Sometimes it’s not about the big trips. Time off work, mileage, cost and complexity limits the amount you can get out there and enjoy the outdoors. While it’s fun to chase the over-landing dream and cover as much distance as possible, it’s also a great time and a bit more relaxing to keep it local. Living in Southern California may be expensive, but it has it’s perks. Within 2 hours I can pull out of the garage and be at one of many local playgrounds, whether it be low desert, high desert or the mountains. So with that in mind and a open weekend on my hands, I decided it’d be the perfect opportunity to further explore the Old Dale Mining District.
Sandwiched in-between the vast Joshua Tree National Park, Old Dale hosts a diverse network of trails – everything from smooth sandy washes to tough and unforgiving rock filled shelf roads. But what really makes the area a great place to explore is the amount of abandoned and forgotten mining history. At one point this portion of the desert was bustling with activity and traffic. Claims were filed, cabins built, mills constructed, roads graded, wells dug and families relocated to support prospectors trying to strike it rich in the ore filled mountains.
I haven’t been able to find much in the form of documentation or pictures from the era other then the great articles put together over at Death Valley Jim, his site has been a fantastic resource. Suppose the lack of information makes it that much more of a mystery and a great destination for a local escape from the daily grind.
After work on Friday, I met up with my cousins who were eager to try out their freshly built Tacoma and within an hour we were airing down tires and heading for our camp spot. Surprisingly the two spots I had in mind were already occupied by other campers marking the first time I’ve come across other people in Old Dale. We had to backtrack a little ways and found something suitable for the night. In the morning we made our first stop at the Mission mine. By far the most modern and recently worked in the area. A massive steel head-frame for a elevator and ore processing equipment still stand.
Next up on our route was the Sunset and Golden Egg Mines. Gold Crown Road leading up to these operations gets rougher the further you get from the smooth valley floor.
The trail leading down to the Golden Egg mine gets increasingly more narrow the further you get down the canyon but poses no issues for vehicles. Once at the bottom there is plenty of room to turn around. We had a great time searching around the hillside as there are a few audits and a tremendous amount of relics to check out.
Trail to the left leads to the Mission mine. To the right in the canyon is the Golden Egg mine. Eagle Mountain is off in the distance.
Once at the top of the Pinto Mountains we decided to check out the Gold Crown mine. The amount of concrete foundations and the 4 vertical shafts visible from satellite imagery makes it apparent this was a major player in the area. Everything was going smoothly on the trip there until we ran into a road block…
This is the 5th desert tortoise we’ve come across, two of them being in the Old Dale area. We kept out distance and checked em’ out from afar. Amazing how they survive in such a unforgiving environment.
The satellite imagery didn’t lie – the area was sprinkled with concrete slabs and walls. It must have been quite a sight to see in it’s heyday when operations were underway. We also found a couple vertical shafts that gave Jacob a opportunity to repel for the first time with his new gear. The solid walled and back-filled shaft was ideal for getting some real world experience lowering down and getting back out of mother earth. Baby steps and practice will slowly build the confidence needed to descend into the real deal.
We loaded up and headed north across the valley floor to reach the Humbug and northern Pinto Mountains.
Just below the Supply mine is a large sand dune nestled in a small valley that ended up being a great lunch spot for us. It’s a shame that the area has been nearly ruined from people burning vehicles and not picking up shooting targets. TV’s, clay pigeons and what now resembles trash is skewed in every direction. Although it was a odd mixture of serene desert and a soon to be landfill, we took the opportunity to get out of the ever increasing wind and relax before heading up to check out the upper workings of the mine.
Journey to the top on Doberman Mountain road was the first time low range and careful tire placement was needed. A couple sections presented uneven and off camber challenges all while climbing a steep and loose rock trail. More concrete foundations and shafts awaited at the peak
Lost in thoughts about what it must have been like to live, build and work here, time seemed to slip by. Before we knew it the sun was getting ready to set and the wind became something fierce. Trying to locate new mines came to a halt and instead finding refuge from the fast moving air was now priority. Thankfully it was easy to find. Just below the mountain side was a tailing pile that was a perfect windbreak. That night, we enjoyed the cooler weather, a warm campfire, adult beverages and a constant flow of laughter.
In the morning, Lucy and I watched the sunrise slowly change the color of the desert from our trusty Tepui tent. Gentle breeze, remarkable view, cool temperature and absolute silence was an incredible way to wake up. If only every day could be so similar.
A new gadget to play with is what ultimately got me out of the tent. My buddy, Ray, had kindly purchased a Oxx CoffeeBox to caffeinate our adventures. What a treat it is to push a button and have a hot cup of your favorite joe far away from civilization.
Before leaving we grabbed a couple of trash bags and cleaned the area in which we camped. Hundreds, if not thousands of shot gun shells and bullet casings were left behind by shooters that have made it back here to blast away at the mountain side. It took us maybe 10 minutes to pick up trash left behind and make the entire area nicer for the next group that decides to explore and/or camp here. If everyone did the same, or simply picked up after themselves, many areas would be much nicer. Such a shame that people think of the desert as a dump and treat it as a wasteland.
Only 20 minutes separated us from the highway and a straight shot to the famous Pioneertown for breakfast. 2 nights and days of camping and exploring the desert, full bellies and home a little after noon. Just like that, a otherwise unproductive and boring weekend can be made into an adventure.
Until next time…