High up the Diablo mountains, southwest of the Panoche Hills, on the slope beneath San Carlos peak, lies the remains of North America's second most productive mercury mines (its sister mines in New Almaden to the north were number one). Before its discovery by Spanish missionaries, the site was well known to the local Indians who created red pigment from the mercury-laced earth. The Spanish began to mine here in the 1850's once assays determined the ore to be cinnabar. The town took its name from the New Idria Mine (named in honour of the Idrija mine in what is now Slovenia) when the post office was established in 1869. The New was dropped from the name in 1894, but residents continued tocall their home New Idria. The are numerous mines in the vicinity include the Aurora, Alpine, Clear Creek, and Fourth of July mines. The mines were in operation from 1854 to 1975 and the remains are now a major source of pollution (New Idria is now a Superfund cleanup site).
The discovery of mercury at New Idria and New Almaden was very fortuitous as it coincided with the gold rush, and mercury is a much required component for extracting gold from the ore. Before the two Californian quicksilver mines, the world's supply of mercury was controlled almost exclusively by European interests (the Rothschild family was an important player), which meant that much of the wealth of the American gold rush would have been transferred to European bankers in exchange for mercury. New Idria and New Almaden freed the Americans from European control of the gold industry.
There are about two dozen buildings in the town in various states of decay (including the large smelter and mill at the northern end of town) and are all private properties. A sign at the entrance to the town declares a population of three, although I only saw a few farm animals, but if you see one of the residents, ask for permission before taking pictures or exploring.
New Idria is quite isolated, but is not difficult to reach. It is located on New Idria Road 35 km from Panoche Road. The last half kilometer of New Idria Road is paved, but in very bad condition. If you travel with your dogs, don't let them drink from the numerous creeks in the area as they contain very high levels of mercury (the water is orange in colour). California State Register Landmark plaque #324 describing the New Idria Mines is posted at the intersection of CA-25 and Panoche Road.
On the road towards New Idria
Beautiful and barrern landscape of the area