Just east of Lookout Mountain in the Ochocos is the small, historic ruin of the Blue Ridge Mine. Similar to Independent Mine and the Mother Lode Mine, the Blue Ridge Mine was used from the 1930s through the 1940s for the processing and commerce of mercury*. Just off of Canyon Creek Rd/NF-42, the mine includes several abandoned buildings, including a bunkhouse, kiln and the ore processing building used for crushing the cinnabar. Unlike the Mother Lode Mine, which used numerous vertical, undulating pipes called retorts to condense the mercury vapor, the Blue Ridge Mine used a single long pipe for collecting the condensate. One surprising point of interest: a few hundred yards across from Canyon Creek Rd/NF-42, the skeleton of a 1936 Pontiac four-door sedan (presumably used by the Mine’s manager) rests in the thick of an Apsen grove.
* The lands for the mines were acquired by prospector George A. Dreis in 1930 for the purposes of extracting mercury. Mercury comes primarily from the mineral cinnabar, which is sparsely scattered throughout much of the Ochocos, particularly the base of Lookout Mountain. Extracting mercury from cinnabar is rather simple: the rock shale is crushed and heated in a kiln which emits the mercury vapor. The vapor is then condensed and drained into a metal-lined “flask”. At the mine, you can find tailings and talus from the extraction process which have been deposited in the form of mounds and small hills throughout the area. Mercury was once used for thermometers, various instruments, amalgam tooth fillings, and in the early portion to the 20th century it was used as a topical disinfectant, laxative and de-wormer for children, among other uses. Understanding of the element’s toxicity, however, eventually led to it largely being phased out. Most of the mines in the region began to drastically slow down their operations by the 1950s, although mercury is still in use today. One modern use of mercury is mercury vapor, which makes fluorescent lights illuminate.