Otero's Gem & Mineral Rock Shop, Magdalena, New Mexico

On a recent day trip to visit the Very Large Array (VLA) 2 hours southwest of Albuquerque, my family and I stumbled upon Otero’s Gem & Mineral Rock Shop in Magdalena, NM. The open sign was on so of course we had to make a quick u-turn (legally!) and stop in.

VLA New Mexico Open!

The first thing we noticed while driving up was a unique water fountain along the driveway, backed by a menagerie of animal sculptures and a beautiful mural depicting the hillside behind the rock shop.


 We approached the front door, which was locked. A sign on the door directed us to call Mr. Ben Otero to be let in, which we did. Within a couple of minutes he greeted us at the door and we entered the shop.

I asked Mr. Otero whether he had sourced any of the specimens he was selling himself, and he answered that he had found a few. His father and uncles, who were miners in the Socorro/Magdalena area, entered the rock shop business when they realized people would buy rocks and minerals. His aunt ran the business for a time before he inherited it.

Smithsonite  Linerite

I was struck by the amount of quality smithsonite in the shop.  I ended up coming home with a couple of pieces, a small apple-green one and a large one that was lavender-grey. I also purchased some interesting Socorro County manganese oxides; based on streak and hardness tests I think they’re pyrolusite. They had clearly been well-handled since extraction, as the delicate, velvety surface features remain undamaged.  Based on Mr. Otero’s memory of these manganese oxides (found just a few miles away from the shop!) and the age of the very old-fashioned milk cartons they were stored in, the specimens must have been mined at least several decades ago.

During slower times, Mr. Otero works in the in-house lapidary. Many of his cabochons are displayed for sale, including some exquisite smithsonite – which is his favorite mineral to work with.  I was blown away by his aurichalcite cabochons, which were set into sterling by a local silversmith.

Cabachons  Hand Crafted Jewelry Cabachons

Mr. Otero was kind enough to show us some items from his private collection, which was housed in a case near the back of the salesfloor. The majority of the items in this case were not for sale, but it was a privilege to see the incredible specimens he had and hear the history of how they were obtained.

As we were leaving, Mr. Otero walked us out and showed us the fountain we had passed on our way in. He shared that his brother had made it using pieces of selenite, agate, petrified wood, and several other rock and mineral pieces. A work of art to be sure. Too bad it was early January and the water was too frozen for it to run – it must be a thing to see in action.

Fountain Selenite Selenite

Mr. Otero was also kind enough to allow the kids to pick some items from his outdoor rock garden.  They picked some tiger cowrie shells, chrysocolla, and agate and were very appreciative of this gesture. The outdoor rock garden is kept stocked for this purpose.


I highly recommend making a day of it and heading out to visit Otero’s Rock Shop. It’s a beautiful drive to Magdalena, and you may just get lucky and chance upon an antelope herd like we did.

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