Pinto Wye Arrastra

The Pinto Wye

Trek Date: April 19th, 2014

Why is it called the Pinto Wye Arrastra? I've wondered about that and had a theory, so I decided to see if I could find any facts to back it up. And as things turned out, my suspicions were correct. As it wasn't the only arrastra in the park, it couldn't just be called "the arrastra." That would cause uncertainty and vague feelings of unrest. But as it was located about three-quarters of a mile northwest of a "Y" in the main park road (the spot where Pinto Basin Road meets Park Blvd.), someone somewhere sometime called it the Pinto Wye Arrastra and the name stuck.


This day's journey would be my second visit to the Pinto Wye Arrastra, my first trip being in December of 2008. Things were pretty much the way I remembered it from my first visit, but this time in I took a much more circuitous route and discovered things I hadn't seen on that previous excursion.

Five years ago I was five years younger, and took a more strenuous approach to the arrastra than I wanted to attempt this time around. So I parked at a convenient turnout located a tenth mile north of the Pinto Wye and then walked two tenths of a mile along the road to the really big wash that crosses, and periodically washes out, that section of Park Blvd. The summer storms of 2013 wreaked havoc here and proved how devastating flash floods can be. They wiped out the road, effectively closing the north entrance into the park for several months. This wash would be my entrance and exit for the trip to the arrastra.

I have an app on my phone called "Endomondo," which tracks a route and records time and distance covered. I don't think it's 100% accurate, but it's close. My meanderings on this trip covered 2.85 miles over 2 hours and 15 minutes, with an elevation gain of about 262 feet. This is an easy route and one I would recommend to anyone who wants to visit the arrastra. Don't park on the road directly east of the site and climb up the canyon (like I did on my first trip).

Here's the beginning of the route I took. Lots of stuff growing in the wash, lots of sand. I heard bees.

I believe this to be a Woolly Daisy, which is a member of the Sunflower family. It was a pretty small plant and looked a bit lonely in the wash.

The wash narrows down for about a tenth of a mile, with rocky outcroppings on both sides of the channel. The evidence of water rushing through here can be seen on both sides, where it has cut into the rocks, left high sandbanks, and deposited large rocks in places they normally wouldn't be.

As the wash began to widen out again, I started heading north-ish and spotted what could be a long unused road. As it's going in my direction, I follow if for a bit. My eye catches movement ahead of me and I was lucky enough to catch this desert denizen in the photo below. Can you spot him?

Where is he?

The Black-tailed Jackrabbit (Lepus californicus) is usually long gone before I'm able to get a picture of him, but this time I caught him as he paused for a brief moment. Then, he was gone.

Looking backward towards the way I had hiked, Pinto Wye is visible at the extreme left of the panorama photo above. Belle Valley stretches out for what seems like miles. And it is.

I had spotted a few areas to investigate while planning my route on Google Earth. The first was a substantial tailing pile on the side of a small hill, so as soon as I spotted it, I veered off in that direction.

I looked around for a bit but didn't see anything noteworthy, and as I wasn't about to try to crawl into that little hole, I clicked a few pictures and recommenced hiking.

Hedgehog Cactus

Beavertail Cactus

Every now and then, a bright spot of color would appear, and anything not a tan or dusty color immediately draws your attention. Some of the cactus plants were really showing off for the camera.

Instead of retracing my steps back down and around that hill on the left, I decided to head straight through that little gap as I knew it was the direction I needed to go. It would save me some time, and I would see the area I was missing on my hike back.

Cresting that small saddle, I was rewarded with this pretty view above. And off to my right, another tailing pile to take a look at. And like so many others, nothing to see except a shallow adit that has been filled in. But in the grand scheme of gold mines and wandering in the desert, that's ok. It was only a short distance out of my way; I've walked a lot farther many times on less likely looking prospects than this one.

It would have been fascinating to have been on the work details that visited all these old mines back in the days when they (whoever 'they' were), were deciding which mines to fill in, gate or grate for public safety. I'll bet it was quite interesting exploring the sites and venturing into the old mines to see what they could find.

There's the arrastra. Really, it is out there.

Telephoto view of the arrastra.

After checking out that last prospect, I continued hiking northwest along the side of the hill, gaining a bit of altitude as I wanted to climb to the top to look get a good view towards the east. As I reached a small ridge that I could use to follow towards the top, I got my first glimpse of the Pinto Wye Arrastra off in the distance. It's visible in the photo above, sort of, downslope from the gray tailing pile at the far right. Here's a telephoto view.

Continuing to follow the ridge, I made it to the top of the canyon I used to reach the arrastra on my first visit. There are some huge chunks of quartz farther up along the ridge line of this hill. Perhaps they were an indicator that prompted prospectors to search this area for gold.



The picture on the left was taken on my trip in 2008. That's the canyon I climbed up and down on my first visit to the arrastra. Old Blue was brand new New Blue that year, and can be seen on the road off in the distance. The picture on the right is the same canyon, seen from a higher elevation on my recent trip.

I've only seen one other spot in the park with huge chunks of quartz like this. Interesting enough, they are also at the top of a hill, near Twin Tanks

One thing is for certain, as Murbachi says, climbing these hills/mountains gives you a great view of areas you might never otherwise be able to see. As I was climbing down the Quartz candy mountain, I took this panorama looking due west. There is a mine at the right side of the picture, and the Pinto Wye Arrastra can be seen nearly in the center of the picture. It was time to check out the mine.

Getting a little closer, still above the mine.

There it is.

There are four small, inclined mine shafts in the Pinto Wye area. This one is located approximately 100 feet upslope of the arrastra. The others are the ones I hiked past on my journey here, the most distant one being about a half mile away. This shaft goes back about twenty feet or so, and produced a good pile of tailings out front. With the relatively small amount of work done at these four shafts, however, it's quite possible that the arrastra was built as a temporary test mill. Had the claims proved rich, the ore would most likely have been transported to one of the larger mills in the area.

The Pinto Wye Arrastra

The wagon wheel.

One of the drag stones.

Credit: Historic American Engineering Record, National Park Service, delineated by Ruth Connell, summer 1991.

A Wagon Wheel Arrastra

Arrastras were circular mills which ground ore using stones attached to sweeps. The arrastra before you is unusual because it used a wagon wheel, instead of a central post, as the pivot mechanism.

The builder of this wagon wheel arrastra is unknown. It was probably used in the 1930s. The arrastra was powered with a gasoline engine, using a belt around the central wheel. Earlier arrastras were usually powered with animals, steam, or water.

Gold ore, water, and mercury were placed on the circular stone floor. Several stones were dragged around the floor, crushing the ore and mixing it with water and mercury. Mercury combined with gold, forming what is called an amalgam. This amalgam was then heated, separating the now gaseous mercury from the gold. The gold could be sold to the United States Mint, used in trade, or used to purchase goods.

This arrastra, named the Pinto Wye Arrastra because of it’s location, is on the National Register of Historic Places as an Important example of nineteenth and early twentieth century milling technology.
— nearby sign post

Wagon Wheel arrastras are a bit of a rare breed, not too many of them are known to still exist. The Pinto Wye arrastra seems to have two wagon wheels joined together as its pivot mechanism. Local legend claims that the first operators of the mill used the wagon wheel as the pulley, but found it went too fast. They then added the larger, wooden wheel to reduce the revolutions per minute. I'm not sure if that's true or not, but it would seem to make sense.

The engine that once powered the arrastra is long gone, it was a four-horsepower International upright gasoline engine. It drove the belt that spun the arrastra.

There's not much desert gold around the arrastra to see, a few bits of metal, some wooden posts, chickenwire, a bucket and a few other odds and ends are all that I was able to spot. I wondered where the campsite was for the workers and spent some time wandering about, to no avail. I would find out why a bit later, due to a random trail decision. 

The wash below the arrastra, looking northwards.

The wash below the arrastra drains in a generally northwards direction and would eventually lead back to Park Blvd., but that direction is a trip for another day. It certainly looks like an interesting place to explore and I'll most likely revisit to do so.

Looking south from Pinto Wye Arrastra.

But my immediate direction was south, back towards the wash that would return me to Old Blue and my next adventure. Making sure I had everything I came with, and hadn't missed a picture, I started back.

Those rocks look interesting....

As I was nearing the final small rise I needed to climb before finding my wash trail out, I happened to veer a bit to the west (as it looked like easier going) and chanced upon this interesting group of rocks. I have acquired a severe case of "around the next bend/hill/rise/big rock" over the years, I believe it is a cumulative disorder. The more you hike and explore, the more severe it gets. In any case, I decided to take a closer look at these boulders.

Desert Springs

And what do you know, I chanced upon the campsite used by the men who once worked at the Pinto Wye Arrastra and the surrounding mines. This campsite is centrally located amidst the mines and has a good bit of desert gold scattered about. The overhang on that big boulder would provide a nice sheltered spot during most of the day and would probably stay dry during a storm. I didn't see any evidence of a permanent tent site, but there may have been one at some time in the past.

After taking a good look around, I once again veered, but this time in the direction of where I needed to go. And out of the corner of my eye, behind some large creosote bushes, I caught a glimpse of something very interesting.

This is a pretty nifty little shelter. I have never read of it or seen another picture of it. I'm not sure how old it is or who built it, but finding it was a highlight to my hike. The rocks are all dry set, stacked one atop another, no mortar. There's a fairly large space inside with an extra bonus.

In one corner is a small cook fire area. It's evidently been used at some point in the past, but this is probably a good place to remind visitors of the park's regulations about campfires:

All vegetation in the park is protected. If you want to make a campfire, bring your own firewood. Campfires are not allowed outside of campsites and picnic sites with provided fire grates.

Looking out the front door.

I walked around the entire rock pile that holds this shelter, but didn't see anything besides large boulders. No desert gold, no signs of Native American habitation or anything else man-made. But I was excited to have found something like this, and totally by chance. It made me wonder what else I may have hiked near and never seen. 

All I could see of this guy was a foot, I didn't bother him.

Back in the wash that would lead to Park Blvd. this diagonal dike caught my eye, as did some of the wildflowers.

Nearly back at Park Blvd., I took one last picture southwest up the wash I had just hiked through. Mines, the Pinto Wye Arrastra, an abandoned mining camp and an unknown rock structure shelter had provided an excellent adventure. And there was still enough daylight left to see what else I could find.

As with all my posts, please feel free to use any of my photos you take a fancy to. Credit to this site is always appreciated, but not required. And if you have any questions on this location, or any of the other spots I've visited, please feel free to send me an email.