When I first began to research this trip to Oregon, I came across an awesome blog that showed dirt roads and mines with intact buildings in the Ochoco forest…
Since “old mine buildings” and “dirt roads” are my two favorite phrases, I decided that this would be a certain destination for us.
After breakfast, we set out on highway 26 from Metolius Oregon towards Prineville Oregon. Prineville is a little farming and ranching community in the foothills. It was quite pretty and had a few old buildings in the small downtown area.
At the foot of the mountain the US Forest Service, State Forest Service and BLM buildings are all clustered together. Very convenient. We stopped at the USFS to get some maps of the area and started up the mountain road.
We turned onto Canyon Creek Road, USFS Road 42. I was a bit confused by the Forest Service road designation. In California a Forest Service road is dirt, this one is paved. Apparently Forest Service road does not necessarily mean dirt in Oregon. This one was a typical narrow, twisty, mountain kind.
At the top was a sign to Lookout Mountain and the Independent Mine to the right.
This road was dirt.
It’s fairly well maintained with just a few ruts, most passenger cars could make it. It was only about a half a mile till we saw some buildings in a valley to the left. This is the Independent Mine but my goal was the Mother Lode Mine. The Mother Lode Mine does not appear on any GPS or maps and I only knew about it from my internet research.
We continued a few hundred feet to the end and parked off to the side.
From this point there are no buildings visible but there are multiple signs that say Mother Lode Mine Trail. I do not believe they are trails to the mine as they go in different directions from where the mine actually is.
There is an earthen berm at the end, so using our unfailing logic, we concluded that in order to get the ore from the mine, the miners would need to use a road, we climbed the berm and continued on foot.
Lo and behold! A kiln.
Trays still in it, no graffiti, just a sign warning of US property, no tampering.
This ain’t California kids!
Looks like the roof was recently replaced to protect it.
Here’s Jeff checking out the back. He even stuck his phone in the hole to take a picture to see the inside!
Guess what’s inside?
We suspected there was more to this site, so we continued walking down the path into the forest. After about a quarter mile we came around a corner and saw this!
The Mother Lode!
Once we got closer it became this…
An almost fully intact cinnabar mine!
Before we continue, a little history of the mines in this area courtesy of The Outdoor Project.
* 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 mercury vapor, which enables the illumination of fluorescent lights.
As far as I was concerned, this mine was a hobby photographer’s paradise!
You can view it from above, below and inside. One of the things I found most interesting was the nests. There were nests of every shape and size and in every possible corner. You can see them in the door picture above. The only evidence of wildlife I saw though was a little mouse, packrat, chipmunk, squirrel, looking at me from a rafter above. He seemed way too small to have made this…
We were unable to find any kind of mine shaft and due to the evidence around the site, we think this type of mining might be surface only? Also there was a long structure which looked as though it originally attached to the top of the building. It now lays at an angle down the hill, we think it was removed to deter people from climbing and getting hurt, which didn’t stop Jeff…
After taking our fill of The Mother Lode Mine, it was time to drive back down a few hundred feet to The Independent Mine. This mine is located in a valley and is a little walk down hill. There’s also a nature trail along the way with signs and benches.
This is an entire mining camp which includes several cabins, the ore processing building and the mine office. The first site you come to is this log cabin.
Further down the trail, the town opens up to reveal another log cabin mostly collapsed, and a shack which is probably the office. There was a lot of debris inside including a vinyl chair. I’m not sure what’s going on with the green paint.
There’s another shack with a washer/dryer/stove? and more nests…
The ore processing buildings were down a little hill. There were two tall buildings with a long roofed portion between. It had a kiln which is still intact but the roof between the two buildings has collapsed.
After exploring this area, we went traipsing through the forest to try to find any evidence of diggings. We didn’t find diggings but we did find a bright pink, two seater, outhouse. For the couple who really wants to be close!
We’d had enough of the Independent Mine and it was time to look for The Blue Ridge Mine. This meant driving back down the dirt road to the paved highway, turning right and continuing on.
The Blue Ridge Mine was also used from the 1930’s to the 1940’s. It’s different than the Mother Lode Mine. The Mother Lode Mine used undulating pipes to condense the mercury vapor, The Blue Ridge used a single long pipe to collect the condensate. The Blue Ridge Mine also had a bunkhouse. This mine is easy to get to as it’s right next to the road. The first thing you see is the front of the bunkhouse.
To the right of the bunkhouse are the remains of the supports for the condensate pipe.
and further up the hill is the building where they crushed the ore.
Earlier, when we were at the Independent Mine we met a couple who told us the wild horses liked to hang out around here. They’d seen them across the road in the field a couple of hours earlier. While we were walking around this mine we saw lots of manure but no horses, so we drove across the street to a little dirt road that seemed to lead into the field. We were hoping to find the horses. The road ended abruptly at a marsh about 100 yards in. Still no horses but we did see a cabin hidden in the trees.
and an old car…
Research tells me it’s a 1936 Pontiac 4-door sedan presumably belonging to the mine’s manager.
It was getting dark and time to start for home but Jeff’s GPS informed him there was another mine on the way called the Amity Mine. We found a turnout on the opposite side of the paved road which turned out to be another blocked dirt road. It was getting late so we decided to look over the cliff to see what we could see before hiking down the steep hill.
It looks as though the building has collapsed.
There was a Landcruiser on the road below but we had no idea how he got there. This is zoomed in and the road down was pretty steep. I managed to slip and scrape my hand and knee on the rocks so we decided it was time to give up. Later, I looked for information on the Amity Mine and it says that originally there was a bunkhouse and multiple buildings. There may be something left down there, perhaps another day…
more adventure awaits tomorrow…