The Independent Mine, along with the nearby Mother Lode Mine and Blue Ridge Mine, are parts of an abandoned mercury mine* in the Ochoco Mountains that helps tell the story of the region’s rich history. From the trailhead, proceed across the open meadow on the old four-wheel drive road as it moves downhill toward the original mining buildings. The buildings you’ll see include several cabins, the mine office and the ore processing building. Before heading downhill, however, you can access the Baneberry Trail. This is a quick, quarter-mile loop with interpretive signs and numerous benches to rest on as you enjoy the scenery.
* The lands for the mines were acquired by prospector George A. Dreis in 1930 for mercury extraction. Mercury comes primarily from the mineral cinnabar, which is sparsely but widely scattered throughout the Ochocos, particularly at the base of Lookout Mountain. Extracting mercury from cinnabar is rather simple: the rock shale is crushed, heated in a kiln, and the resulting mercury vapor is condensed and drained into a metal-lined “flask.” You can find tailings and talus from the extraction process that have been deposited in mounds throughout the area. Mercury was used for thermometers, various instruments, amalgam tooth fillings, a topical disinfectant, laxative and a de-wormer for children. Once mercury's toxicity was understood it was phased out of common usage, and most of the mines in the region began to shut down by the 1950s. Mercury still has many uses, however, including the mercury vapor that enables the illumination of fluorescent lights.