In 1911, prospector E.H. Bowman discovered the Sunflower Mine while attempting to locate a source of gold ore. Instead of gold, Bowman found large quantities of both cinnabar and malachite.
Cinnabar is the primary source for mercury in nature, and malachite contains copper. Mining began at the site around 1913, after the construction of a large combination extractor/roaster a short distance from the main entrance to the mine.
The mine was eventually purchased by the Sunflower Mining Company and operations continued over a period of 50+ years. The bulk of the processing occurred from 1925 to 1955.
However, the mine did not shut down permanently until 1982. During the years of its operation, it produced almost 4,000 flasks (sealed containers) of pure mercury, along with 2,000 pounds of copper, 1,000 ounces of silver, and 764 ounces of gold.
Today, the mine is degrading as nature begins the slow process of returning it to its natural state. This will take a long time, however, as its builders intended for it to withstand the punishment that hard rock mining entails.
Readily visible is the main part of the processing plant, located a short distance downslope from the mine.
This plant contains a complex configuration of a 20-foot high roasters stack and a 30-foot separator, composed of 10- to 12-foot sections of cast iron pipe, each about 6 feet in diameter. The entire plant is surrounded by a system of structural scaffolding. Chain link conveyor belts and ore chutes add to the overall complex.
It immediately comes to mind, that the act of building this plant in the narrow ravine where it sits, is literally mind boggling; especially considering its remote location and the difficulty in building an access road to it.
A hike to the mine can begin at a number of locations along the road that leads up to it.
The last two miles are in poor condition and should only be attempted by high clearance vehicles, of the four-wheel drive type or ATVs. It is very rocky, narrow, steep in places and clings to the sides of the surrounding hills, with a deep drop-off on the outside. This portion of the road is not a recommended drive for the inexperienced.
An additional caution: If there have been recent periods of heavy rain in the area, do not try to enter this last portion of the road. It passes over a creek bed in the ravine, and you could become trapped in it, should the creek reach flood stage.
To get there
From the intersection of Highways 87 and 260 in Payson, proceed south on 87 for approximately 30 miles. Upon reaching the top of the pass, below Mount Ord, watch for a turnoff on the right side of the highway. It will have a sign that indicates that it leads to Sycamore Creek.
This road leads down to where the older portion of Highway 87 still exists. Follow this road for 1.2 miles and watch for a turnoff to a gravel road (FR 25) on the right. There is a stop sign, cattle guard, and a fence at the intersection. Turn right on this road and continue on for 3.8 miles until you reach another intersection with FR 25A. Turn left onto this road.
From here on in, the road may not be in good condition and could become nearly impassable during wet weather. Proceed along this road for about two miles as it parallels a small creek. You will eventually reach a gate (posts only) and a parking area.
This is where you should start your hike, if going in on foot. Follow the road as it climbs up along the sides of the hills and winds around before dropping down to the creek itself.
It will eventually cross over a relatively newly built bridge before crossing over the creek in several places. After about a quarter mile, it will enter an open, somewhat flat area, containing large trees that line the banks of the creek.
There is usually water in the creek year-round and quiet pools of crystal clear water, interspersed between gurgling waterfalls abound for the visitor. The road will soon leave this pleasant little valley and climb up the side of one of the slopes. It then reaches a switchback and a subsidiary mine entrance.
Head up the switchback to the actual site of the processing plant.
The mine itself sits high above the plant on a narrow road that passes through a number of switchbacks before reaching the entrance. Keep in mind that the mine has been inactive for a long time, and entering and exploring it could be risky.