January 2000

     I don't quite recall when Larry and I first ran across those intriguing words, much like a treasure hunt... "Within an area of fifteen miles radius from Quartzite, Arizona, lies an ancient mine for eons providing the special maroon-red rouge used by the Indian warriors to decorate their faces and bodies before a ceremony, or the prelude to a hunt or an attack on their enemies..." What fascinating words, what images they conjured in our minds. Worse, the writer, in an old issue of Desert Magazine said he would not reveal more, but did say this material was hand-dug from a crack in the rocks before prospectors happened upon it, looked at the ore, and called it Quicksilver, another name for mercury, (Mercury Sulfide). It could be found as a replacement or a vein deposit. And it was worked for a period of time until the 1870's, when it proved to be uneconomical to continue operations. But here I am getting ahead of myself. The article said the mine was not being worked and some sizeable ruins were still in place.
     In 1963 Larry and I made the first of two journeys to find this interesting place. I was just beginning to start my collection of topographic maps and had for wheels my faithful 1961 Ford Falcon station wagon to get us to camp and we each had a two-wheeled Tote-Gote power scooter that had been designed in Utah, by the Bonham Corporation to provide deer hunters with a vehicle that would carry them and their deer back out of the woods again. For young explorers it was the perfect vehicle!
      And so with the barest of supplies, maps, and cameras, I drove our little expedition to Arizona, US hiway 95, left the road at a suitable milepost, drove in on the desert pavement and set up our camp. We had several sites to look at and not much time. For this Notebook page, I will limit myself to the cinnabar mine some few miles South of us and what we saw there.
      We left camp and traveled South on a dirt road that paralleled the West side of US 95. Some time in the past, this road had carried quite a bit of traffic, whether before US 95 was built or of a more recent need. At times it was quite a feat to maintain our balance and knowing when to pour on the power to get out of a deep sandy wash and up the far bank of tortured rocky dirt. Sometimes "cat claw" also known as "wait-a-minute" bush would reach out it's twiggy, scraggly branches and snag onto clothing sleeves or bare arms. Not a pleasant sensation. Other times we would meet a cholla or two waiting to "jump" at us. It took a very slight contact and the cholla balls would fall off and hook onto skin or clothing, hence the common title "jumping cactus". We did not seem to make much progress even though our Tote-Gotes could go as fast as 20 miles per hour on flat terrain. The day, while sunny, was December crisp. Since we were headed South it meant we had the sun in our eyes almost all the way. Periodically we would stop to stretch our legs, drink some water from our canteens, and restore some sensation to our pounded posteriors. After what semed a long time our road finally wandered off to the West and a new kind of terrain...low hills of violent colors, reds, blacks, orange, and purple. Truly a surreal artist's paint pallet. We almost drove right by the road going into he mine. It was angled so that the road was not visible until one was past the entrance. The mine road rose above the side road and the first thing we saw was the mine itself, a cleft in a rocky mass, deep maroon and not much wider than four feet; a vertical slice that went down down into the surrounding rock. No mining equipment was in place. If this seems odd to you, you must remember during World War II, scavengers went from old mine to old mine "harvesting" mine car track, machinery, and anything that could be converted into bomb shells, artillery etc. Beyond the vertical slit of the mine, the road continued Easterly until we paused in front of the Superintendent's stone house. This building had the most complete exterior and roof of any buildings we were to encounter in the near future. After a quick inspection, we got back on our power-scooters and rolled further along to a cluster of brick buildings that were the ore roaster oven, to our left and to our right, a series of four mercury-vapor condenser buidlings. These were built in a square shape, with divided chambers and connecting them, large glazed pipes with openings on top of each pipe for valves to control the flow of the gasses. The roaster oven itself, was about three stories high. It's base was below the access road, and the top was above the road and above the condenser buildings. When the hot mercury-vapor gasses were flowing through the condenser buildings, their walls, being cooler than the vapor, caused it to cool and become liquid mercury and be drained out of the bottom of each building. Looking at the pictures makes one pause and think about how this huge structure could be built many miles from the nearest supply route, the Colorado River.
      There are at least two stories about this mine and it's failure. The first story was alluded to in the Desert Magazine article wherein the bricks used to build the roaster oven came by ship from the East Coast, around the horn and up the West Coast and up the Colorado River. This was extremely costly. When it came time to order the bricks for the condensers, a cheaper brick was found in Los Angeles and shipped to the site. As fate would have it, these cheaper bricks were too porous and most of the mercury was absorbed by the brick and vaporized away leaving the operation unable to continue with these losses. The scond story was that the use of bricks, even double-walled and plastered were to prove too porous with the same result. After a year or so the operation closed forever. Why so much fuss about cinnabar? Mercury could be extracted from it and mercury was a necessary part of the process of converting gold and silver ores to the actual metal.
      In December of 1968, we again made camp as before, though this time we used Larry's dune buggy in lieu of the faithful Tote-Gotes, now retired. My Ford Falcon station wagons were replaced by a Ford 3/4 ton pickup truck. As before, it was a lengthy journey to reach the cinnabar mine. In fact we missed the road and got the dune buggy stuck in the adjacent dry wash. With considerable pushing and pulling while Larry applied the gas and brake, we were soon free, backed out of the wash and onto the road. When we had progressed far enough to see the roaster oven, we stopped in shock! I have included two pictures showing what massive vandalism had occurred during our absence. It looked like explosives had been used, or one fantastic beer-bust had devastated the ore roasting oven and the condenser rooms wantonly. About this time "used brick" was quite popular in Western gardens and houses, but this was unreal.
      We spent some time looking at the wholesale destruction around us. Chunks of brick had been blasted out of the ore roasting oven, on all sides and all levels of the brick were peace signs, names, and other words spray-can painted everywhere. Several iron doors had been ripped off the oven. We eventually got back in the dune buggy and in a depressed mood, returned to our camp some miles away.-- Jerome W. Anderson