Visit Date: October 7, 2015
Skidoo: Queen of the Panamints
In January of 1906, John Ramsey and John "One-Eye" Thompson were on their way to the newly discovered gold strike at Harrisburg. They were forced to camp overnight near Emigrant Spring due to a blinding fog, a rare occurrence in Death Valley. The next morning, the fog was gone and the two men noticed some nearby ledges that looked promising. After a quick survey of the ledges, they decided to forgo traveling to Harrisburg, as they promptly located several claims in the area. This was the beginning of the Gold Eagle Group and the beginning of the mining camp that became Skidoo.
A man by the name of E.A. Montgomery acquired the Gold Eagle Group claims in early 1906, creating the Skidoo Mines Company. Skidoo basically owed its existence and livelihood to Montgomery, as he financed the entire operation of the Skidoo Mines Company, spending over $500,000 to make the mines productive.
Skidoo flourished for nearly ten years, which is a long time for a mining town. At its peak development in 1907, Skidoo boasted some 400 residents, four saloons, three restaurants, a telephone service, a school with twenty-nine children, the Southern California Bank of Skidoo, a physician and Death Valley's only newspaper, the Skidoo News. There are literally hundreds of mines in the surrounding hills, with an estimated combined production of $1,600,000 in gold (and that's back when gold was worth $20 an ounce).
The town was first called "23 Skidoo," the name being borrowed from the Skidoo Mine ("skidoo" being a slang term for go away, scram, or get lost). Reportedly, when the post office was established, they refused to accept "23" as part of the name, so the town became plain old "Skidoo." Unlike many other mining camps, Skidoo was relatively a peaceful place to live, where most folks got along well with one another. Except for Joe "Hooch" Simpson. He was apparently a bully with a mean streak, especially when he had been drinking. He shot and killed a local store keeper, James Arnold, for reasons which were never discovered. He was arrested and later dragged from confinement, then hanged on a nearby telephone pole. Legend has it that when reporters showed up later wanting pictures, Joe Simpson was rehanged to oblige.
The mines continued to produce well up through the middle teens, but Skidoo's days were numbered. By 1917 it was being reported that Skidoo's rich vein had pinched out and the mine had closed down permanently. It wasn't long after that that salvaging operations began at Skidoo, the iron and steel from the mill, mining machinery and pipe that had brought water to the town being taken up and hauled to Trona by teams and motor trucks.
Several periods of renewed interest in mining the area occurred over the years, especially after the price restriction, which had kept gold at around $20 per ounce, was removed by the passage of the 1934 Gold Act. Flurries here and there, a small tungsten boom in the 1950s, a bit of hope in the early 1970s, but to all extents and purposes, Skidoo has moved on. However, it's still worth a visit!
After driving about nine miles on an "unmaintained," but somewhat graded 1 to 1-1/2 lane dirt road with its share of rocks, I made it to a very pleasant high mountain plateau: "Downtown Skidoo." Time, weather and vandals have all taken their toll.
It's hard to believe that it's all gone, except for the stray metal can, a cement foundation, broken pieces of glass, and of course, lots of mines in the surrounding hills. But as empty as this plateau seems, I knew there was a large mill somewhere in the area, and I set out to see what I could find along the way.
There are a number of dirt roads leading off from Skidoo's townsite, I started heading west and then took a left branch that lead up to a ridge. It wasn't long before I was driving past gated mine shafts.
This cut was directly in front of the caged shaft in the photo above it. I didn't get too close to the edge. Getting back in T-Red, I continued on a bit, came to another large section of caged mine shafts and decided to check the coords I had for the mill. After checking, I turned around and retraced my drive back to where I had taken the upper branch of the "Y." I then took the other fork, which proved to be the one I should have taken at first.
I reached this point and decided to park and start hiking. I could have taken the road heading up to the right, or a steeper on on the left, but I had a hunch. So from here on out, I hoofed it.
There was a fair amount of desert gold scattered along the road, as well as on each hill side.
At this point, I hadn't yet seen the Skidoo Mill, but I felt I was getting close. That's a big pile of tailings straight ahead, and a large wooden ore bin.
An older view of the Ore Bin, some adits and large tailings piles.
The ore bin is still fairly intact. I wonder if the ore was brought down on tracks or some kind of bucket system. I didn't stay too long to investigate, because I saw something much more interesting farther down the canyon....
And there it is, the stamp mill built by the Skidoo Mines Company. The basic structure remains in place, but it's a far cry from what it once was. But even in its dilapidated state, it is an impressive sight to see. When originally built, all the levels of the wood-frame superstructure were sided with corrugated iron. Only a few pieces of that remain in place on the mill. A lot of the original machinery has either been removed by salvage operations or has fallen victim to the harsh climate of Death Valley. Its stamp batteries, wheels, cyanide vats, valves, pipes, shoots and a lot of other equipment are still in place. It's the only gold-mining mill of this size located in a National Park Service area. I'll bet it made a glorious noise when it was in operation.
An older image of the Skidoo Mill, tailings and cyanide tanks both prominent features. I'll bet those tailings piles are pretty nasty stuff.
Click on any of the image to enbiggen them.
How the Skidoo Mill looked way back when. If you like old mining stuff, if you like taking pictures, if you like rocky, dirt roads that lead you to old mining stuff that you can take pictures of, well, 23 Skidoo!
One last look at the vanished town of Skidoo. The townsite was entered on the National Register of Historic Places in April of 1974. Fleeting is the work of man.
Courtesy Historic American Engineering Record, NPS, Delineated by: Arin Streeter, Dana Lockett, 2001. Click to enlarge.
A quick video of the drive to Skidoo, please take a look, comment, like, subscribe to my YouTube channel.
On the drive out, I passed numerous dirt roads leading off to who knows where, wishing I had the time to explore them all. Mining remains, adits, tailings, buildings, fascinating stuff. Hopefully I'll be able to return someday to poke around further to see what I can find.