Trek Date: February 29, 2016
Due to random circumstance, work, the sale of some property in the northern California gold fields and that nasty cold that everyone seems to have fallen victim to, it had been three months since my last trip to JTree. That is just too long to be away from the desert. But the stars aligned, gas prices were low, and this past Leap Day I was able to spend the day in the park, along with the venerable 3-D photographer, Murbachi (visit his website automagically, by clicking HERE see his report on this particular trip HERE).
The main destination for the day was an old abandoned mine, not too far off from Park Blvd. It had been on my radar for a couple of years and I thought it might be the perfect hike to help me get back my "desert legs."
The day was perfect, mid-70s with clear skies, the slightest breeze and no one in the area. Once you've been in the desert long enough, you get a feeling of how "visited" an area is. The Golden Bell Mine is a seldom visited place. Hidden behind a low hill, there's no evidence from the road that there's something interesting behind it. Like many of the awesome places in JTree, you gotta get out of the car and do some exploring (and of course, pre-trek research always pays off, and helps keep you from getting lost, breaking a leg, dying of thirst and being eaten by coyotes and turkey vultures, but that's another story).
Parking Tacoma Red well off the road on a sandy shoulder (pet peeve #1 of the day, people who stop their car IN THE ROAD to take a picture), Murbachi and I gathered our gear and set off across the desert in search of fame, fortune and riches. We would find none of those things, but we did find the Golden Bell Mine. And another 'possible' abandoned vehicle for my photo collection.
It's amazing how many hikes I've done that start out just like this. Crossing a large wash dotted with creosote, black brush, cholla, beavertail and other vegetation and of course, rocks. Lots of rocks.
I had been hoping to spot some color on the trek, in the form of wildflowers, but I think we were a bit early. This bladder-pod was just beginning to impress. Hopefully there will be a bit of a better show in a couple weeks.
After hiking just a short distance, we came upon an old road. From near this point, the road branched with one fork heading straight into the canyon ahead and the other fork turning south, probably to connect with the road leading to the Golden Bee Mine.
The branch heading south. Right near this wye, there was an obvious "ghost camp." To the left of the road in the picture above were several tent camping sites, with the ground scraped clear of rocks and a pathway leading from one to the next.
One of the tent camp sites, bordered by larger rocks, with a flat area where some kind of shelter once stood.
A fire pit? I think so.
An intriguing thing about this camp area, there were perhaps a dozen or so piles of rock similar to this one. Why? Were they just the place whoever lived here piled up the rocks they had cleared from their living areas? Is there something underneath these piles?
The piles were scattered about the area. If anyone has any knowledge of what they are, I'd like to hear from you.
Continuing along the old road which would take us to our destination, we began to see tailing piles along the way.
A closer look of the mine on the right from the picture above this one. Can you spot the jet? I didn't go up the slope to check these out, as they are both most likely either caved in, grated or meshed close. Plus, I was saving my energy for the climb ahead.
The road less traveled always seems to be gaining elevation on the side of a rocky hill....
Some little purple flowers. I'm the first to admit, I need help on my wildflower identification skills. If anyone knows the name of this one, please let me know.
A quick look back. That's Pinto Mountain straight ahead.
At some points along the hike, the 'road' pretty much disappears, especially when a small ravine runs across it. We're headed toward the low point in the ridge up ahead.
Another look back. I usually save these views for the return trip, but Pinto Mountain was just pleading to have its picture taken, over and over.
Upon reaching the summit of the saddle, this amazing view opened up in front of us. I love finding intact structures of any kind while on a trek, so the wooden ore hopper at the Golden Bell really welcomed me back to JTree. On the right are three distinct tailing piles, I have a hunch they were all working on the same vein. Way off in the distance, at the top of the far peak, are some large tailing piles. Those belong to the Silver Bell mine. The two large, wooden tipples of the Silver Bell are on the other side of the ridge and can be hiked to from a convenient turnout on Pinto Basin Road.
A small pile of doo-dads caught my eye.
My forty-nine constant readers know I could have spent an hour looking at the stuff in the doo-dad pile, but I broke away and headed over to inspect that big hole in the ground. As i neared the edge, I saw that there was a grated shaft in front of the tunnel leading into the side of the mountain. Showing how out of sync I was from not having been in the park for three months, I failed to do my scientific test to determine the depth of the mine shaft (dropping a rock into it and listing as it falls to the bottom).
This plant was right at the front of the tunnel opening and as you can see, filled with these tiny white flowers.
The tunnel went back about 12-15 feet, before ending in a cave-in.
As with many of the mines in JTree, there isn't a lot of information available on the Golden Bell. Here's what I was able to uncover with my research team. The Golden Bell mining claim was located on July 1 of 1931. It's located on the southeast side of a low mountain, part of the Hexie mountains, at the extreme west end of Pinto Basin. It was active from 1934 to 1937, and then again from 1939 to 1941. A man by the name of Rogers owned the property during those years. The mine consists of two shafts with several open stopes breaching the surface between the two shafts. A small mill once operated near the main vertical shaft, but is no longer on site. The property has also been referred to as the "Blue Bell" mine. And that's about all I was able to discover. But there is a lot to discover at the site itself.
This looks to me to be the remains of an ore bin. There's a chute on the front. I'm glad to see it's still standing. Who's that on the tailings?
It looks like it's only a matter of time before the old bin collapses on its shaky legs. If you visit, please don't climb on it.
Was this metal tub used for water? Cyanide? I don't know.
But it's a nice place to rest.
There is quite a bit of desert gold in the area, but not as much as I've seen around other places in the park.
Walking down the remains of the old road that heads down into the canyon, I stopped when I spotted what appeared to be a multi-level camping area across the canyon. More on this later.
A fair-sized can dump. Several of the little gullies held their share of rusty memories.
The remains of a stone cabin.
This is what's left of the main structure at the Golden Bell. My guess is it was a living place/office/storehouse for whoever was in charge of the operations here. Several bed springs lay nearby, but not much else in the way of furniture or appliance remains.
From this point, I began hiking up the canyon, because there was a trail and that's all the encouragement I need. I soon tired, however, and headed back the way I had come. I know that had I continued and then crossed the canyon, I would have found some other remnants, but I was getting a bit winded. I decided to head down the canyon and check out the camp sites I had spotted earlier.
This was the main site, on a fairly level piece of ground. My guess is that it once held a large tent. In the background of the picture, the small gully filled with rusty cans is visible.
From the main site, this little rock-lined path led to another living area just down the slope. There were several spots in this area that I'm sure were once used as living areas for the men working at the mine.
A view looking down the main canyon, towards Fried Liver Wash. On a hunch, I walked down the slope a bit on the off chance that there might be something in the canyon a little farther down.
I'm not positive, but I think this is what's left of Bonnie & Clyde's getaway car. No, that's not right. But it appears to be the remains of a vehicle of some sort. One of my top five fun things to find when I'm out wandering is an old car, or what's left of one. I think this qualifies.
A nice-sized brittlebush was showing off in the wash.
The one downside to hiking down a canyon or wash, is of course, you have to hike back up. Unless you're looping back via a different route or have someone who can carry you. Alas, I had no sherpa and it wasn't a loop, so I hiked back up the canyon to the ridge where most of the cool stuff was.
Once returned to the saddle on the ridge, the rest of the trip would be downhill, which sometimes poses its own difficulty. But not on this trip. All was well.
There were several prospects along the canyon walls, like this one near the point where the canyon joins the basin floor. I don't know if they were a part of the Golden Bell or the result of other gold seekers searching for their elusive fortunes. Gold mining seems to me to have been quite a lot of work.
It wasn't too long before T Red came into view. I knew it was holding treasure much more valuable than gold. And yes, I'm talking about cold drinks and chocolate chip cookies.
If you enjoy poking around old mines like this one, I definitely recommend the hike. It's not too strenuous overall and there are interesting things to see along the way. Murbachi and I spent a little over two hours on the round trip, and my hiking distance was 2.13 miles. Don't do it during the summer, there's no shade anywhere along the trail.
Like any of my photos? Feel free to right click and download any that catch your fancy. Use them however you wish, credit back to Cali49.com would be nice if you do, but it's not required. I do this for fun and the hope that others will enjoy my reports, and maybe visit the same places to see what they can find.