Trek Date: March 24th, 2014
It’s always fun to try to find a lesser-known spot in J Tree, one without much information to guide you. There are a lot of such places, off the beaten path with little or no “popular” appeal to the casual visitor. So they remain out of the guide books, they remain unmarked on park maps, they simply remain, until the desert claims all traces of what once was there. I like these places.
One of the day’s goals was to find Johns Camp. If you look for information about Johns Camp, don’t be surprised if you can’t find anything. Johns Camp has only a fleeting mention in one trail guide book, and no mention at all on the JTNP website. It’s simply not a destination for most folks. I like these places.
Johns Camp existed because of five claims collectively known as the Gold Hill Mine, located a little farther up the wash from the camp. The mine operated during the late 1920s and early 1930, and was owned by C.H. Wiser, Anvil B. Johns and J.A. Johns. I'm guessing the camp was named after one of the Johns.
There's no trail to Johns Camp, but there is a fading dirt road that must have once provided access to the camp and mines. The best spot to find the old mining road is at this pair of pullouts on Park Blvd., about 1-1/4 miles west of the Pinto Wye junction. Which is where Murbachi and I disembarked from Old Blue and set out to find Johns Camp. There is also a National Geodetic Survey Benchmark located just a few feet off the road, in case you're a Benchmark Hunter.
Once we located the old road, I knew it would be a fairly easy hike across the desert, as we wouldn't have to dodge as many creosote bushes and cacti as walking cross desert usually entails. We were heading roughly northwest, towards that gap in the first set of small hills.
Even though it was prime time for wildflowers, this first stretch of our journey wasn't very colorful. This is one of the only Yuccas we saw in bloom. I spotted these tiny yellow flowers on what I think is a Mormon Tea plant, but as I'm not 100% confident in my botanical skills I'll leave that ID as tentative.
The distance from Park Blvd. to Johns Camp is about 3/4 of a mile, so before too long we were almost there. That rocky little hill on the left side of the picture was our landmark, from away back we had guessed that we would need to pass to its right to reach our destination. I spotted this healthy silver cholla just hanging out with his yucca friend, and made sure to give them both plenty of room as I passed by.
One of my favorite things about hiking in J Tree is, you never know what you're going to come across out in the middle of the desert. Why on earth is this wood tire curb here? It wasn't near the old road and it is solidly attached to the ground with two metal pipes.
As we neared the rocky hill, the road dipped down into the wash just ahead and then peters out for a bit, but became visible once again when we rounded the hill. Can you spot the Joshua Tree below in this picture above?
Off in the distance, I spotted a very noticeable tailing pile, which I knew was from one of the main workings of the Gold Hill Mine. It's amazing to me, prospectors must have searched most of the land for miles in all directions, looking for signs of gold. I run across prospect holes out in the middle of nowhere, where you might think you're the first person to ever set foot. Nope.
The Desert Gold (what some might call trash) began to appear and I knew we were close to Johns Camp. Old cans like these can get to the outskirts of a camp in numerous ways and the concentration generally increases the closer you get to the main living areas. I love finding this stuff.
And then we were there. Johns Camp sits on the high west bank of the wash, on a pretty good-sized flat. It's hard to say today how big the area was nearly 100 years ago, as the wash may have added to or taken away from the flat over the years.
The coolest remnant from Johns Camp's days of occupation has to be this old stove/oven. It must have cooked a lot of meals over the years, I'm guessing a lot of beans and stews, and many a biscuit. I'd bet it was one of the main gathering spots for the men working in the mines up the canyon.
The rocks on the hill up behind the stove must have been a favorite place for some of the inhabitants of Johns Camp to sit and smoke, as I spotted quite a few rusted tobacco tins in the crevices.
Not too far from the stove is this ten-foot by twenty-foot concrete pad, or what remains of it. It was probably the foundation for a bunkhouse/office type of building once upon a time. The wash is perhaps 50 feet past the slab, and there are several tin can dumps along its banks, fun to poke around in.
This interesting contraption is located near the cement slab. It's about three feet deep and lined with sheet metal. Water reservoir? Cold storage? Tarantella trap? Outhouse? No way to know for sure, but it's definitely a unique bit of history.
There are the mine workings up the canyon, the reason for Johns Camp. There's not much information available about them, but I'll share what I've been able to put together in another post focusing just on the Gold Hill Mine.
There's lots of stuff to search out and find at Johns Camp, I'm sure there are hidden treasures that I missed, even though I gave it a good going over. There's not much shade, so I'm glad we had a comfortable day to wander about, it must get pretty toasty out here during the summer. I can see myself visiting again, to see what else I can find and photograph.
The road heading out from Johns Camp, there's the rocky hill on the right side now.
Curving right into the wash, the road will disappear for a bit and then reappear after it crosses the wash and heads up the enbankment.
It looks like a long way to go, but fortunately after all that wandering around, it's really not.
And there's trusty Old Blue, ready to transport us to our next destination. I like these places.