wooden houses. A fine old Chinese-style mosque sits on a mound above the old neighborhood. Homes are not as elegant as some of the Shaxi dwellings and the cobbled lanes have not been renovated in recent years. But a walk through it is evocative of an earlier era.

Continuing past the mosque, the lane terminates at the old Yunlong Bridge, the main river crossing for caravans going west. A suspension bridge with wooden planks laid across iron cables dates from the early Qing Dynasty.

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The town doesn't have caravan traffic anymore, but the bridge is still in use by villagers living across the river. On the other side, earlier this century, Yangbi Han Buddhists erected a small Buddhist shrine and a pagoda above the span.

Azure waters & emerald isles

From Yangbi City, the road swings southeast along the river, which here changes name to the same as the county. The road swerves much closer to the Azure Mountains on this stretch. At Pingpo the road turns east along the Xi'er River, passing the southern end of the Cangshan range before gliding into Xiaguan.

Now the capital of Dali Prefecture and the biggest city in western Yunnan, Xiaguan began as an eighth century fortified settlement. It was founded by King Piluoge of the new state of Nanzhao to guard the southern entrance to the Dali plain. Xiaguan lies at the southwest corner of Erhai Lake, backed by high mountains with the suburbs of today sprawling into the foothills. By the turn of the twentieth century, Xiaguan was also a major tea-processing center.

Its commercial importance increased with the construction of the Burma Road during the Sino-Japanese War to enable the transport of supplies of all kinds from British-held Burma into Yunnan. After the war and the foundation of the People's Republic, Xiaguan's growth and development expanded.

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New industries appeared such as power generation, food processing, paper making, cigarettes, as well as cement and marble processing and polishing. The factories are scattered though, and not concentrated in one polluted area. The Xi'er River runs through the city center and residents sometimes come to fish with poles from the walkways on the banks or with nets cast from rafts or boats they take out on the water. A few parks lie along the river and a very large and well-developed one occupies a long offshore island on the lake. It does, however, have a pair of sites associated with Nanzhao's history.

He is not a local hero, but instead was a Tang Dynasty commander of a huge Chinese invasion force sent to Yunnan in the mid-eighth century. This was the third attempt by Tang China to subdue the Nanzhao Kingdom and, like the previous two, it ended in total disaster. Li Mi lost his entire army and in the end drowned himself. The victors gave the dead a proper funeral and interred the corpses, or maybe just the ashes, inside a tomb in Tianbao Park, in what is now the western quarter of the city.

It's just a stone mound with some exterior inscriptions and probably never contained as many remains as the records claimed. But it's Xiaguan's only true Nanzhao relic. Many generations after Li Mi's demise, his descendants established a shrine to his memory and to invoke his protection of the area.