Eldorado Mine - Joshua Tree National Park

Trek Date: March 12, 2017

It was a great morning for some exploration. I parked T-Red at a sandy turnout ( 33.927609°  -115.941795°) and took this picture of where I was about to traipse off to. There are a number of mines in this area; the Golden Bell, the Golden Bee, the Silver Bell and a few other smaller operations. But today I was heading to the Eldorado Mine, a spot I hadn't yet visited. I knew it was out there, about a mile-and-a-half from my trailhead. Packing up, I headed out.

The first thing I noticed was, how green was the valley. The substantial amount of rain this past winter has really changed the look of JTree. Two months from now, this picture will look a lot different. The second thing I noticed was, lots of colorful splashes along the way, partly responsible for tuning a 3-mile hike into a 5-mile hike. 

Hiking along, I'd see a bit of color and veer off my course to snap some pictures.

One of the joys of hiking cross-desert as I was doing, is navigating through and crossing over the numerous rocky washes that flow from the nearby hills and mountains. Some are small, some are big. 

While the ground looks flat, the appearance can be deceiving. The desert is a trickster. Sometimes the low stretches of hills can blend into the mountains behind them, hiding the fact that there's a wash or canyon behind them, sometimes the one you're looking for.

A nameless mine tunnel up on the hill, most likely an exploratory adit that didn't pan out.

I crossed this old road that headed east, down into the basin. JTree is criss-crossed with old mining roads and they sometimes come in handy getting to interesting destinations. But this one was not heading in my direction, this time.

Yellow and green, all over this hillside.

I came to this fairly large wash which drains the canyon below both the Golden Bell and Silver Bell mines. From the looks of it, the water must come rushing down this stretch when the rains come. I'd love to see it, from a nice, high vantage point.

After crossing that wash, I continued on. The small, black knoll poking up through all the green at the left of this image was my next landmark. Just behind it would be the wash I was looking for, which would take me to Eldorado.

Another wash, and an interesting rock outcropping caught my eye.

The backside of said, interesting rock outcropping. Look at all that green in the distance.

The small knoll was getting closer. And something I hadn't expected came into view. A small Ocotillo patch.

These are really interesting plants, I take lots of pictures of them when I find them. They are indigenous to the Sonoran Desert and are also known as Coachwhip, Candlewood, Slimwood, Desert Coral, Jacob's Staff and Vine Cactus. When they bloom, they have bright red flowers at their tips. There is a patch of these a few miles southeast of the Cholla Garden.

I stumbled upon another old road, and as it was heading my direction, I followed it for a bit. This must have been the road that was used to get to the Eldorado Mine when it was in operation.

Rounding the eastern tip of E's Knoll, the wash that runs below the Eldorado mine presented itself, without so much as a how-dee-doo. I commenced following the footsteps in the sand, anxious as to what I might find along the way.

Bits and pieces of Desert Gold began to appear. What was originally in the metal drum? Fuel? Oil?

A little farther up the wash and I caught my first glimpse of the Eldorado mine.

I spotted the collapsed roof of a wooden building on the west side of the wash, so I headed that way to check it out first, which gave me this great view of the workings of the mine. Those are some big tailing piles.

The Eldorado Mine dates back to around 1901, when James "Chuckawalla Jim" Wilson reportedly discovered gold stringers in a boulder some six miles east of Pinyon Well. After breaking up the rock and taking it to the Pinon mill, he realized about $500 after processing. Not bad. He dubbed the site of his discovery, El Dorado. Chuckawalla Jim didn't really follow through on the discovery, but a couple years later sold the claim to John N. White, a well-known mine promoter. He had a camp built near the site and filed on more than thirty claims in the area. Unfortunately, he ran out of cash before he could build a mill at the mine.

                                                The Board of Directors, photo by Fred Vaile in 1908.

                                                The Board of Directors, photo by Fred Vaile in 1908.

A group of the biggest investors in the property got got together in 1907 and reorganized into the New Eldorado Consolidated Mining Company of Los Angeles. L.D. Johnson of Whittier was appointed president, with his son Charles as superintendent. They proceeded to develop the property at Chuckawalla Jim's original discovery point. A shaft was eventually sunk to a depth of 500 feet, with levels at the 100-, 200-, and 300-foot levels. The camp on the banks of the wash included a house, several other wooden structures and a number of white tents. The mine closed in 1910, most likely due to lack of funds. However, it was reopened in 1912 with Fred Vaile as superintendent, with the first record of gold and silver ore produced in 1911.

A mill was constructed at the mine prior to 1913 and continued to work up until 1918. Recorded gold production to that point was put at $100,000. A number of other minerals were mined at the Eldorado, including wulfenite, molybdenite, vanadium, vanadanite and galena, some of which were important minerals to the war effort.

                                                              Eldorado Mine, circa 1913

As was the case with almost every desert mine ever worked, the Eldorado suffered from water shortages. Mining uses up a lot of water and there was no close, dependable source in the area. This problem was solved by building a nine-mile pipeline to Pinyon Well, which was completed in 1918. Pinyon Well was such an important asset in the area, that a pump tender actually lived at the well site, to keep the water flowing. 

The Eldorado went dormant for a number of years after WWI, but was again redeveloped and worked from 1936 to 1938. The total gold production over the life of the mine is estimated at around 2,000 ounces (roughly $2.5 million at today's gold price).

The mine itself is situated on the north wall of a small canyon in the Hexie Mountains. A review in 1959 measured about 2,000 feet of drifts, shafts and minor crosscuts. The south side of the wash was home to the workers, as the remains of at least three buildings are present, as well as can dumps, stone foundations and outhouse debris.

The Eldorado contained both a stamp mill and a cyanide operation and provided custom milling work to the local mines nearby. Most of the mill was removed in 1941-42, probably as scrap for the war effort.

While there's not really much left at the Eldorado mine, compared to what it once was, it's still easy to spend a day there poking around what is left to see. 

The road leading up to the first collapsed wooden structure, maybe this was the main house where the superintendent lived.

Not a trace of paint left on any of the remains. I imagine that there's nothing left under all that wood either, but it would be fun to know for sure.

And what's a mining camp without a can dump full of desert gold? This one wasn't as extensive as I would have thought would be here, but maybe there was another one I missed.

Looking out over at the mine, I noticed the two roads leading up to the workings and tailing piles. Well. That's where I would be heading after checking out the base of the mine workings.

Another vantage of the mine.

Was this the foundation of a miner's home? Or a storehouse, or tool shed?

The remains of a second wooden building. Bunkhouse? Mine office? Storeroom?

After taking a look around the second collapsed building, I headed back towards the wash to get closer to the bottom of the mine area, to see what I could find.

I climbed up on what is probably a cyanide tailings slag mound to take this picture of two double-compartmented metal and concrete vats.

I'm not an expert on how cyanide leaching works, but it's something like this: a cyanide salt solution (with very low quantity of cyanide) is mixed with finely crushed ore in a vat. When the solution comes into contact with any gold in the crushed ore, the solution binds with ions in the gold, creating a slurry that can then be treated to extract the gold. If you're a chemist, it's like this: 4 Au + 8 NaCN + O2 + 2 H2O → 4 Na[Au(CN)2] + 4 NaOH

I'm sure there's a lot more to the process than that. The word "poison" tells me that.

This large tank foundation is quite near the bed of the wash. I wonder what the tank that once sat here held.

Looking up the slope towards the two remaining tanks.

I started hiking up the wash to find a spot to access the roads that would take me up to the top. This short adit into the hillside caught my attention. It goes in about 15-feet before it deadends. 

I found the spot where the road entered the wash and started up. This large, flat area was obviously a camp site. I imagine several tents once sheltered workers here at some time.

I decided to take the upper road, figuring I could find a way down to the lower road from the top easier than I could climb up to the top from the lower road. This plan turned out to be true. I often wonder, while hiking along such mine roads as this, how much it cost to build them.

Nearing the top.

And looking down towards where the camp once existed. How green is that valley!

Unfortunately, the main shaft of the mine has been foamed in/caved in, so there wasn't much to see. At one time, a hoist house stood nearby, with a mine frame over the top of the shaft. I couldn't spot any evidence of their existence.

A vantage point from the other side of the huge tailing pile, looking up the wash. I wonder what other secrets are out there. The mill foundations are clearly visible in this shot, below the large tank foundation.

I scrambled down the slope to the lower level. This is where the mill once stood. The wood debris all around here was probably once part of the mill structure or supports. This shot also gives a good view of the large tailing piles.

After heading back down the road, I crossed the wash to the site of the third collapsed wooden structure. Like the other two, just a pile of aged, dried, sun-beaten, weather-worn timber. After checking this spot out, it was time to start the hike back to T-Red.

I spotted this colony of red barrel cactus on the south side of the hills bordering the wash. They do like the sunshine.

I decided to take a bit of a shortcut on the way back, instead of hiking all the way down the wash before heading northward back to my truck, I cut across this little saddle. This was actually the route the old road took back in the mining days, as I saw evidence of it once I reached the crest.

I was able to see T-Red from the crest of the saddle, which helped me pick out a landmark to hike towards. Going cross-desert involves ups and downs, hills, burms, sand bars...all of which can help you not walk a direct route to your car, adding mileage to your hike. And for some reason on this trip, my GPS was acting up, so I'm glad I picked out a peak to use as a reference on my way back.

One last shot, this one from the GoPro perspective. 

The hike to the Eldorado Mine turned out to be better than I had hoped for. The wildflowers, the interesting stuff at the mine and along the way, and the perfect hiking weather all combined for an excellent trek. Hopefully these pictures share the fun I had on this Sunday morning.

Please feel free to download any of my photos. There's no fee, no copyright, no hidden tracking software following their movements. They're here to share and enjoy.

Just wandering in the desert.