October/November 2002

     This issue concerns a minor mercury deposit at the southeast end of the coyote mountains which straddle the San Diego and Imperial county line. It has never been discussed, but I and a close friend, Doug arranged to see the deposit. I hope you find it interesting.

     Way back in 1962, I was working at an aircraft factory on the day shift, and while waiting to go in, I often talked to some friends on amateur radio. It was during one of these "chats" a fellow ham asked me if I had ever seen the mercury deposit at Coyote Mountain. I of course had not. That person knew a resident living on the property where the outcrop was and invited me and another friend of mine to get together with him and he would arrange for us to visit the owner and see the depost.

     In a week or so, the arrangements were made and I was informed when he would be going out to the Coyotes. I had already discussed this with my friend, Doug. He had a small street motorcycle and I had my desert power scooter and we planned to take them both along and I could show Doug some of the interesting things in the area. We had not planned to stay long at the mercury outcrop as the owner was not able to spend much time with us.

     The weekend arrived and I met Doug at his house and unloaded my power scooter so that we could fit his small motorcycle into the back of my Ford Falcon station wagon. It was a little tricky, but we manged to get both machines in the wagon and securely tied down. Sleeping bags and cooking gear went in too as we planned to spend the night in the area.

     We set off east over what was then State Highway 80, now Interstate 8. After an hours drive we picked up our guide on my mobile amateur radio and followed him to the unnamed dirt road leading from S80 to the guides acquaintance's home and the mercury site. We set up camp in a small nearby wash and rode over to meet the owner. His house was surrounded by large religious sign boards and crosses.

     I have long since forgotten his name, but he kindly accepted us and took us to a small canyon out behind his house and showed us a damp, vermilion colored patch on the canyon wall, and bade us dig around the soil using garden tools.

     Soon our trowels clanked on some things metallic. They were small 1/4 inch cubes of iron pyrites. We separated a few out from the deposit and were told to break open one of them, and we could see a single drop of liquid mercury nestled inside. We did this and were amazed! There were not very many iron cubes so we asked to keep a few and of those, Doug and I only broke open one or two to see the mercury. I am not a chemist so I cant tell you what had happened to the iron cubes, but apparantly it was a replacement process of some kind. When the mercury drop was dumped out I could see that the hollow interior where the mercury resided was a natural hollow. Each pyrite cube faced showed a silvery sheen on those cubes that we had not broken.

     We were told by our host that the dirt was rich enough to yield raw mercury if squeezed through a chamois. We were also told that while this was a somewhat unusual deposit, our host's efforts to commercialize the deposit had failed. It simply was not big enough to be commercially viable. Geologists were said to have found other mercury deposits in the Coyotes, but the same fate caused them to remain undeveloped. It was an interesting visit and we thanked our host for his time and the specimens, and left to pursue the remainder of the desert area.

     Returning to my station wagon, we safely secured our specimens before riding off to see the other wonders of the Coyote Mountains. There is a limestone reef in the Coyotes, up Shell Canyon Road. Easy to get to in small or compact cars, how much of this is still accessible, I dont know. Much of it probably falls in wilderness area now, but it was a fun place to camp and explore further west near the county line where a graded dirt road was often usable enough to drive our cars into.

     Over the years I have misplaced my specimens of the mercury iron pyrite cubes. I hope you enjoyed our small adventure way back then to discover them.

Jerome W. Anderson

     Dear reader, with this story we close Jerome's notebook. It has been in production since December 1999, and we have run out of trips to describe and places to see. Altogether there are 34 articles in this series. I hope you avail yourself of the columns archive. Should future material become available, I will send it in. But the future is pretty dim with closures and wilderness lockouts. Thank you for your loyalty and interest. Regards, Jerome.