We lucked out with a windless night along our ridge on the eastern edge of the Clark Mountains. Hoping that out orientation would allow for some nice color at sunrise, I was up early to try and find the best angle from which to capture the splendor we were lucky enough to call home for a night.
Framed by Clark Mountain, there was just a hint of color in the sky.
Mike @Digiratus and Zane @Speedytech7 weren't far behind, and as I was wrapping up the morning photo session of their best-gen trucks, they were boiling water for coffee and beginning the process of packing up camp.
Our plan for the day was ambitious. We'd start - not far from camp - at the Coloseum Mine, make our way through the Kingston Range Wilderness, explore a couple of old mines and cabins along the old Tonopah and Tidewater rail grade, and then work our way back towards the Clark Mountains, to camp amongst the troglodyte village at the old Valley Wells Smelter site.
Turns out, given the road - or roadless, as we'd discover - conditions, it was too ambitious, but we were blissfully unaware of what lay ahead as we set out for the Coloseum Mine.
We could soon make out the mountain (literally) of material that had been moved in search of a shiny yellow metal.
Worked for many decades, the most profitable years for this mine were 1987-1993 when more than $100 million in gold was blasted out of the pit. During this time, it produced nearly 7000 oz. of gold per month, moving over 800,000 tons of material per month to accomplish the task. The operation ran 24 hours a day, and produced more than all the Mojave Preserve's other historic mines combined!
Hiking the Mojave Desert
The last time I'd visited this mine, it'd been abandoned. Today, however, a few shipping containers dotted the upper level, and as we peered over the side we could just make out a couple of drilling rigs just above the water line. We wondered aloud if there was some possibility of the mine reopening, and if so, whether the mountain of tailing should be the first plan of attack. Easy pickings as it were.
From the top, this is an impressive place.
Smart miners always drill first.
As the sun reflected off the stepped walls, the glass-like surface of the pool reflected every detail a second time.
While it might have been fun to wander down to the equipment, the place was well-signed against doing so - and anyway, we had placed to be - so after a few photos and a lot of "man, that's big," we were back in our Tacomas and headed down Yates Well Road.
This wouldn't be the last time Clark Mountain would come into view.
Several mines and cabins - including the, "it wasn't tilting before," Green's Cabin - along our descent have seen better days.
For much of the descent - some 1,500 feet or so - there wasn't much of a view as we were primarily travelling in a wash. As we neared the bottom however - transitioning off of Yates Well Road - we got a glimpse of what we were in for as the trail continued north into the Kingston Range Wilderness.
Before long, we were speeding along a long-ago-paved section of road toward the Excelsior Mine, a colorful Kingston Peak dazzling in the distance. "That looks like a mountain that must be full of good stuff to mine," Zane mentioned over the CB radio. It's rare that Zane comments on the geology or views - though I'm sure he enjoys them plenty - so I figured a stop was in order so we could all capture the view in our own way.
Which color should we mine today?
Zane wasn't going to miss this one.
Either was Mike.
After a couple dozen high-speed miles - enough that I was wondering if we'd make it even further along the route by the end of the day than I'd initially thought - we bailed off the pavement and back onto dirt, the route passing through one of the beefiest gates I've encountered as it began winding its way through Kingston Wash.
Though this gate was more pleasant to operate than the barbed-wire-and-wood-post variety, it was perhaps a little overkill for a place that sees so little traffic.
Geology is fascinating. Lava flows over fanglomerate.
Following tire tracks in the wash - essentially a pick-your-own-adventure as the "road" is frequently obliterated in heavy rains - we did our best to stay on the main route, content in our knowledge that any route we chose would ultimately lead us to the same destination. Except it wasn't quite so easy - at least not at the speeds our Tacoma's could travel - because part way down, I had a pit stop I wanted to make.
EMHT Mailbox #2.
Working our way around and having a good time doing it! turbodb (AdventureTaco), Digiratus, Speedytech7.
Where is Blackdawg?
After signing the book, I flipped to the front and found a nice intro describing what we're a part of.
Now, it turns out that I'd missed the turn to the mailbox - by about 50 feet - as we'd barreled down the wash. I'd flipped around as soon as I realized my mistake, and mentioned over the radio to Mike and Zane that I was headed off along a side road in search of the mailbox. When they hadn't shown up by the time I was done signing the register, I simply followed the sideroad downstream until it rejoined the main route.
Where were my buddies? I was all alone, and couldn't raise them on the radio!
After a quick horn honk - they must have been out of their trucks talking - I could hear the roar of engines and soon saw clouds of dust working their way toward me.
Once again we were three, and though I'd stopped several times to snap a photo of this or that along the way, we were still making very good time. Our false sense of security was growing strong!
It was 11:00am when we pulled into the parking area at Kingston Spring. With our daily schedule starting much earlier than normal for these trips, we'd eaten at about this time the previous morning, so I checked around to see if we should do the same today, mentioning, "The other option is that we wait half-an-hour or maybe forty-five minutes and eat at a couple of cabins that aren't too much further along the route."
Into the canyons at Kingston Spring. Looks like a nice hike for a future visit.
With a sales pitch like that - and more likely, given that they'd both been snacking a bit already - it was no wonder that both Zane and Mike were keen to wait until we reached Riggs Cabin before breaking out the sandwhich fixings. Back in the trucks, we continued our trek to the west.
It was in the Valjean Valley that our descent down the alluvial fan was abruptly interrupted by a left-hand turn. The direction of this turn isn't all that important, only the fact that our travel was now across the alluvial fan matters. As @mrs.turbodb and I had learned when we were hiking Military Canyon in the Owlshead Mountains of Death Valley, cross-fan travel may seem like a shorter or more direct route, but it is never a good idea.
Years of rain - no doubt capped by the epic flooding from Hurricane Hillary a few months before our visit - made the 7 miles of "road" between our current location and Riggs Cabin an utter nightmare. Slowly crawling alongside old rail grade - the grade itself washed out in so many places as to be impassable as a means of travel - we found ourselves in 4-Lo as we climbed and fell through the 28-24" channels of rock and debris that scared the landscape.
The Tonopah and Tidewater Railroad once raced across a bridge here. If only we could have done the same.
Eventually we turned towards the cabin, the road slightly more defined in certain places, but completely obliterated in others.
It took us more than two hours to travel the seven miles between Valjean and Riggs Cabin. No longer was there a question of whether it was time for lunch, rather it was a question of whether we could prepare lunch before we starved to death. To death, I say.
Of course, I'm prone to risk all sorts of injury and apparently even death in situations like this, so while Mike and Zane pulled ingredients out of their fridges for hearty sandwiches, I headed into the cabin to check out the digs.
Pretty nice place!
I especially liked this sign.
Then, it was time for a big old bowl of Wheat Chex - a cereal I bemoaned as a kid, but that is one of my favorites now - and some enormous, firm, red grapes as desert. I could tell that neither Zane nor Mike were jealous.
Given the time of day, it was clear at this point that our slow traverse of the alluvial fan - an exercise we'd need to continue along the next segment of our route - meant that we were not going to make it to Valley Wells. Reevaluating the situation, I hoped we'd be able to make it to the Silver Lake Mine, a mere seven miles further along the trail and some 49 miles short of our original camping destination!
After a quick pow-wow regarding the new plan, I let the guys know that I was going to run over to an old mill site and workings just around the corner from the cabin, since we'd exerted quite a bit of effort to get here and I didn't want to leave without seeing as much as I could, even if we weren't going to do a multi-hour, full-site exploration.
I don't know for sure that these foundations were part of a mill, but they sure seemed to fit the profile for some sort of concentration apparatus.
This cool crackled mud was just outside the adit entrance.
It was quite a bit warmer in here, out of the wind!
Back on the road, there was only one stop - another cabin - between us and the Silver Lake Mine, and we had a choice to make as to our approach. The sure method - and the one we'd agreed to take as we'd reevaluated over lunch - was to head back the way we'd come, suffering through the alluvial fan a second time. The other option was to take a more direct route, following a road that was no longer visible on the ground at Riggs Cabin, but that - if we could find it along the way - would cut the distance by 75%.
We probably should have stuck with the original plan, but as I'd wandered up and around the hill to the mine, I thought I spotted a short section of the shorter road in the distance. Relaying that to the guys over the radio, and as the leader of this rag-tag bunch, I set off across the roughest terrain yet, hoping for the best.
In the distance, our Jake's Place was nestled into the base of the Silurian Hills.
We lost the road to Jake's Place about halfway between the EMHT and the cabin, instead following the wash - as apparently others had done before us - to a secondary approach to the cabin via a rickety flight of stairs leading from the wash, which have somehow survived the flooding events that pummeled everything else in sight.
Not everyone could have made it up this narrow rocky route, but for us it was just a bit of slow fun.
Compared to most, this one looked built to last.
I loved the welcome on this door. For me, it really exemplifies the proper mindset for these special places in the desert.
Nicely kept place on the inside too. Very little evidence of rodent activity, no small feat in these parts!
Never found this at a cabin before. A recent note in the guest book related the finding of them scattered around outside on the ground. "Give 'em a shot," it urged.
With Mike having opted to stay with the trucks - his knee had been giving him some grief, and so a flight of rickety stairs wasn't something he wanted to tackle - Zane and I didn't spend long at Jake's place before heading back down to find our companion. He as a little way back down the wash, waiting for us - camera ready - at one of the obstacles we'd navigated on the way up. Hopefully he got a good shot or two!
And with that, we were on to the place we'd call home for the night. It was only 3:15pm, but getting to camp a little early was certainly better than arriving at our previously planned camp several hours after sunset. Plus, an early arrival would allow Mike an opportunity for a camp shower, and would also permit - for anyone interested - a more leisurely investigation of the structures and workings that I'd seen in satellite imagery as I'd planned the route through the Silver Lake Mine.
The clouds were looking strange - it must have been windy up there - as we made our approach.
We'd been driving through dramatic backdrops all day.
Once we found the road to the Silver Lake Mine, the going got quite a bit easier, though the terrain around it stayed the same. It's always surprising to me how much of an art road building can be, and the folks of the Silver Lake Mine had mastered their trade.
The first ore bin we came to emptied right into the wash.
Remnants of a railway, constructed with a base of the crushed talc ore that was being mined on site.
Approximately 7 miles northeast of the Silver Lake playa there are several old mine sites. The Silver Lake mine, first worked in 1916, is the oldest and largest operation. The other two mines have been operated continuously since the early 1940s. The combined output of the three totaled between 15,000 and 20,000 tons of talc in 1950.
Deposits of commercial talc in the vicinity of Silver Lake, were almost continuously mined from 1915 to the mid-1970s. They yielded an estimated 300,000 tons of metamorphosed sedimentary rocks. These deposits consist of mixtures of magnesian silicate minerals – mostly tremolite but also various proportions of talc, chlorite(?), serpentine, and forsterite. The products sold as commercial talc were used as a ceramic raw material and a paint ingredient. The talc-rich rock was also marketed as a lubricant in the manufacture of rubber goods.
This portal had been sealed recently, but many of the adits and shafts on the site were still open.
After driving much of the site with me, Zane headed into the sun to find wherever it was that Mike had setup camp.
After exploring what we could by truck, there was one thing nagging at me. The keen observer may have noticed it in a previous photo as well. At any rate, I knew I had to return for one more look.
If that's not an invitation to "come on in," I don't know what is.
Now, this adit had obviously been sealed up for what someone - likely someone who knew more than any of us - determined to be a good reason. And, as an upstanding citizen, I was in no position to bypass this elaborate barricade, even if said barricade contained an opening the perfect size for me to fold myself into.
So, I definitely didn't go in.
In fact, the following photos are - obviously, as anyone familiar with his LED-lit underground work will know - from Mike @mk5. I don't know when he visited, and he'd certainly never admit to remembering photographing this mine if he were asked, but I can confirm that the LED lights are his. I also have no idea how his photos ended up on my camera.
Just one of life's little mysteries, I guess.
There's no pot of gold at the end of this rainbow. A bit of talc, maybe.
The adit extended quite a way into the mountain, several branches and shafts running in various directions in an effort to follow the highest grade material. Along the way, the names of many miners who once worked this mine were painted onto the wall with axle grease, the oldest from 1906!
H.R. HEATH, CHELSEA, OKLA. (left) | Fred Hormell (right)
Larry Mulcahy 1906 Long Beach
As I returned to the portal, the light outside was turning orange.
With the sun only moments from dropping below the horizon, it was time to get back to camp. Surely by now, Mike and Zane would be ready to light the fire. Though, our elevation - 3,500 feet lower than the previous evening - meant that we'd likely keep the propane on low, using it mostly for the pleasant atmosphere it provided for "truck talk."
We'd end up chatting into the night, the moon rising and climbing high overhead before two of us couldn't take it anymore and excused ourselves for bed. As I'm prone to do, I'd found the highest spot around camp to call home for the night, so as I picked my way from the camp fire to my Tacoma, I found my mind wandering to the following day, and how far "behind schedule" today's roads had put us.
Because you know, when you're out here enjoying the desert, the "schedule" is the most important thing. Ha! That, and the knowledge that there were some amazing places in store for tomorrow, was enough to push any worry out of my mind, and before long, I drifted off to sleep.
The Whole Story
Looking for other segments of the EMHT? Check out
East Mojave Heritage Trail
for other trips where the other parts of this epic route were enjoyed.