Just off of River Road in Big Bend National Park is Mariscal Mine (29.095380, -103.187551), the best preserved mercury mining site in Texas.
The best way to get to Mariscal Mine is to take the East entrance to River Road (you’ll need a high clearance vehicle). To get to the East entrance to River Road starting at Park Headquarters at Panther Junction, take a right out of the parking lot and drive approximately 15.7 miles on Highway 118 (heading toward Rio Grande Village). After you’ve drive the 15.7 miles, you’ll see the entrance to River Road on your right (29.190519, -103.015899). If you pass the Hot Springs entrance, you’ll know you’ve gone too far. Once on River Road, it’s about 19.4 miles to Mariscal Mine.
When we went by Mariscal Mine, we camped at the Fresno Backcountry Campsite, which sits directly across the road from it. This gave us the chance to watch the sun rise and explore the ruins in the early morning hours before we headed out to begin our hike for the day.
Be careful when exploring the area. Since it was an active mercury mine, there are still trace amounts of mercury in some of the rocks and other remnants around the site. Look, but don’t touch.
History of Mariscal Mine
In the 1890’s Martin Solis, a local rancher and storekeeper in the area, discovered cinnabar, the red, quartz-like ore that is crushed and roasted to produce liquid mercury. Upon his discovery, he gave a sample to Ed Lindsey, the customs inspector at Boquillas.
According to the Solis Family, Lindsey then filed the mining claim for himself, cutting Solis out.
Lindsey lost the claim in 1905 to the Texas Almaden Mining Company, partially owned by the Sanger Brothers of Dallas, Texas. Isaac Sanger and his partners filed a suit alleging Lindsey was not mining in the same lands where he filed the mining claims. An official survey was done and found in favor of the Texas Almaden Mining Company and they received the rights in the disputed area. Lindsey later sold them what was left of his claim.
The mine closed in 1907-1908 after a crash in mercury prices.
In February 1916 William K Ellis acquired the mine, constructed a processing plant, and operated the mine until April 1919. Ellis then sold the mine to William D Burcham, former superintendent of the Study Butte mine, who dug deeper and upgraded and expanded the equipment. The mine operated until 1923 when it closed and most Mariscal residents moved away.
In 1942-1943, the mine was re-opened briefly during World War II. By 1948, most of the equipment had been disassembled and removed permanently.
Many remnants of the clay pipe tubes used to condense mercury vapors and other ruins, including housing, are still visible.
In the early days, the cinnabar ore was transported on burros to Study Butte and Terlingua where additional mining operations were taking place.
About 40 to 50 Mexican nationals who worked in the mines lived in the housing surrounding the mining operations, much of which is still standing today.
As you wander among the abandoned buildings, you’ll see other remnants of the time the mine was in operation.
Now the mine is only home to some bats and the occasional tourist.
You can learn more about the early mining operations in the area in the book Quicksilver: Terlingua and the Chisos Mining Company by Kenneth Baxter Ragsdale.