Monday, March 30, 2009

Hiking Around the Quicksilver Mines

Last weekend we had the opportunity to go on a fabulous hike with our friends Richard and Tracey. We had a bit of a difficult time figuring out the details as far as where and when to meet, but eventually we got it together and found each other! 

It was a gorgeous day for a hike. It was beautifully sunny out but there was a cool breeze so we didn't get too hot. I had never been to our hiking location before: Almaden Quicksilver Park, but it was a very fun place to visit. 

As the story goes, in 1845 a group from the Mexican military, led by Andres Castillero, met up with some of the Ohlone Indians and they noticed the reddish body paint that the Indians decorated themselves with and traded. As a mining engineer, Castillero recognized that the pigment must be cinnabar, a reddish mineral, made up of a mixture of sulfur and mercury (also known as quicksilver). He asked the Ohlone to take him and his men to the source of their cinnabar and they led him to the area that is now known as New Almaden (it was named after the Almaden quicksilver mines in Spain). 

After discovering the source of the cinnabar ore, Castillero lost no time and quickly filed a claim for the land and started mining. The mines changed hands several times, but by 1865 a thriving community developed around the several mine shafts in the area. The mines were very important to the California gold rush movement because mercury was used to extract gold from the ore collected in the gold mines. In fact, the mercury mines at New Almaden were more lucrative than any California gold mine!

However, over time, as the mines continued to change hands, the mining community dwindled. During the Great Depression, the area was home to a Civilian Conservation Corps project. Later, in the 1960's there was talk of developing the "Cinnabar Hills" into a residential area and in the 1970's a new mine was supposed to be opened, however, both of those plans fell through. In 1976 the County of Santa Clara purchased the property and turned it into a park. For many years there was a museum dedicated to the history of the area, however, perhaps due to the current financial situation, that too has been closed down. 

It is so interesting to hike among the ruins of what was once a thriving community. As we walked along I wondered what it must have looked like in the past and what the previous residents would have though if they could see the land now. 

This building was once a dance hall and later a museum dedicated to the history of New Almaden and the mines. It now stands abandoned. 

We start off on our hike. It was a fairly strenuous uphill climb for about 40 minutes. 

I was glad we were able to go in the spring. The hills were all a brilliant green and the grasses danced in the wind as we hiked along. 

Once we got up a bit higher there were some amazing views of the surrounding hills and the valley below. 

You can just see a bit of the reddish cinnabar showing through in the dirt on the side of the path. 

Here is a better picture of the cinnabar. 

After a few minutes of hiking we passed this closed up mine shaft. Woodley bounded up for a closer view but came back in a hurry when he discovered a little snake in the right hand hole in the cement!

Up at the top of the hill we saw some tumbled down buildings that at one time were houses or stores. Richard remembered them standing the last time he had hiked the trail, about 4 years ago. It was so interesting to think about how nature re-claims the land as time goes by. 

The wildflowers were out in abundance!

Looking down the backside of one of the hills, we had a thrilling view of the valley and other closed up mine shafts. 

This building and its equipment were last used in the 1970's.

I love the spring in California! Beautiful blue skies and brilliantly green grasses!

Just before we started hiking back we came across the most put together building we had yet seen. It looked like it must have been a very charming house set on the side of the hill. Unfortunately now it is completely falling apart, there is poison oak growing out of it, and warnings of hantavirus posted around the outside. We kept our distance! 

It was so fun to be able to both get in a great hike and also visit a bit of history in our neighborhood! If you live in the area and haven't been out to visit New Almaden, I would highly recommend it. :) 


No comments:

Post a Comment