July 22, 2015 – near Mount Ord, AZ
The 4 wheel drive trip today is to check out the mercury mines off the Mount Ord exit on the Beeline highway to Payson. In 2012 there was an extensive fire in the area and burned both of the old mining structures – another piece of Arizona mining history lost to the ravages of time. The first mine that we visited is called the Sunflower Mine or the National Mine. The mine was opened in 1911 by E.H. Bowman while looking for gold. A rich vein of cinnabar (containing mercury) and malachite (containing copper) was present. A large processing facility was built and continued in operation until 1965 producing nearly 4000 flasks of mercury each weighing about 75 pounds. On the way to the one we saw a number of large red boulders which contain cinnabar. The photos are what is left of the machinery. Most of the other remains were removed after the fire. The long steel tube like structure is a rotary kiln where the ore is heated to 1000 deg F and mercury is vaporized at 675 deg F. Not shown here are large U shaped tubes that condensed the mercury gas to a liquid for recovery. From the remains it is not evident how the kiln was heated and the power source to turn it, although the large gears are still present. There were large diameter clay pipes on the hill-side which were probably part of a “smoke stack” type assembly to remove other gases flue gases. The miners were probably severely effected by the toxic mercury vapors in any case. The question was what was the mercury used for? The answer, in those days and is still in use today, is that mercury is mixed with crushed gold bearing ore. The mercury “dissolves” the gold making something called an amalgam. The mercury is again heated to vaporize it, leaving the gold behind. This method is still used today in third world countries creating a severe pollution and toxic hazard to the miners and to the streams and rivers.
We then set out to find the other mercury mine in the area, but were unable to get to the site due to closed roads. We then drove up the road to near the top of Mount Ord.
LInk to ophardtphotos.com
Link to Sunflower Mine before the fire.