Thursday, February 14, 2008

Hikin' Around New Almaden!

Its been quite awhile since I posted anything closely related to geology on this blog. Honestly, in the last few months I haven't really been thinking about it. Snow is covering alot of the good geology in denver, and out here in Sacramento there's not much to look at.

A few times during my stay out here I was staring at the cutbanks of the American river just HOPING that there might be something exposed thats interesting. The best you can get from that though is thinking about the pre-levee flood cycles recorded in the not-quite-lithified beds. oh well.

So I went to New Almaden County Park this last weekend. New Almaden was a town located near a few small Mercury mines that were established in the early-to-mid 1800's and produced a shit-load of Mercury right up until nearly the 1970's. They Mainly mined out a mineral Called Cinnabar, which tastes great and when powdered can be heated up, releasing a wonderful sinus-clearing vapor. (ha...actually its a mercury sulfide mineral that if handled incorrectly might either 1. cause you permanent brain damage, or 2. kill you).

The miners used to crush down the cinnebar, heat it to about 1,700 degrees Fahrenheit, at which point sulphur and mercury gas were given off. The Mercury gas was funneled off into condensers and then bottled to make bomb fuses and rectal thermometers. The Sulfur gas was released to the atmosphere to cause acid rain for the people residing just east of the smelter.

This is the remains of the Mercury Condensor at the New Almaden Mine area. the big horizontal pipe was used to funnel off the mercury into the condensers. Its also an awesome location to spray-paint the name of your up-coming San Jose straightedge hardcore band for all to see.

The mine area is also a stone-throw next to Loma Prieta, the mountain whose name was used to name the 1989 San Francisco earthquake that delayed consumption of beer and dry roasted peanuts during the World Series. The Epicenter of that earthquake is located fairly close to the park, but I didn't go see it.

Like so many mines in colorado, the hey-day for this mine area appears to have been in the later part of the 19th century. New Almaden also happens to be the setting of the first portions of the book "Angle of Repose" by Wallace Stegner. Which, interestingly enough is not mentioned at the actual New Almaden country park...not a singlereference to Stegener's book, despite his romantic and vivid description of Lyman Ward's Grandmother's experience of it.

Anyhow. The park was awesome, it was about 65 degrees and sunny when I was there, and the trails are ridiculously well maintained. The mine ruins are constrained to a few busted old non-descript buildings, an Eagle-Scout-project-created Historic Trail map, and a few rapidly fading descriptive plaques. I rolled around there for the better part of a day, at one point I forgot to pay attention to the trail maps and ended up walking 4 miles out of the way down the wooded hill trail.

"What the hell? where's the trail? I can't believe I got lost in a county park trail...considering how much boasting and arrogance I express when pressed on my ability to use a topographic map and brunton compass!"

I kinda wish I had more time there, and that I had prepared for the geology more...there was some great exposures and the cenozoic history of the mountains is complex..something that requires a little more involvement to understand and appreciate than staring at the mineralized joints and rocks at the county park and going "damn, I wish I knew more about this."

Anyway...I have to get ready to go work now.....

Some of the old, twisted trunks of Cypress trees and the trail. the crappy pictures are a result of using my camera phone and not a sweet real camera. sorry.

1 comment:

Ben K. Greenfield said...

The photo of the mining condenser and description are really cool. thanks!