Trek Date: October 6th, 2013
I’m not sure what it is that attracts me to places like this, but I really enjoy finding them. There’s something about exploring old ruins, forgotten buildings and abandoned mining sites that fascinates me.
Making it to the Lester Dale Mine complex turned out to be a bit of an excursion. The site rests on the northern slopes of the San Bernardino Mountains, overlooking an off-roaders paradise known as Johnson Valley. The dirt road in (Bessemer Mine Road), is roughly six miles of alternating hardpack, washboard, deep sand, millions or rocks and sometimes a combination of all of those at the same time. I definitely recommend a four-wheel drive vehicle for the trip.
The Lester Dale was apparently quite active during the 1920s and mining there continued sporadically up until the 1950s. And by the way, the tailings, (piles of light colored material and huge excavations behind the complex) are not gold-related, they are the former site of a limestone quarry.
I passed several mine tunnels and abandoned buildings on the way in and stopped to explore them on the way out. Let me remind future visitors to the area that mine tunnels and shafts can be extremely dangerous and should generally be avoided. And let me mention bats. Big, flying, flittering, squeaking BATS. Abandoned mine tunnels make perfect homes for them, as I can now attest with first-hand knowledge.
I was truly excited when I pulled up to the complex of stone building ruins. Although very abandoned and obviously vandalized over the years, the place is still fascinating. The workmanship that went into the structures and the surrounding yard provide evidence of what a nice place this must have been when first built.
There is one main, large structure with what appears to be a storage room or perhaps garage behind it. The big house had several rooms and impressive steps leading up to the porch. Perhaps it was the main office building for the mine, or home to the superintendent. Off to one side are the stone wall remains of what seems to have been four separate, but connected rooms. They probably each had a front door and maybe were storage or shop rooms. Farther past there is another significant structure that looks like it was a nice home in times past. Several other ruins are also nearby, maybe bunkhouses for the miners.
Perhaps a couple hundred yards in front of the main building are the remains of a wooden ore shoot. And a little farther south of the complex I found the swimming pool, which was pipe fed from a spring located upslope from the pool.
All things considered, it was well worth the bumpy ride to get to the Lester Dale. I'm sure there are probably some things in the area I missed, and if I had had more time I would have explored the roads leading up to the quarry as well.
I’ve seen some pictures that were taken of the complex maybe 15-20 years ago and it’s sad to see what has happened to this site over the years. But even so, it is still a great place to see and explore and I definitely recommend a visit before time takes any further toll, or it’s fenced in and posted.