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
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
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.