California Hill

Type: General Entry

Published: 1952

Updated: December 1, 1994

California Hill, sometimes called California Mountain, is halfway between Terlingua and Lajitas in southwestern Brewster County (29°19' N, 103°41' W). It rises 3,328 feet above sea level. The hill consists of an erosional high made up of a massive, resistant variety of limestone underlain by a formation of clay and some interbedded flaggy limestone and friable sandstone. The limestone is responsible for the high topography, as it forms a resistant cap over the clay. The mountain is probably a remnant of an eroded mesa. The terrain in this area presents an eroded and rugged desert landscape with sparse Chihuahuan Desert scrub, especially creosote bush, lechuguilla, and ocotillo.

California Hill is the site of the first discovery in 1884 of quicksilver in what was to become the Terlingua Mining District (see MERCURY MINING). A California company took an early interest in the discovery, filed claim to the area, and initiated the first real mining operations in the Big Bend. The site of the operation became known as California Hill when, reportedly, one of the miners inscribed that name on one of the mountain's rock faces. The early endeavors of the Californians proved unsuccessful, although one of the richest mercury deposits in the country lay under the mountain. In 1899 California Hill became the site of the Marfa and Mariposa Mine, the largest quicksilver producer in the area until it closed in 1910. The mine was reopened briefly in 1916 and again during World War II.

Kenneth B. Ragsdale, Quicksilver: Terlingua and the Chisos Mining Company (College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 1976). Ronnie C. Tyler, The Big Bend (Washington: National Park Service, 1975).

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Anonymous, “California Hill,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed May 20, 2022,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

December 1, 1994