Set aside a half day the next time you're in Joshua Tree National Park and hike the Wall Street Mill trail. The round-trip distance is less than two miles, but there is a lot of history and desert gold along the way. It's an easy hike, but could end up taking you the entire day if you like to roam and explore as much as I do. I generally make sure I have plenty of water and some trail munchies, and then I don't worry about the time. I just go and wander and generally find something I haven't seen before.
The hike starts for me at a small, dirt parking lot (Park Here on the map above), complete with a restroom and a nearby bike rack (I've yet to see a bike parked in the rack). This spot is located about 1/4-mile northeast of the main, paved parking area for the Barker Dam Trailhead. I'm almost tempted to call this small, unassuming dirt parking lot a nexus of wonderment. In fact, I will. It's a nexus of wonderment because of the many amazing and historic spots you can reach from this starting point. Within a half hour's hike you can find and explore:
- Some of the most amazing rock formations in J Tree
- Native American Pictograph Sites
- A nearly complete Stamp Mill for crushing gold ore
- The spot where Worth Bagley "bit the dust" in a shootout with Bill Keys
- Barker Dam
- The Desert Queen Well and Windmill
- Bighorn Sheep (if you're lucky)
- The remains of several old cars and trucks from the 1930s
- Old, forgotten homesites and ranches
- Garrett's Arch
- Some Amazing Scenery
But for right now, I'm going to the Wall Street Mill, tempting as it is to wander off the beaten path.
Here's the start of the trail (you can just see a small part of the bike rack poking out of the bushes above the rock on the left). The entire trail is pretty well marked, mostly by the footprints of thousands of previous visitors. It sometimes enters and follows a wash, but as long as you head northeast and don't stray too far from the rock piles on your left, you'll find the Wall Street Mill without too much difficulty.
The trail forks at the 1/10-mile point. If I wanted to visit the Wonderland Ranch, or head deep into the Wonderland of Rocks, I would take the left fork. But today I'm heading to the Wall Street Mill, so I choose the right.
This great old truck is located less than 100 yards north of the trail, at the base of a rock pile. It's pretty amazing seeing something like this way out here; what's its story, who did it belong to? My guess is, it was a work truck that saw a lot of use and when it could go no further, it was left to die.
About 1/3-mile along the trail are the remains of the Desert Queen Well. A man by the name of William Morgan located the well sometime between 1905 and 1908. He had plans on building a mill here to crush ore from the nearby Desert Queen Mine, but those plans never panned out. The old windmill pumped water from a 116-foot-deep well and provided water for critters, humans and mining operations. There are a couple piles of lumber, most likely from a small building and from the tower the water tank once stood upon. There's also a large pile of ceramic pipe bits and pieces, along with other miscellaneous pieces of desert gold. I always stop by here while hiking this trail.
The cactus and wildflowers were in the middle of their spring fling. I think the plant on the left is a claret cup cactus, also known as the Mojave Mound cactus. And I'm going to say the white flower on the right is a White Tidy-Tips. But don't quote me on those.
Could these old fence posts and pieces of rusty barbed wire be part of the barriers Worth Bagley put up in order to keep Bill Keys from using the road? The west was still wild, even in the 1940s, and a shoot-out took place near this spot along the trail.
The place where Worth Bagley "bit the dust." Bill Keys carved the stone.
And after a short hike of about 3/4-mile, which can take anywhere from 20 minutes to several hours, depending on how far I wander, the Wall Street Mill is right in front of me. This is really an amazing place, with an even more amazing history.
The Wall Street Gold Mill is the most complete mill in the Joshua Tree/Twentynine Palms region and was listed on the National Register of Historic Places on November 12 of 1975. Bill Keys opened the mill for business in 1931 and the story of how he put it all together is fascinating. Keys saw potential use in almost every bit of abandoned machinery he came across; he also purchased or filed on numerous mining claims throughout his life, acquiring machinery and equipment that he refurbished and put to use wherever needed.
The modern history of this site dates back to the late 1890s, when Bill McHaney supposedly sunk a well on the site to water his cattle. A preacher from Colton, California reportedly arrived on the site in the early 1900s. Known as "Tully," he built an arrastra and milled ore there for five years. The site was utilized by a few other ranchers and miners up until about 1912, afterwhich it was abandoned.
In 1929, three men by the names of Orrin Booth, Earl McGinnis and Tulsey located on the property. They cleaned out the well and built a small cabin. They had dreams of building a mill to process ore from their nearby mine site. Unfortunately, trouble arose between the partners and and they ended up selling the property to Bill Keys in 1930.
When a resurgence of mining occurred during and after the Great Depression, Keys noted the need for a mill to crush ore for the many mines and prospects in the area. Along with two partners, he built (moved, relocated, put together) what came to be known as the Wall Street Mill, which consisted of a conglomeration of equipment from Keys' various sources. Thus, the machinery at the mill dates from the early 1890s to 1930. An interesting note is that the mill was originally down by the wash near where Tully's arrastra once stood. The mill's current location is not the original one.
Some of the main pieces of equipment at the mill are: a jaw crusher from the Fulton Engine Works in 1891 (which Keys had originally installed at a mill he built in Pushawalla Canyon), a two-stamp battery for crushing the ore (originally made for the mill at the Pinyon Well), an amalgamation table, a second-hand concentration table, a water pump, two large galvanized-iron water tanks, a three-horsepower Fairbanks Morse engine which operated the well pump, and a twelve-horsepower Western gasoline engine (salvaged from the Paymaster Mine), which powered the mill machines through a system of shafts, belts and pulleys.
There were other buildings here when the mill was operating. There was a bunkhouse and an outhouse, but both have long since collapsed.
The Mill was primarily used as a custom mill; processing ore for other mines in the area (Eagle Cliff, aka the Black Eagle; Elton; Tully, aka Crown Prince; Golden Bell and the Golden Bee were a few) for a small fee. Keys also used it to process ore from his own mines. The mill was in operation off an on until 1942, when all non-essential mining activity was shut down because of WWII. Bill's son, Willis, operated the mill for a short period in the late 1940s and Bill ran it again for a brief time in 1966 (at 86 years of age!). It has been closed since that time and was 'relinquished' to the National Park Service by Keys' estate on September 24, 1971.
If I had been a miner in the 1930s, and had some ore that needed to be processed, here's what would have happened. I'd somehow have to get my ore to the mill, probably in either a wagon or the back of a truck. Once I got to the mill, I'd shovel the ore into an ore cart at the base of the tracks and a winch would pull the cart up the tramway. When the cart reached the top, it would dump the ore into the 'grizzly.' Smaller pieces of ore would fall into the ore chute, while larger pieces would be broken in the jaw crusher and then fall into the same chute. The gravel-sized rocks in the chute would then enter the stamp mill, where they were mixed with water and mercury. Two heavy stamps dropped, raised, dropped, raised, dropped repeatedly on the ore, grinding it into wet sand. The wet sand mixture would then flow onto the amalgamation table, where the exposed gold particles would adhere to the mercury coated plates. The mercury/gold mixture is called 'amalgam.' It would then be scraped off the plates and retorted, which would separate the gold from the mercury. I wonder how many workers breathed in toxic doses of mercury vapors over the years....
The final product, the gold, would then be sent to the mint or a smelter, where it would be assayed and purchased.
The Wall Street Mill is fenced and posted, please do not poke around inside. It's dangerous both to people and to the structure and artifacts. There's plenty of neat stuff to see and photograph all around the area, as this site plan map attests:
The boxed-in wellhead cover protects the fifty-foot-deep well that once provided water for the mill and workers. The engine (a three-horsepower Fairbanks-Morse model Z, 475 rpm gasoline engine), would pump the water to a large storage tank near an outside shower, which was located near the bunkhouse that stood near the mill.
This metal smokestack is near the old well.
Just a short distance from the well and alongside the wash are the remains of this custom 1929 or 1930 Lincoln. It's been sitting here for a long time. Keys must have had a fondness for these. I wonder what finally went wrong with this one, to consign it to its final resting spot. Checkout the wood construction in the doors. This is a pretty neat chunk of desert gold.
Across the wash from the old Lincoln, to the east of the mill, is a very interesting spot. Stones. That's what makes it interesting. There is a short wall that could be made of stones originally used by Tulley's arrastra. There are also several flat stones that appear to be blank gravestones. Keys apparently enjoyed working with stone, cutting, carving, engraving. Perhaps these were works in progress, or just blanks he was going to use at a later time.
Somewhat northeast of the mill, across the wash, is another 1929 Lincoln. Well, what's left of it. This one was converted into a truck at some point in its life and must have been used to haul all kinds of machinery, rocks, lumber, kids, animals, supplies and who knows what else all across the desert.
But wait, there's one more!
There's not much left to this old car, but I still get a kick out of finding these things. Nearby was this old metal box, I wonder if they went together somehow.
There are some very pretty canyons, small valleys and flats out in the rocks both north and east of the Wall Street Mill. I've only explored them briefly, but they're on my list for a future visit. I'm sure there are signs of Native American activity back there somewhere, as this area probably had a spring at some time in the past. And I won't be surprised to run across signs of mining activity back there as well. Stay tuned....
A few more wildflower pictures, I think I identified four-out-of-five! (of course, the yucca is pretty easy)
For a LOT of detailed information (including research drawings and old photographs) about the Wall Street Mill, how it operated, all the bits and pieces, all the players, and a more thorough history of this location, here's a secret: check out the Library of Congress website by clicking HERE. It's a great place to do research on a lot of different places. :-)