The Monstead Tunnels

Trek Date: November 10, 2014

But we stupid mortals, or most of us, are always in haste to reach somewhere else, forgetting that the zest is in the journey and not in the destination.
— Ralph D. Paine

The Monstead Tunnels in Joshua Tree National Park aren't any kind of secret, they're just not listed on any maps. Nor are they listed in any of the hiking guidebooks for J Tree. There is scant information to be found regarding their years of operation or production. Nothing much of historical significance is left on site and the tunnel openings have been "bat-gated" by the NPS for safety reasons. If you asked a Ranger about them, he'd probably reply, "what?" So why on earth would anyone even bother hiking a couple miles to visit them? 

I don't know about you, but there are several reasons I search out these little-known and seldom visited places. I like hiking, with or without a solid destination. I enjoy the solitude of remote locales and the images I can capture. And in the back of my mind, there's always that tiny spark of hope that I'll stumble across something that has yet to be discovered or documented. Maybe a petroglyph site or a lost mine, a hidden stone cabin or rusty old car. You just never know. Keep reading to see if my hope came true, or if it was dashed to pieces amongst the tailings of the Monstead Tunnels.

Making sure my pack was ready with everything that might be needed, I left the parking area heading slightly northwest. I knew there were a few things right close by that warranted taking a looksee.

The first odd thing along the route was this long cement slab. One end was a bit broken up and maybe fifteen yards west of the broken up part was either a continuation of the same slab or a different one, and right nearby was a large metal pipe going down into the ground.

Was this a test well drilled at some point in the past? Or perhaps a pivot mechanism for an arrastra? A fire pit for very small people? Perhaps further investigation will someday reveal what it was used for.

A couple lumpy tailing piles are evidence that prospecting took place here at some point. My guess is that everything human-related in this vicinity probably occurred during the same time period. Maybe the long cement slab was a trailer foundation, or for machinery.

After poking around a bit more, it was time to head northwest. The left fork beckoned. Not sure who built the cairn or for which trail it was meant, but I didn't need it.

A very short section of road headed up over a little hill, and as that was the direction I was going, I took advantage of the relatively clear path it provided. It would only be a short matter of time and I would be weaving through the cactus and scrub. It's hard to walk a straight line cross desert.

There were a lot of interesting rock formations along my route and a good number of Joshua Trees. It would be fun to explore each and every outcropping, but I'm afraid time will never permit that.

The obligatory image of the sun behind a Joshua Tree. At least one such shot per hike is rule #17 of hiking in the desert.

I was hiking up a small ridge and took a pause to check my bearings. These little machines are like magic, if you plug in the right numbers and keep them filled with fresh batteries, they'll take you just where you want to go. I knew there was something to see near the base of that large hill in front of me, but didn't know what lay just over the ridge.

Once up and over the ridge, the valley of the Monsteads became evident. I was still heading towards the base of the tall hill, as that was where research had shown a bit of mining activity.

And there it was. A small prospect on the side of the hill. I crossed the wash and climbed up a bit to check it out. The little information I was able to uncover about this area leads me to believe this was a shallow shaft, sinking no more than six feet down. It has apparently filled in over the years and is now even with the hillside.

Heading west along the side of the hill, this view quickly opened up. That's a significant amount of tailings. There must be a hole in the ground somewhere.

And there it is. I believe this is the opening for Monstead Tunnel #2. This tunnel at one time extended some 500-feet into the side of the hill. It probably won't be long before the tunnel mouth is totally covered, as the dirt on both sides and above the opening appear very loose and unstable. The NPS has bat-caged it closed, back when it was undoubtedly an attractive looking mine to wander into and explore.

this view taken from atop the tailing piles in front of the mine, pretty much filling up the wash

Heading west along the wash, bits and pieces of desert gold began to appear, some half buried in the sand. I was looking forward to seeing what was around the bend.

The wash opened up into a pretty little area and I caught a glimpse of the tailing piles for what must be Monstead Tunnel #1. Can you spot it?

Approaching closer to the tunnel, I began to see more and more evidence of human activity, in the form of cans, wire, pipe and other pieces of desert gold. If I'm not careful, I can spend a lot of time looking at these things and all of a sudden half the day is gone.

Following the trail of cans, I spotted something very interesting just up ahead. It appeared to be a small stone structure of some kind. I immediately lost interest in the cans and headed over to see what it was.

A stone fireplace, out in the middle of nowhere with not much else around it. To one side was a small area that had been outlined with rocks, perhaps a flower garden? Nearby a small pile of rubble stones, perhaps building materials?

Pile of rubble stones, outline of rock flower garden, and stone fireplace, front to back

I wondered if this fireplace was once part of the Monstead cabin that was reported to have been somewhere in this area, it made sense. Why else would there be a fireplace here? Unfortunately, the cabin was removed sometime prior to 1973 and there is no trace of it now, except perhaps for this fireplace. A concrete slab and a stone loading platform are also reported to be in this area, but I was unable to find any traces of them. It was time to head over and checkout Monstead Tunnel #1.

Monstead Tunnel #1 at one point reached some 300-feet back into the hillside. No way of knowing how far back it goes now, as it has been bat-gated. Which is probably a good thing. There wasn't much to see around the tunnel opening, which has remained in better shape than its brother, tunnel #2.

Here's a closeup of the rock debris that was taken out of the tunnel. Was it blasted out? Drilled? I don't know, but however the tunnel was created, I think it was a lot of work to haul all this material out of that hillside.

Looking southwards from the end of the tailing pile.

A short bit of video taken from the tailing pile of Monstead Tunnel #1.

After making sure everything that needed to be seen had been, I gathering up my pack and started the return trip. Finding the fireplace had been pretty cool, but I wish the cabin had still been present. And an old car would have been awesome.

Walking back along the wash, this is the tailing pile from Monstead Tunnel #2 as seen on the west end. That's a significant amount of rock. I wonder if it was removed with the help of carts on track, but I hadn't seen any evidence of tracks in either of the two tunnel entrances.

This juniper was growing right out of a pile of quartz.

Returning back to the parking area, I was thinking about cold drinks in the ice chest and a snack. A nice view opened up from atop the last small rise, resulting in the final picture of the Monstead Tunnels trip. It had been a very pleasant hike, with some nice finds along the way. Journey + Destination = Great Trip