New Idria Mine – Exotic Geology in Central California 2

Pt. 1 – At the Mine…

 

As I mentioned in the last post, I went out to New Idria with my dad in early spring, an abandoned mining town famous for mercury mining of the cinnabar ore that is common in this part of the state. It is named after a famous mine in Slovenia. Mercury was mostly used in gold mining and they built this town over a hundred years ago to extract it.

 

On the road approaching the first buildings

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Some were small shacks, this one had a room added onto it after construction

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This greeted visitors, after the sign noting this is not a county maintained road, notice the sign and graffiti response

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The old barn was hooked up to the power lines, which are still functional for the handful of remaining residents

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Not much going on inside

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Just about to fall down I think

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Kinda like this one. Shows what happens to our structures when we don’t maintain them over time

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A former neighborhood

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Not much left inside

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A view of the general area, this was the best part of the road around here

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So many abandoned buildings, we didn’t get out for fear of a ticket or something, as there was a BLM ranger around that day

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Just a lot of old, abandoned houses and other facilities

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Some boarded-up, some not

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Good, but steep section of road leads past the remnants of the refining facilities

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It was a dog getting up this road to our destination on the other side of the ridge, where the gemstones are. We ended up calling it quits because the truck just wasn’t going to make it up the 4×4 road. We did make it up to the entrance to one of the main mine shafts though

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It was really creepy, you can see how they had created infrastructure around the entrance

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And these tracks lead down into the mine

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They have filled in this shaft to prevent injuries and trespassing, but you can see the supports and tracks leading further to the right

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Just inside the entrance is a reminder of the toxic legacy of this place

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Back down the hill, a little defeated

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A stone wall next to the refining facility, downhill from the mine entrance

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Not much left but the foundation

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And the slowly rusting steel

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Next door, the main tailings pile and pond are sitting out in the open as a very severe superfund site (EPA warning signs were all over the fence here)

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The mines around here also are full of chemical acid drainage from the water table (this was pumped low during mining but rose up into the mines after production stopped)

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So it leaches out with lots of mercury, cadmium, zinc, chromium and cobalt, among others

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Here  it is coming off the main retention pond, which isn’t nearly well-designed enough to keep this stuff out of the creeks here

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It was so bright, such an unnatural color, that you didn’t want to go near it

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Further down the creek, it picks up steam and coats the banks

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Thankfully, this stuff is in a dry part of the state, so this spring runoff will not make it out of this area and into the central valley and bay. In really wet winters though, it is the major contributor to toxic mercury and other metals in these two areas

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It was kind of pretty though, no?

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And finishing off with some views of the town from that terrible road

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The whole town and road were built on tailings, the burnt-out leftover rocks from the mercury extraction process, these turn mineral cinnabar into the liquid metal and leave a very red stone when complete

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Next up: Wildflowers and more amazing views from the trip home

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