Cinnabar Mines of Central Oregon

October 3, 2011 at 1:37 pm (Black and White Photography, History, Landscape Photography, Leah McDaniel Photography, Oregon, Photography, Uncategorized) (, , , , , )

Mining in Central Oregon was a booming industry in the early to mid 1900’s.  Though there are a few small gold mines around, the majority of mining was for cinnabar, from which was extracted mercury.  Many of these mines have since been abandoned, their equipment removed and the buildings pulled down.  Most are on private land.  However there are a few with buildings remaining and are accessible to the adventurous as they are presently on public lands. 

The Mother Lode, Independent Mine and The Blue Ridge Mine are all located within easy driving distance of Prineville, Oregon, located in The Ochoco National Forest.


My hubby and I took a trip recently to check some of them out.  We didn’t investigate The Mother Lode Mine, though it is located pretty close to Independent Mine.  We thought we might save that for a day trip completely to itself.  We did, however, find and photograph both Independent and The Blue Ridge Mine locations.  Here are some photos to give you a taste of what you might find if you should wish to see them for yourself.


INDEPENDENT MINE   44.3415231  -120.3527843

Independent Mine is off of USFS (Forest Road) 42 in the Ochoco National Forest.  This is a beautiful drive and has been called the Butterfly Byway, and didn’t disappoint, for they were abundant when we went in early September.  In addition to the riot of butterflies, there are some interesting geologic features along the way.

Rock formation on Canyon Creek Road/USFS 42 in the Ochocos.

 Independent Mine is not right off the road.  Take the Baneberry Trail to get started. 


In case you are wondering what baneberries are, there are lots of them at the beginning of the hike.

Baneberries come in both red and white, and both are poisonous.
After a short bit of hiking, you may (depending on the season) need to cross a small creek or two before the buildings begin to emerge from the trees.  The first one we came across was a derelict log cabin.  It isn’t vacant, however, as it seems to be home to a large number of pack-rats.

Old Miner's Cabin


Another miner’s outbuilding.  This one had a jumble of things inside, artfully stuffed with all kinds of plant material that the pack-rats could manage to load inside.

There is an old upended washing machine visible through the window.
As we make our progress through the site, there is another abandoned log structure, nearly overtaken with trees.  One thing is for sure… the people who occupied these buildings were much shorter than their descendants.

Log Cabin in the Trees

Another view of the same log cabin.  Notice how close the window and the gable end of what would have been the roofline are to the ground.

Log Cabin at Independent Mine Site, Oregon.

We finally come to the ore processing buildings.

Independent Mine Ore Processing Building

At the upper end of the processing building we can take a peek inside.

Upper end of Independent Mine ore processing building interior

 Here is another shot of the upper end of Independent Mine.

Independent Mine was operated from the early 1900’s until it was abandoned sometime in the 1950’s.  It was an open-pit mine, so no mine shafts to fall into.  The buildings remaining appear to have been several residences, a generator building, the remains of the mill, including the furnace.

Independent Mine, lower end of the processing building

And the furnace.
Independent Mine Furnace
We decided to make our way out of the site when we noticed an abundance of bear sign.  In case you are wondering, yes, bears do poop in the woods.
Why did I include this in mine blog post? Because it is pretty.
Back out on USFS42, head east toward Paulina.  There are a few abandoned, collapsed mine sites right off the road before you get to Blue Ridge Mine.  Amity Mine and Number One Mine were both also Cinnabar Mines, but little remains of them now.  If you look sharp, or keep your eyes peeled as my Papa used to say,  you may see the walls of this log cabin fading into the thick stand of trees.  It may have belonged to either one of those long dead mines.

The roof has collapsed in on itself, but the walls are still standing.

BLUE RIDGE MINE    44.3548571   -120.3133387
When you see the Four Horsemen Hotel, you know you are close to Blue Ridge Mine.  Though some have said that the Four Horsemen was housing for the miners, the son of an early owner of the Blue Ridge Mine claims that the hotel was for the benefit of sawmill workers in the area.

Four Horsemen Hotel - Careful exploring this one, there seems to be a very large active bee colony in the walls of this building.

The first of the mine-site ruins you will probably notice are the rotary kiln and condenser tube foundations. 
Rotary Kiln Foundation to the right of the image and Condenser Tube Foundation to the left of the image.

Back side of the condenser tube base foundation - Blue Ridge Mine

As you move on up the trail toward the standing buildings, you will first see the concrete surge box with the ore processing buildings behind it.

Concrete Surge Box with Ore Processing Buildings in Background

Blue Ridge Mines date back to 1929, and by 1930 an ore processing plant was erected on the site, and from 1930 to 1932, 250 flasks of mercury were produced.  Shafts were sunk between 1931 and 1941 to a depth of 100 to 110 feet.  In 1942 a 75-ton Gould rotary furnace and condenser system was installed on site and the mine produced 93 flasks of mercury over the next 2 years.  In 1944, the furnace and condenser equipment were removed.  In 1949, a Herreschoff furnace was installed and 129 flasks of mercury were produced up until 1956.  Once again, they removed the mine furnace, this time in 1958, when the mine seems to have mostly been abandoned and gone into decline.  Most of the mercury seems to have been in demand during World War II.

Blue Ridge Mine ore processing buildings


Ore Processing Equipment Blue Ridge Mine


Ore Processing Building Blue Ridge Mine



  1. Julissa said,

    These pictures are beautiful. I miss Central Oregon.

    • eponaleah said,

      Hi Julissa! I am glad you stopped by my blog. I miss you girl!

  2. Sharon said,

    Thank you so much for your blog and pictures. We were just there yesterday and wondered what they had mined. We have a place in Prineville and will have to go see the Independent Mine. I have good pictures of a car and the cabin. We were wondering if there was a community there while the mining was going on. Love this type of history. Thanks agins

    • eponaleah said,

      Thanks, Sharon. I appreciate that you appreciate it. :~) I don’t think there was much of a community there other than the miners. The only mining community I know of in the area was Howard, and that was a gold mining community with a post office, school and other amenities of a community. The interesting thing about Howard is that it occupied at least two different areas in the Ochoco Valley. Originally Howard was established in what we now call the Ochoco Mines on Ochoco Creek near the mouth of Scissors Creek, about 28 miles east of Prineville. Howard was named for a rancher and prospector who found gold in the Scissors Creek in 1872. The mining boom waxed and waned, and when it became popular again in the early 1900’s, the Howard community began to swell again. The post office was moved in 1909 about 18 miles east of Prineville on the Ochoco Highway, though it was closed again in about 1918. The school house is still standing, though it is on private property. There is a pioneer cemetery about 2 miles from the Schoolhouse, and I will post photos of it one of these days. I can’t tell you much about the mining communities of Independent, Mother Lode, Blue Ridge, Amity, etc, though the kind people at the Bowman Museum in Prineville may have some information, if you are interested.

      Come back again!

  3. Ginger Sanders said,

    Great blog. Great pictures.

    Happy to find another mine photography junkie. I am a little addicted to photographing those mines. I think, my favorite is The Mother Load, but I am pretty fond of Blue Ridge too.

    I’ll add your blog to the blog links at I’m building the links page tonight and tomorrow.


  4. Lynne from Redmond said,

    Excellent pictures! We saw the Blue Ridge Mine on our way yesterday from Walton Lake to Paulina and thoroughly enjoyed wandering around the place trying to figure out exactly WHAT took place there so long ago. Found the grave site of Frank O. Reid and began our computer search at home from there. Thank you for sharing your information :0) Makes us anxious to get back out there and explore!

    • Dennis Tooley said,

      What a coincidence! My wife and I conducted a tour for 13 folks yesterday, which included the Blue Ridge, Amity, Independent and Mother Lode mines.
      My dad, Dick Tooley, and his partner, Frank Reid, spent a lot of time and effort trying to eke out a living for their families….primarily at the Blue Ridge mine. Dad also worked the Mother Lode mine for a few years. I am the oldest of 6 kids and have a lot of memories of being raised and living in what used to be the Four Horsemen Hotel.

      • Bruce said,

        hello,you were raised at four horseman hotel??

      • eponaleah said,

        Sorry, no, I was not.

  5. Richard W. Dewey said,

    While looking for obsidian glass at Glass Butte in 2006, I came across a huge deposit of cinnabar just laying on the round. As the crow flies, it is about 1 mile southeast of the summit of Glass Butte (mountain with the tower on top) toward Round Top Mountain.. It looks like they had mined it and left it when the whole operation was abandoned when the mercury market collapsed sometime in the late 1950’s. If you look close, you can see it from highway 20, about 20 miles West of Riley on the south side of the highway. In exploring the row of cinnabar, it looked like good quality and had a lot of “red” spots in it (the mercury before processing it.).

  6. Max Hildebrand said,

    Frank Reed lived at the Blue Ridge mine, still working the cinnabar ore until the 1990’s. Also as a much younger man, henlived in the log cabin that was kitty-corner and across the road from the Four Horseman Hotel. He was a great guy, I really respected him.

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