Trek Date: November 10, 2014
Yes, I made that name up. I needed something for the title of this post. But it seemed appropriate, as the site is on the side of Queen Mountain. And as my research proved fruitless regarding the mine's name and history, I'm going to stick with Queen Mountain Mine until I can uncover some hard rock evidence that says otherwise.
The Back Story
A few weeks prior to this trip, I was hiking along a small ridge that overlooked a portion of Queen Valley and Queen Mountain beyond. I noticed an old road that led from a small pass through the ridge I was on, across the valley and towards Queen Mountain. In most cases, old roads like this had a reason for being made. They generally lead to a homestead, a water source, or mining activity. All things that I enjoy investigating. Of course, it could also have been a road leading to an old trailhead for Queen Mountain. In any case, I made a note to check Google Earth when I returned home, to see what I could find.
My mystery road was plain to see on Google Earth. I traced its path from the Queen Mountain parking area at the end of Odelle Road, over the small ridge where I had first discovered it, and across the valley northwards, to a point where it dead ended on the lower slopes of Queen Mountain. The image above shows the last portion of the road and the spot where it ends. A very faint trail, marked with a rock cairn, continued on towards the east.
What peaked my interest, however, was that small grey area at the point of the red arrow. It looked like mine tailings. And that's usually all it takes for me to hit the trail.
The Front Story
I parked Old Blue at the Queen Mountain parking area, located at the end of Odelle Road. It's a great spot to leave your car and head out into Queen Valley, as there are several old roads and trails leading to such destinations such as the Queen Valley Pictograph Boulder, the Monstead Tunnels, and Queen Mountain itself.
My research told me that I was looking at roughly a two-mile roundtrip hike, so I gathered up my gear: Snacks, check. Flashlight, check. Plenty of water, check. Camera, check. Ten plus essentials, check. I put my destination's coordinates into my GPS, as well as my truck's current location. It's always a good idea to know where your vehicle is parked and how to get back to it. Case in point, the same day I took this hike a 36-year-old "hiker" had to be rescued that very evening. He had strayed off a trail and couldn't find his way back to his car. And it was getting dark. He was extremely lucky in that he was in an area that had a cel phone signal. Which means he wasn't really very far into the park as there is no signal at all in 99.99% of J Tree. I'm guessing he was near either the west or north entrance to the park. He was able to make a call, a rescue search complete with CHP helicopter ensued, he was located and returned to his vehicle. Don't be that guy. Make sure you know where you're going and how to get back to your car. I wonder who is going to pay for that search.... Back on point, I was ready to go.
Right near the parking area there is a long, cement slab. At one end a metal pipe sinks into the ground. Maybe a test well? Could the cement slab have been a foundation for machinery or a building? I'm not sure, but right nearby are a couple prospect holes, so maybe a brief bit of mining occurred here at some point.
I started heading towards the low notch in the hills ahead of me, which can be seen to the very left of the photo above. I knew I would very soon cross the old road that I would be following for the rest of this trip.
And in just a couple minutes, I was on the road again. Goin' places that I've never been, seein' things that I may never see again and I can't wait to get on the trail again (apologies to Willie Nelson). I continued on.
When I reached the summit over the small pass, I stopped for a moment and took the above picture looking back towards Old Blue. There are certainly a lot of Joshua Trees in this section of Queen Valley. Turning back to the trail ahead, the road stretched out to cross the valley and towards my destination.
All the while I was hiking along the road, I kept scanning the hillside in front of me, looking for any sign of the tailings I had spotted on Google Earth, but they eluded me. Funny enough, they are actually visible in the two photos above, once you know where to look for them. But just up ahead, there was an interesting pile of dark colored rocks. I named them the Horse Droppings formation.
This shallow prospect hole is directly south of the Horse Droppings formation. I often wonder what the early prospectors saw that would cause them to start digging in spots like this. There must have been something that said, "Hey! There could be GOLD here! Dig!" Perhaps a quartz outcropping, or some other indicator that there might be something of value hidden below the desert surface.
I continued on and the road began to slowly climb up the side of Queen Mountain. I knew I was getting close to the end of the road so figured I must be very close to the mine I was looking for. Up to this point, I still hadn't spotted it, so I pulled out the GPS to see how close I was.
It was somewhere up there and I still didn't see it. Even though the tailing pile is distinctly visible in the above image, directly above the GPS. I decided to hike to the end of the road and then return to this spot and climb up the mountain until I found the mine.
The road ends, but a trail continue on, marked by rocks and a cairn. One of these days I'll be back to continue on that trail to see where it goes. My guess is that it's one of the ways to reach the top of Queen Mountain.
A panorama shot from near the end of the road, overlooking Queen Valley. The tall hill on the left side is Negro Hill, which is located near the backcountry board for Pine City and the Desert Queen Mine.
Looking over Queen Valley to the southeast, somewhere in that jumble of boulders is the Queen Valley Pictograph Boulder and Native American habitat area.
One last telephoto shot taken from the end of the road area, on the side of Queen Mountain. This view is looking southwest and if you look closely, you can see a small stretch of Park Blvd. in front of the boulder pile in the center of the image. That tall rock in that boulder pile is Intersection Rock, near Hidden Valley. Also visible are Pee Wee and Cyclops. Thank goodness for rock climbers and their imagination!
But now it was time to return down the road a bit and go climb the mountain. Or at least part ways up the side. So I headed back down to the spot where I had taken the GPS reading. And started looking up to see where I should go.
And I finally spotted it. Up there, a bit right of center, near the top of the ridge. There is a pile of grey rock that doesn't look like it belongs, it is also flat across the top. Now to see if I could find a way up there, it's actually quite a bit steeper than it looks in these photos.
Getting closer. Getting steeper. Getting loose rockier. But being this close, it had to be done. Taking my time and watching where each footstep was going, and testing the surface along the way.
And there it was. A tunnel hacked/drilled/blasted into the side of Queen Mountain, through solid rock. The opening is about four feet tall and the tunnel goes straight back for about ten feet. It then takes a sharp right turn and continues on for about another fifty feet, before coming to an abrupt end.
It's an intriguing mine. There was no trash, no timbers, no bits or pieces of machinery, no desert gold whatsoever. I saw no signs of a camp anywhere in the area, and no sign of a road leading up to this mine. How in the world did whoever dig it get the machinery up here? It took a lot of work to dig this tunnel. Maybe there was a road at some point in the past and it has so weathered away that no signs of it remain.
After resting a bit and enjoying the view, pictures demanded to be taken from this lofty vantage point. I obliged.
Standing as close to the edge of the tailing pile as I was comfortable with, this image shows the road snaking across Queen Valley. The end of the road is visible at the far left of the frame, it's a small dirt loop.
A panorama view overlooking Queen Valley.
Eventually it was time to head back down the mountainside and start the return trip. Due to the steepness of this climb, the loose rock and the lack of anything extraordinary up there once you reach it, I don't really recommend climbing up the slope to see this mine. Unless, of course, you're looking for an adventure and like to admire great views.
Taking a last look back before heading up and over the pass (now that I knew where to look), it was pretty easy to make out where the Queen Mountain Mine is. Just a bit right of where I'm pointing. It's funny how sometimes you can pretty much know where something is, and know what to look for, but it just blends in so well you miss it.
The hike back was very pleasant. The weather couldn't have been more cooperative. Clear skies, temperature in the mid-70s, and a pretty, blue sky clear day. A slight breeze and the desert stillness were my only companions on this trip. They don't say much, but when they do, I try to listen.
And my truck was right where I left it, which is always a plus.
As always, feel free to download and use any of my images. Credit back to Cali49.com is nice, but not required.