Tucked away in a quiet corner of San Luis Obispo County, you can find this remnant of California’s once thriving mercury industry.
At a time when the Golden State was responsible for a large amount of “quicksilver,” the Rinconada Mercury Mine was an economic boon to the region. Mining began here, according to some records, in 1872. Through the years and due to technological advancement, the machinery changed. It is doubtful that any of the remaining equipment is original. Suffering through wildfires and flourishing through the WWII war effort, the mine finally ceased production sometime in the 1960s.
Of course, mercury is an environmental toxin and the EPA made efforts to clean the area from 2003 to 2008. It is now open to the casual hiker.Though 7,000 feet of mine tunnels exist in the hilltop facility in the Santa Lucia area of the Los Padres National Forest, most accesses have been blasted shut in the name of public safety. There are stories of local teens perishing in the tunnels, though these appear to be apocryphal. The remaining machinery itself is a sight to behold. A canvas for local graffiti artists, one of the most notable works is the “Prisoner of Society” primate stencil, which endures the test of time.
Know Before You Go
From the US-101, take exit 211 to merge onto CA-58 E towards Santa Margarita. Stay on CA-58 E until it becomes Pozo Road. Ten more miles up the road, you will see the Rinconada Trailhead sign on the right. There are two trails. Take the one on the right. It's unmarked, but clearly a trail. Most GPS devices will accept Rinconada Mercury Mine as a destination. The area offers a lovely view of the woods below and is a photographic joy. Local photographers often document the site and the ever-changing art. The two levels of machinery are accessible and a thrill to safely climb. The experienced climber can climb the rise behind the processing equipment for entry, but it is not advised.