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1,350 Feet Underground | Mine Mania #1

So. Many. Mines.

I must admit to not really understanding what I was getting myself into when I started looking into a trip to the Dale Mining District, just east of Joshua Tree National Park. I mean sure, I knew there were a handful - or two handfuls - or maybe three - of mines, but nothing really prepared me for the sheer number of sites until I was driving around on the roads. Hundreds - perhaps even thousands - of tailings piles dotted the landscape. #overwhelmingmuch?

After flying down to Las Vegas - which is so much better than driving - I'd arranged to meet Mike @mk5 at a point on the map where he thought he'd have cell signal for some last-minute work meetings that he had to attend prior to our little adventure.

So a late-day meetup in Old Dale sounds great. I'll take my morning meeting at home, then head out there so as to be in cell service for the afternoon call. That would put me up on Doberman Mountain around sunset and into the evening, for a good cell signal.

The mountain ridgelines will probably be cold and windswept, but you seem to prefer epic views over natural shelter, so perhaps this west-facing (and cell-tower-facing) overlook would make a good camp site.

Assuming the road is passable to get up there.

Should the weather be too unfavorable up high, or you suddenly embrace the natural human tendency to favor shelter over exposure, we could camp nearer the base of the mountain. There is a nice dune area to the left, just as the road heads up from the valley floor. And some massive (yet tragically littered) tailing fields with excellent wind shelter as one approaches the saddle. Both are excellent camping sites that I would normally favor over the mountaintop exposure... although truth be told, I haven't tried to camp up on the mountain... maybe it's great up there, too.Mike

Of course, by the time evening rolled around, we were both running late. Initially I thought this was perfect - since Mike happened to catch up with me along as I was headed east through Yucca Valley and Twentynine Palms on CA-62 - as it meant that he could lead the way to camp. It wasn't until just now that I realized his early arrival would have allowed him to have dinner waiting for me when I got there.

Lesson learned - I need to be even later next time.

Mike's camps are a bit more elaborate than my usual "park somewhere" set ups.

We caught up on this and that as Mike prepped his - famous, he assures me - dutch-oven-chicken-stew-pot-pie-thing that - he also assured me - his "wife makes better." Needless to say, it was quite tasty, and we did our best to eat the entirety of the 12 servings he'd created before finally heading off to bed somewhere around midnight.

Exploring into mine adits, shafts, etc. is not safe. I joke around about that a bit in this story, but I just want to be clear: Stay out, stay alive.

The Following Morning (at the Supply Mine)

Given our late arrival, we'd opted for one of the sheltered, lower elevation camps that Mike knew about, rather than working our way up Doberman Mountain in the dark. So, knowing that I'd be the only one awake for the next hour or so, I wandered off to explore the Supply Mine that climbed from the wash where we'd parked to a mid-level saddle above us.

Looks like it's going to be a beautiful morning!

The first of many eroding tailings piles we'd see on this trip.

The first of many wildflowers I'd see on the trip.

In fact, I hadn't planned to get all the way to the saddle, but every time I investigated something a little further up the hillside, there was something else just a short distance away. Eventually, I was looking down on the foundation of the old mill - or at least one placement of the old mill.

Mill foundations.

Heading back to camp, I encountered this "decorated" foundation nearby.

I always knew funr was a word.
"It is funr to explore a place like this with a buddy."

Arriving back in camp a wee bit after 8:00am, I found Mike huddled above his propane fire ring trying to warm up and mumbling about breakfast. He'd brought eggs and other fixings - pancakes I think he mentioned. Whatever it was - and despite my pestering that he had a gourmet reputation to uphold from the previous evening - it never got made, and I had to settle for Cheerios. Not that I was complaining - or even planned to mention it - until someone referred to them as Kibble.

While Mike put away camp, I poked around under his hood.

All Day at the Carlyle Mine

Rolling out of camp just after 9:00am, Mike proposed that we head up Doberman Mountain - past the location he'd suggested we camp had we arrived as planned the previous afternoon - to an old mine on the back side of the mountain. It was one that we could access either from the top or bottom, and even without discussing it, we'd both looked at the elevations involved and decided that we could check out the top bits from the top, the bottom bits from the bottom, and leave the middle unexplored.

It was a good idea, until we tried to implement it.

Those silver Tacomas always have nice contrast with their surroundings.

Climbing away from the Supply Mine.

Somehow Mike - the one of us who'd been here before and knew where we were going - got me to lead the way up to the Carlyle, a steep, narrow, loose-and-rocky road that I've since seen referred to as "the most dangerous road in Dale."

I don't think it really was the most dangerous, but there were a few blind corners with precipitous drops, and I was glad to be in the narrower of our two trucks!

Nearing the top.

Having climbed more than 1,000 feet in a little less than a mile, we worked our way along the ridge until we reached an overlook above the upper workings of the Carlyle Mine. There was no real good place to turn around, so Mike made sure to box me in at this point, and then laugh and point. Or something.

The end of the road, above Wonder Valley.

Enjoying the view.

The upper workings of the Carlysle were visible some 300 feet below.

The Carlyle mine, also known as the Carlysle or Carlisle mine, was first discovered in 1902 but extensive development of the mine didn’t start until 1911 when a mill was built sometime in the 1910s.

In 1936, the Carlyle Mining Corporation was incorporated and brought in a well-known mining engineer from Grass Valley, California, Ernest Ellis who oversaw the installation of a new modern ball mill and a new powerplant consisting of a 250 horsepower Fairbanks-Morse diesel engine connected to a 150 KVA electric motor.

Opening the lower adit to more than 1,500 ft and the upper adit a similar distance into the mountain, the miners followed a vein of silver and gold with more than 5,000 ft of crosscuts, drifts, and raises. A two-bucket aerial tramway carried the material down to the mill where water was pumped in via a three-inch pipe from Dale Lake.

The mine’s heyday only lasted a few short years though. On October 10, 1940, the mill, buildings, and all equipment were disposed of by on-site auction, though the mine was still being worked part-time by a lessee. With no mill, ore was being shipped to the Gold Crown Mill for processing until WWII closed the mine for good in 1941.

It produced more than $125,000 in gold, silver, copper, and lead over its life.Guy Starbuck

Having picked our way down the hillside, we soon found ourselves face-to-face with our first adit of the trip.

Not really knowing what to expect - and most definitely not ready for what we found - we pulled out our flashlights and plunged into the darkness. Somehow - slow to learn my lesson from only moments earlier on the trail - I was in front.

Looking back towards safety.

I don't know if Mike generally goes as far into mines as we did with the upper adit at the Carlyle, but somehow we just kept pushing deeper and deeper into the mountain. I had no idea how far we'd gone, and I found myself wondering how Mike knew that we were 500-, 600-, 900-feet underground.

Eventually, I realized that each of the stope chutes was labeled with the distance to the entrance, and Mike was just reading them as we went by.

567 feet in.

860 feet.

In addition to stope chutes, there were quite a few raises leading both up and down from the adit. None of the ladders seemed all that inviting though.

Many of the raises were doubled, with the non-ladder side used as a chute for ore, and a little worse for the wear.

We'd eventually get to more than 1,350-feet underground before turning around, probably only a good 1,300-feet deeper than I generally venture into human mouse traps such as this. Really though, the most interesting bits were a bit closer to the entrance, and we definitely wanted to investigate those a bit more closely.

Mike investigating an inclined shaft closer to the entrance as I "stayed safe" on the main level.

Mike got this shot as he came back up the inclined shaft.

Oh, you noticed that skeleton silhouette in the last photo? Meet Twiggy, the mine dog.

By the time we completed our "entirely safe" poking around underground, more than two hours had passed. About one hour and fifty-six minutes longer than my usual adit explorations, I was ready for daylight and thrilled to follow an old steel cable down the hillside to one of the - now collapsed - aerial tramway towers.

The old drive wheel had been pulled from its location at the upper workings when the tramway collapsed.

After reaching the collapsed tower - just a pile of timbers that didn't photograph well - we had a decision to make: keep hiking down to the middle-level workings (knowing we'd have that much higher to climb back up), or head up now so that we could drive to the bottom of the mine, where we could then hike up to the lower and middle levels.

Mike pulled out his flying camera to help us decided if hiking down was worthwhile.

Ultimately - given that we were both a bit hungry and that we'd already descended farther than we'd planned - we made the correct decision to head back the way we'd come, allowing us to grab a bite to eat and split up the steep terrain a bit with some seat time in the Tacomas.

Lunch spot with a view. I think this is where Mike would have had us camp the previous evening, which we totally should have done!

Heading back down...

Plenty of winching capabilities in this photo.

After crashing - and then finding - his drone, Mike continued on down the mountain.

Nearly back to the Supply Mine.

Despite the fact that old-timers had somehow hauled all kinds of very heavy gear and materials up to the upper workings of the Carlyle Mine, the only way - today - for us to reach the bottom, was to retrace our path to the saddle I'd hiked before sunrise. Then, continuing north - on a bumpy-but-not-technically-difficult road - we bounced our way to JT19-this and eventually JT19-that. Not that those numbers really tell you anything.

As a side note to map makers everywhere - naming all the roads in an area JT#### is a pain in the ass for anyone trying to describe where to go or where they've been. "Hey Mike, have to you been out to the mine at the end of JT1234," is not nearly as useful as asking if he's been out Ironage Rd. Just sayin'.

Good thing I'm not a Wile E. Coyote!

It was a little after 3:00pm when we pulled up to the Carlyle Mine for the second time in a single day. I'd be holding back if I didn't admit to a wee bit of disappointment - at the time - in our inability to explore more of this vast area over the course of an entire daylight cycle. Still, we were both excited given our earlier totally safe foray into the adit, and I expected that the lower end of the mine - with still-standing tramway towers - would be even more interesting.

Not far from the end of the road, the foundation of the now-auctioned-off mill cascaded down the hillside.

I don't know what this says, but it's colorful.

It's cool man, it's cool.
(Actually, grafitti is not cool, kids.)

Keenly aware that we had less time to explore the lower workings, several aerial tram towers, and the middle workings of this fascinating mine than we'd spent in a single adit in the upper workings, we didn't waste any time at the mill. In fact, Mike mentioned after the fact that he didn't take a single photo, so he must have been really excited to get into the next adit!

Heading up the hillside, we were soon at the lower workings. An even safer adit conveniently presented itself, and in we went.

A bit of colorful ore outside the lower adit might have headed home with one of us.

Totally safer.

Yep, this place oozes safety and happiness.

This time, Mike wasn't able to trick me into going first.

We didn't wander quite as far into this adit as we had the last. Frankly, it was pretty similar in that it had stopes and shafts leading up and down, and so a mere 1,000 feet or so was far enough for us before turning back to capture a few photos of the more interesting bits.

You can do a lot of stupid stuff in 1,000 feet.

We found this cool room.

It was fun watching Mike light up the stopes (and other features) and then snapping my own photos as if I'd done all the work. Later, this would come back to bite me.

Heading back out of the lower adit, we pointed ourselves up the old mining trail and towards the tramway that'd been teasing us all day with one hour of daylight remaining.

I don't know why, but I'm a sucker for aerial tramways. And dugouts. And ore carts.

"They'll think I have a drone if I take the shot like this." -Mike
[click] "No, they won't." -Dan

As much as I love tram towers, we didn't spend much time at this one - there just wasn't much of it left, and what was, was decaying rapidly. Instead, we pushed on to the final - middle - level of workings, hoping to find an adit as we had at the top and bottom.

In fact, there was an adit, but it was different than the other two. Outside, we were distracted for several minutes by a geocache and Mike even traded one invaluable thing for another before heading into the totally safest of all the adits we'd explore throughout the day.

This was a cool find!

Adding our names to the rarely-updated visitor log.

The fact that the entrance was almost entirely filled with rubble... that screams "safe," right?

The coolest thing that we found in this middle adit - in my opinion - was a series of names and writing on the walls from the miners who'd called this their workplace nearly a century ago. I don't know if I've never seen this before, or just never really noticed it, but after seeing these writings, I've noticed several more in mines I've visited since. They add a fun twist - not to mention clues about the workings of the mine - if you know how to read them.

R. E. Schooler (no date).

Bill Carter, 1935 | V M Toplee | Sump Smith
(and some notes to fix the air system)

While Mike poked around a bit more - always creating cool compositions with his LEDs - I made my way back out to the adit entrance, hoping to catch the last rays of light as the sun raced towards the horizon.

Lucky me, I happened to catch the tramway backlit by the glowing Sheephole Mountain Wilderness.

A few minutes later we were headed back down the old miner's trail to our trucks. There were several of these trails, and we'd make the fateful decision to take a different one than we'd followed up the mountain.

The Tacomas are down there somewhere.

Back at the trucks, we decided to push on through the darkness - back out to a few miles of pavement at CA-62 before heading out the Ironage Road - to camp at one of the largest pit mines in the area. And, it was only as we pulled into camp - an hour later - at the Ironage Mine that Mike realized he'd taken off - and left - his coat on the trail we'd take up (but not down) at the lower Carlyle Mine.

Luckily for him, it was my night to make dinner, allowing him to push his truck to speeds that definitely just as safe as the adits we'd been exploring, making the roundtrip and retrieving his coat in the same time we'd completed the one-way journey just a few minutes earlier.

Dinner of taco-rittoes and a few minutes around the propane fire were all we could muster after a long day of trudging up and down hillsides and breathing totally safe air deep inside Doberman Mountain.

Having arrived in the dark, we had no idea what we'd wake up to in the morning, but one thing was for sure - we already had plans to make it more exciting than the last!



The Whole Story


    JOHN D MORAN March 20, 2023

    Nice scenery and interesting mines but I definitely wouldn't be on that mountain road with my truck, too wide, too heavy, and way TOO SCARY!

    • turbodb
      turbodb March 23, 2023

      I was definitely glad to have a narrow truck when I was on that road John. Even the extra width of Mike’s 2nd gen Tacoma would have been a bit less comfortable for me, but there was obviously enough room for it. It was nice to have the approach and departure angle of my truck as compared to his however, as he drug his rear bumper in a couple places.

  2. Nrautaki
    Nrautaki March 27, 2023

    How do you know if these mines are illegal trespassing or not or are even safe to go in?

    • turbodb
      turbodb March 27, 2023

      By and large, this area is BLM (public) land, so as far as trespassing or not, it's important to understand and respect signage, gates, etc. as you would on any other such land. As for safety... well, that's a personal decision that you'd have to make for yourself; it is never safe to go into a mine, even an active one.

  3. Debbie
    Debbie March 27, 2023

    Enjoying your pictures. I go out with my husband and sometime my sons four wheeling and rockhounding. I don’t go in the mines too afraid of bats ? and collapsing!! So I stay out . Sometimes the places we go I tell them let me out I will walk and I do , until we get pass those scary drop offs on those high dirt skinny rocky roads . Good memories and pretty rocks!?????

    • turbodb
      turbodb March 27, 2023

      Glad you're enjoying them Debbie, always puts a smile on my face when folks let me know! As for going into the mines - I'm right there with you most of the time, and only went in this time b/c my buddy seemed like it was perfectly normal. (I later discovered that it might not be normal for him, either, hahaha!)

      And, as far as getting out and walking... I might have a passenger who does the same at times! ? I think you two might have more brains than the bozo's driving... ?. Have fun out there rock hounding, there's so much cool stuff to see and collect!

  4. Gussie
    Gussie April 10, 2023

    Heya Turbodb, GREAT post. You guys remind me of our little 4WD group, The Village Idiots. There's one in every town ; )
    Anyway, I was wondering if you needed lockers on that rough patch of 'road'. I'm not even sure if you have them - I don't on my Tacoma. Just some Bilsteins and 10-ply AT's.
    Thanks for an entertaining post.

    • turbodb
      turbodb April 10, 2023

      Glad you enjoyed the post, Gussie. I do have lockers on my Tacoma, but I wouldn't say they are required on any of those roads, assuming the right driver skill level and line choice. But then, I'm one of those guys who turns the lockers on only when I can't make it without them, so I'm sure a lot of folks would feel more comfortable with the lockers on from the get go in a situation like that. Have fun out there! ?

  5. Joseph McIntyre
    Joseph McIntyre June 21, 2023

    Peaks For Freaks, a peak bagging website, has a good photo essay of a 2015 traverse across the ridgeline of The Sheephole Mountain Wilderness you mentioned.

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