Pine Mountain Mercury Mine

Pine Mountain Mercury Mine and the Sunflower Mercury Mine were burned to the ground in the Sunflower fire of 2012.  The photos of this mine were taken in Sept. 2010.

The Pine Mountain Mercury Mine is in the Sunflower District in the Mazatzal Mountains, west of Rt. 87.   Mercury was discovered as the mineral cinnabar in 1911 by E.H. Bowman, with production into the 1960s.  Pine Mountain and the Sunflower Mines were the major producers.  Recorded production from the two mines was 3,973 flasks or 137 tons. Copper, gold and silver were also produced at mines in the area.  Mercury was used in the purification of gold by amalgamation – Blog on the Martinez mine.

The mercury in cinnabar is found as mercury sulfide.  The usual method of some hand sorting of the higher quality mercury ores may have been done in the early days. By the 1920s and 30s unsorted ore and rocks were crushed to fine particles that were then fed into a long heated rotary cylinder.  The cylinder was on a slight tilt so that the material gradually traversed the cylinder.  The result of the heating or roasting was that mercury as the metal element is freed from the cinnabar as free mercury in the gaseous state.  The mercury gas condenses into liquid mercury, also known as quicksilver.  In the photos tall cylinders with upside down U shapes at the tops are the condensers or retorts.  I found some reports that the early prospectors were slowly poisoned by the mercury from crude methods then in use.

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