Cañoncito, New Mexico in Leslie Marmon Silko’s Ceremony


“They were having a witches’ conference,
that’s what it was
Way up in the lava rock hills
north of Cañoncito
they got together
to fool around in caves
with their animal skins.”1

The area around Cañoncito, New Mexico appears twice in Leslie Marmon Silko’s Ceremony, which follows the journey of Tayo, a Laguna Pueblo Indian with an absent white father who has returned from World War II.  As Tayo begins his process of recovering from post-traumatic stress disorder-like symptoms, he hears the story quoted above, which describes how a gathering of witches led to a new evil being unleashed on the world.  The second appearance of Cañoncito occurs near the end of Tayo’s recovery, when he finds himself at an abandoned uranium mine in the same “lava rock hills” and must choose between defending his friends or acting in accordance with what he has discovered during his recovery.  The uranium mined from this area of New Mexico is alluded to as an aspect of the evil described in the first story, adding to the layers of significance of the final scene.

Cañoncito is located about 20 miles east of Laguna Pueblo, the main setting for much of Ceremony, and about 30 miles west of Albuquerque. While the mine Silko describes at the end of Ceremony was only used briefly during World War II, the nearby Jackpile-Paguate Mine was in use from 1953 to 1982 producing approximately 25 tons of uranium ore according to the EPA’s Superfund Site. The Jackpile-Paguate mine is located about 30 miles west of Cañoncito, at the base of Mount Taylor, a sacred mountain to the Laguna Pueblo Indians that is referenced throughout Ceremony.

Has anyone explored this area?  I could not find a reference to a specific mine in the area north of Cañoncito, but Silko’s precise attention to geographic details throughout the novel makes me think one exists.

Find Ceremony at a local library or on Amazon.

1Silko, Leslie Marmon. Ceremony. New York: Penguin, 2006. 123. Print.

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  1. There are dozens of abandoned uranium mines (AUMs) around the Mt. Taylor region. When mines were abandoned they were left unmarked and without any signage to identify them. Many have just been forgotten about and sit openly in the desert, or best case scenario have been reclaimed to some extent and integrated to look like they are part of the natural environment. Its not a surprise that you can’t find out more specific information about this AUM, as there are over a thousand on Navajo Nation and the surrounding tribal communities.