Trek Date: November 28, 2014
If you camp at the Cottonwood campground, you're less than a ten-minute walk from the Winona Mill site. Although there's not much left there to see today, it's well worth the hike to visit the ruins and imagine what once was. Also, the wash that runs north-south in front of the mill site contains evidence of habitation of some duration. It might also be the only spot in J Tree where you can see Eucalyptus Trees.
I was nearing the end of my Mastodon Peak loop trail hiking adventure and decided to make the short detour to visit the Winona Mill site. I'd been there once before, probably some ten years ago with a scout troop, but at the time we didn't know what we had found out in the desert. We thought it had something to do with mining, and we were right.
After hiking up a small ridge, I got my first view of the Winona Mill site. At one time there were three wooden structures, two concrete buildings, a large mill, water tank and several other machine houses and living quarters. Most of the buildings, water lines and retaining walls were knocked down and removed in the early 1960s, but there's still enough left today to make it an interesting destination.
Walking up the road to the right to reach the concrete building on top of the hill. This cement slab and walls may have been a residence or mill office building.
Located atop a small hill overlooking the wash and other buildings below, this structure probably held a water tank that supplied the operations below.
Some views from atop Water Tank hill.
This appears to be the main foundations and machinery pilings for the mill operation itself. George Hulsey, owner of the Mastodon Mine, moved into this area sometime during the 1930s, taking advantage of a government water reserve known as Cotton Spring. He may or may not have had a small mill in this area, and may or may not have been involved with the larger mill that was later built here. Records are sketchy.
By 1945, a "large mill" here was idle, owned by a man named R.A. Theobald. It reportedly had a capacity of 40 tons per day and was powered by a 40-horsepower Buick motor. The Winona Mill performed custom milling for the small mining operations located around Cottonwood Spring.
After examining the mill foundations and machinery pilings and looking for any secret things previously undiscovered, I decided it was time to head down into the wash, and then explore it a bit north. Afterall, there are only so many pictures of a concrete foundation you can take.
There are several areas along the wash that have low stone foundation walls. These were perhaps built to stabilize a habitation site, or to help channel water away from dwellings.
The wash was very pretty to walk through, especially with the yellow leaves of the Cottonwood trees calling my name.
This is probably an old well which has been capped with a cement slab.
There were too many side canyons and washes for me to explore in the time I had available. I wouldn't be at all surprised to find Native American habitation sites farther up the wash. When I came to a wall of reeds that I didn't really want to try to weave my way through, I headed back down the way I had come.
Ok, who brought in the Eucalyptus Trees? They certainly made me laugh, not something you expect to find in the desert. Most likely brought in by miners during the early 1900s.
This small spring was located in the middle of the wash that runs right by the Winona Mill site.
Heading down the wash, the trail connects with the Cottonwood Nature Trail and leads back to the parking area at Cottonwood Springs. There are some interesting things to see along the way, so my recommendation is, hike the entire loop, climb Mastodon Peak, visit Cottonwood Springs and the Winona Mill and who knows what else you might find along the way. Set aside four hours if you like to meander as I do. And take plenty of water. I hiked the trail counter-clockwise and that seemed a good way to go.
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