Trek Date: May 24, 2014
Who discovered the Black Butte Mine? How much gold did it produce? When was it in operation? Was it once known as the Gold Tiger Mine? Where was the mining camp? Unfortunately, no one really knows for sure as no early records have been found that would answer these questions.
The few facts, and some speculation, regarding the Black Butte Mine are as follows.
- The mine possibly dates back to the 1890s.
- Bill Thornton and U.C. Wirtz owned a claim called the Gold Tiger Mine in this area prior to 1911-12, which may be the same mine.
- Bill Keys filed on the abandoned claim on April 21, 1936 but most likely didn't do any work on it afterwards.
That's not an awful lot of information, but it sparked my interest. I figured out where it was, studied the satellite images and planned my route to the Black Butte Mine. And of course, everything went smoothly.....
East of the main parking area for the Barker Dam Nature Trail, a dirt road leads to the Desert Queen Mine. Roughly a mile or so along that road is a fork, the left fork takes you to the Desert Queen Mine/Pine City trailheads and the right fork soon reconnects with Park Blvd. I took the right fork. I was looking for the spot pictured above; and a safe shoulder along the narrow road where I could park. I found both, just barely.
Gathering up my pack and camera, I started hiking due south, cross-desert. I knew there was an old road somewhere up ahead and if I could find it, it would lead me to the Black Butte Mine.
The weather was a bit on the warm side, but I was carrying plenty of water. It's amazing how heavy water is when you're carrying it on your back.
A few wildflowers were still showing off for the camera, so I obliged them and snapped their pictures. I'm still working on my identification skills, however, so don't know what these little ones are called.
As I drew nearer to the base of the hills, I caught my first glimpse of some mine tailings, so I knew I was on the right track. Now if I could only find the old road, that would make the hiking a bit easier.
It wasn't long before I ran across the road; once I did, I continued along it. I like the old roads, less sharp and pointy plants to dodge.
Someone spent a little bit of time creating this rock cairn. I generally pay attention to these trail markers when I know there is only one destination in the area. This one was marking a spot where the road headed sideways up the side of the hill.
I knew I was getting close.
After climbing the side of a small hill, and enduring a few switchbacks, I crested a small rise, rounded a bend and was greeted with this great view of four mines on the side of the hill. I had arrived at the Black Butte Mine.
The hill and tailing piles are a bit steeper than they appear in the image, but I managed to get to the three lower ones without too much difficulty. What I found were tunnels and shafts. leading down into the depths of the earth, undoubtedly to rich quartz veins glittering with GOLD. And they were all either gated, fenced, or caved in for safety. But that's ok, they're generally very dangerous and I typically give them their space.
I sure wouldn't have wanted to dig into the hill here, under all those rocks and then work inside that tunnel.
This shaft was one of the ones a bit higher up on the hill. half of the iron grates have fallen into the hole. Could it have been the "Gold Tiger Tunnel," which was one of the principal workings at this mine?
This is a panoramic view looking northwards into Queen Valley. There are a lot of neat places out there. And yes, I can see my truck from up here.
Getting back to the task at hand, I was at the third tailing pile on the side of the mountain and there was one more above me to visit. But from where I was standing, I didn't like my chances, so I headed back down to see if I might be able to find an easier, and safer, route.
I wandered around a bit in a small valley. I thought I could make out traces of the old road leading through it, but in retrospect, that may have been my imagination. I did find a weathered pile of wood that may have been part of a building at one time and on the other side of the little valley was a small, square enclosure made of stones.
At this point, I was a bit confused. I had seen on the satellite images three very large, safety-grated mine shafts. I had my printouts with me and had hiked farther west down the canyon where I thought they were located, to no avail. I learned a valuable lesson. In the future, I will always have GPS coordinates with me of the place I want to find, whenever that is possible. Don't count on something being easy to find, even when you're in the area you know you should be.
I had just about decided to call it a day and revisit this site armed with GPS coords, but decided to check out that highest tailing pile that I didn't want to attempt earlier. This time I approached from the west, following what appeared to be a meager trail in some places. After a bit of scrambling, I was at the tailing pile and when I looked up toward the ridge, I spotted this notch and something that looked suspiciously like an iron grate. So I climbed up to the notch to check it out. And guess what I found.
I had stumbled upon the three large, grated shafts I had set out to find. All three of the shafts on the south side of the ridge appear to have once been fairly deep, it's hard to tell now. Perhaps this one at the top was the "Ironclad Shaft," one of the principal workings at this mine. It's tailings had been dumped on both sides of the ridge. I sat on a nearby rock and took in the scenery, I was happy to have found the three shafts. You can see the middle shaft off to the left in the photo above.
Here's a closer look at the middle shaft. Looks like time and the elements have been at work on the close end.
Here's a look at the lowest shaft on the south side of the hill. After scouting about for a bit, and not discovering anything else mining related, I decided it was time to head out. I didn't feel like climbing back up the side of the hill to the ridge and then down, so i set off west, down this canyon pictured above. I knew it would soon curve back to the north and I could then hike east to the first group of mines I had found, without too much difficulty. From there, it was mostly downhill back to old Blue.
Returning to my truck, and the ice chest therein, I considered the hike a success. I had found what I had set out to find, although it did take me a little longer than it should have. I'd hiked a little over three miles in slightly over two hours. The altitude gain was around 380 feet and the route was pretty easy overall. This is a hike most people can do. I had a bit of luck with my decision to climb up to that high tailing pile, if I hadn't, I wouldn't have reached my goal. Which is sometimes how it is out in the desert. I often take a different route, or veer off the trail to see what's on the other side of a huge rock pile, and sometimes it pays off. Other times, it's good exercise. But you never know what you might find.