Just to remind everyone where we left off - we'd found the perfect camp site, with one minor caveat: it was located about 25 feet from a rather deep, Tacoma-sized, hole in the ground. With no barriers.
"If you get up during the night to pee, do it on the driver side of the truck,"
The main shaft of the Bonanza King
Framed by enormous lumber, this is one of the most impressive shafts in the preserve. It plunges down 600 straight feet, then continues as a winze for another 200 feet. When the shaft encountered a new ore body, a drift was sunk along it as far as the ore would run. This shaft eventually developed six levels and nearly four miles of tunnels. It produced a cornucopia of minerals: cerussite, argentite, sphalerite, bromyrite, smithsonite, cerargyrite, and galena. Its size is mirrored by the volume of the tailings - the 100-yard-long pile of waste rocks around it and the conical hill looming besides the mill. The tailings still hold an estimated 2,500 pounds of silver.
With only a few miles left until we finished Segment 3 of the East Mojave Heritage Trail - and a flight that didn't leave Las Vegas until 5:00pm - we weren't in any huge rush to get going on this final morning of our adventure.
Still, I very much enjoy the 30 minutes or so before sunrise - the landscape illuminated but shadowless - so I threw on my sweatshirt and grabbed the camera for a quick survey of the Bonanza King Mine.
We really couldn't have asked for a nicer spot.
Not to be outdone by the sky above, the Providence Mountains were showing off as the sun crested the horizon.
After wandering around for a few minutes - and careful to steer clear of the swiss-cheesed swaths of hillside - I climbed back into the tent for a bit more snuggle time, and to discuss our plan for the day.
Half an hour later, and all warmed up, we were dressed and heading up the hillside. My suggestion - that we wander into some of the swiss-cheese - wasn't so much agreed to as it was acknowledged, but we both love following the old mining trails, and some of the adits had neat rock platforms at their entrances, so @mrs.turbodb was happy to explore.
When you can't decide whether to dig left or dig right, why not both?
Inside, it was a maze of tunnels and shafts.
We scurried from one complex of openings to another, knowing that many of them likely connected beyond the distance which we were willing to explore.
In the spring of 1880, two prospectors from Ivanpah, George Goreman and Pat Dwyer, stumbled upon high-grade silver ore while poking around the Providence Mountains. True to their trade, they filed claims, and the following year sold the richest one - the Bonanza King - to four businessmen from San Bernardino. One of them was Jonas B. Osborne, who he sank a few exploratory tunnels to show how good his ore was and to attract investors. In 1882, after a rich vein was exposed, Senator George Hearst, one of the world's richest men of the time and an astute mining investor, became interested. Well aware of Osborne's keen eye for mineral wealth, he acquired the Bonanza King for $200,000. The claim thus became the property of the Bonanza King Consolidated Mining and Milling Company, and with Hearst's solid backing, development began.
Through 1882, the new company hired upward of 100 miners to sink a huge shaft and access the silver veins. This small army was housed in the town of Providence, parallel rows of stone houses strung down a sloping alluvial plain next to the mine. A post office was added in June, and in the fall the booming town was large enough to become an election precinct. In July, the company put in its last major piece of equipment, a 10-stamp mill that it purchased and hauled from San Francisco for $50,000.
The mill went into operation on January 1, 1883. The ore came out of wide veins containing as much as $100 in silver and gold per ton, and there was plenty of it. Six months later, the mill had already churned out $573,000 in bullion. The outlook was so bright that the company started offering stock on the New York mining exchange. For two full years, the Bonanza King Mine operated at a nice profit, spending on average $20,000 in supplies and wages and earning a minimum of $35,000 every month. It even paid its stockholders regular dividends, a rare feat for a desert mine. In early 1885, the shaft reached 800 feet below the surface, and production topped the $1.5 million mark.
As in any mining venture, the mine's welfare was at the mercy of the market. In March 1885, when the price of silver dipped from around $1.10 an ounce to near $1, profits slipped, and the mine owners suspended operations. It might have been a ploy to lower wages, because a week later they reopened the mine but hired miners for at a reduced pay - from $3.50 to $3.00 - per day. With a team of 40 men working the tunnels, 35 running the mill, and the ore looking as good as ever, production resumed at a whopping average of $60,000 a month - nearly double what it'd been prior to the wage cut! But just when everything was running smoothly again, the Bonanza King was dealt a second blow, this one fatal: in late July 1885 its mill was destroyed by fire.
Like many mines with prior success, the Bonanza King Mine came back to life - many times. Between 1906, and 1920, at least three companies gave it a go, each one revamping and modernizing the equipment, but each one producing less silver than the last. Then, in 1923, another company - grand plans to dewater the shaft and push downward exploration - gave it a go with a team of six men. One lone car full of ore came out of the aging shaft in May 1924.
The Bonanza King Mine retired with a whimper, but it did it with pride. In its long career, it produced silver amounting to $1.8 million between 1883 and 1887, and at approximately $70,000 after 1901 - one of the richest historic mines in the east Mojave Desert.
Looking into (left) and out of (right) one of the few horizontal adits we found. Even this adit was filled with stopes, rooms, and shafts that dropped hundreds of feet. Watch your step!
Wooden supports in rainbow stopes.
We'd spent nearly two hours by the time we picked our way down the overgrown and disintegrating miner trails and got the camp stowed for the final time. That gave us a couple more hours - since I wanted to drop the Tacoma off by about 2:00pm - to make our way over to the nearby Silver King Mine, by way of a deteriorating road and the old Bonanza King mill.
This road was flexier than it looks, but no problem at all.
Remnants of the 1920s-era resurrection.
Old tanks, once used to facilitate the movement of material through the mill.
After a short journey on a rock road, we found ourselves at a wilderness boundary, and the beginning of our hike to the Silver King mine. This place is much smaller than the Bonanza King, but still sports three deep vertical shafts, two adits, and an old (collapsed) headframe, in addition to the ruins of a few cabins.
No motor vehicles beyond this point.
Off we go!
According to these tracks we found, wilderness boundaries don't apply to UTVs.
A couple miles round trip, the hike up the wash is a pleasant one. Halfway to the mine we came upon what were once two "twin" cabins, one of which has now collapsed, time and weather taking their toll on the simple sheet metal construction. As we neared the mine shafts further up the wash, I found the remnants of a quarried rock building, one of the more interesting - and unique - things that we'd see in our explorations. The sheer amount of work that must have gone into quarrying and then shaping these enormous stones is unfathomable - even if the building was, as it appears, never completed.
Even if the mine wasn't a huge success, the miners sure knew how to pick the views!
"You know, instead of mining silver, I think I'll quarry some worthless stone for a cabin."
This agave caught my eye on the way up the wash toward the mine.
After a bit more dodging of catclaw and mesquite in the wash, the tailings piles of the Silver King came into view. Quite large, they were a good indicator that the vertical shafts were no joke, a fact we confirmed when we tossed a rock into the void, the echos taking several seconds for to die out.
A rather wimpy ladder on the now-collapsed headframe.
A wooden collar and door on one of the adits wasn't really necessary. This adit was only a couple dozen feet deep!
Ultimately - without some ropes and serious safety equipment - there wasn't much to see during our second visit to the Silver King. Frankly, even with a means into the shafts, I'm not sure that'd be a smart move - the openings not collared in any way, rocks and debris sure to cascade down during any descent/ascent that might be attempted. And with that, we headed back to the Tacoma.
As we exited the Mojave National Preserve - the Providence Mountains rising in the distance - it was @mrs.turbodb who noticed that the NPS logo had been stolen from the entrance sign.
Probably a UTVer.
From the Preserve boundary to Fenner wasn't very far, and with only wide-open desert between us and there, we made better time than we usually do ...when we're easily distracted by just about anything!
Moar gas pipeline road.
As usual, fuel in Fenner was essentially highway robbery. Luckily, with three Scepter jerry cans, we had plenty to get us back to Vegas.
From Fenner, it was all pavement and much skinny pedal as we headed little bit east, but mostly north. Along the way, we stopped only twice: once, a quick stop in Goffs - so @mrs.turbodb could see some of what I'd seen a few weeks earlier; a second time at a BNSF rail crossing - having chased a 175-car freight train for the better part of 15 miles, the Tacoma straining at speeds rarely reached.
The best way to move truck trailers.
Two trains meet.
Six locomotives - 1120, 3876, 6941, 7889, 3697, and 7061.
The generators were purring away.
We'd arrive in Las Vegas just after noon, our Chipotle order already placed, our chips and burritos waiting to be consumed. We'd had a great time on Segment 3 of the EMHT, and it was only a matter of time before we'd be back - to tackle the final miles of Segment 4, through the Turtle Mountains.
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.