“I have climbed highest mountains
I have run through the fields
Only to be with you
Only to be with you
I have run
I have crawled
I have scaled these city walls
These city walls
Only to be with you
But I still haven't found what I'm looking for”
From the album “Joshua Tree” by U2
I love Joshua Trees. I love Joshua Tree National Park. I love desert hiking in general. I can’t really explain why. It may be the openness, the lack of distractions. I feel more immersed in nature here than anywhere else… my mind is completely free. Every living thing here is struggling to survive. But most of them do with very little; with no luxury. Maybe that feeling draws me in, draws me there. The timeless forces of nature are in full display here. Wind and weather are in command. Over time, every remains of human interference with the surroundings will vanish; will become part of the earth again. I like that feeling. We as humans are miniscule, only visitors for a short time here.
The weather did not seem to be very nice here on the Westside of Los Angeles. A thick, dark cloud-layer covered the sky. At least for Southern California, it’s bad. So, on that particular Saturday morning we decided to drive east, to where the forecast predicted nice and sunny weather. It took a while to get everybody and everything ready, so by the time we were leaving it was already 11 am. Our destination was Joshua Tree National Park. After a busy workweek we just wanted to get outside and enjoy nature. Since we knew that we would not have a lot of time we chose to hike to the Lost Horse Mine, 4-5 mile out and back. I figured that the prospect of visiting a mine might stir some interest and excitement in my kids. So, we (Selina, Julian, Yan, her mom, and I) drove on the 10 Freeway towards Palm Springs. Of course as we left pretty late the traffic around downtown was not very good. Anyhow, after we passed downtown it was much better. The weather was beautiful and sunny and we had great views of the San Bernardinos and San Jacinto. I was surprised of how much snow there still was at the higher elevations. The Snow Creek drainage at San Jacinto was still filled with snow for most parts. Before reaching Palm Springs we took Highway 62 north towards Yucca Valley and Joshua Tree. I am always impressed with the number of windmills in that area. We arrived at the West Entrance of Joshua Tree National Park at around 1 pm and after a short pit-stop drove further to the trailhead of the Lost Horse Mine trail. The last mile to the trailhead is on a dirt road, which was in very good condition and can be maneuvered by any vehicle.
Lost Horse Mine
When we arrived at the trailhead, the parking lot was full, so we had to park on the side of the dirt road. I did not expect so many people here, but that probably was naïve. We got ready and headed out shortly before 2 pm. There was a sign notifying about the recent wildfire in May 2009 and asked everybody to stay on the trails to protect the fragile burn area and allow for a quicker recovery. I read later that about 450 acres were burned around the Lost Horse Mine. Twelve hikers were reportedly trapped by the spreading fire but air-lifted to safety without any injuries. The well-maintained trail starts gently uphill among many blooming Joshua Trees. It was a beautiful sight. After less than one mile we reached the boundary of the burn area. Scorched, black-stumped Joshua Trees were scattered along the mountainsides. It was somewhat eerie scenery. Eventually, we glimpsed our first sight of the Lost Horse Mine. The mine produced approximately 10,000 ounces of gold and 16,000 ounces of silver (worth approximately $5 million today) between 1894 and 1931. There is in fact an interesting story of how the mine got its name:
|Lost Horse Mine||Lost Horse Mine|
“Johnny Lang and his father drove their herd of cattle into the Lost Horse Valley in 1890, when there was “nothing but cattle and Indians.” They had moved west after his brother and six other cowboys were gunned down in New Mexico. One night, while camped in the Lost Horse Valley, the Langs’s horses disappeared. Next morning Johnny tracked them to the McHaney brothers’ camp near today’s Keys Ranch. According to local legend, the McHaney Gang were cattle rustlers. They told Johnny his horses weren’t there and to leave the area. Johnny met up with a man named “Dutch” Frank who told of also being threatened by the McHaneys. Frank said that he had discovered a rich claim but was afraid to develop it. Johnny and his father bought the rights to the mine for $1,000 and called it Lost Horse. To reduce the chances of being killed by the McHaney Gang or having his claim jumped, Johnny took on three partners. After filing their claim, they set up a two-stamp mill and began processing gold.”
|Lost Horse Mine Peak||Lost Horse Mine Peak|
We arrived at the mine in less than one hour and had a quick snack below the stamp mill. It was interesting to see all the old mining equipment and cabin ruins scattered around. But the kids were especially disappointed that they could not explore the mineshafts. The stamp mill and what appears to be a shaft are fenced off for security reasons. We scrambled around the mountain side, found many old equipments and pipes. We hiked up to the peak “Lost Horse Mine Peak” from where we had a very nice overview over the mining site. There were gorgeous views towards Ryan Mountain and the Lost Horse Valley, the Wonderland of Rocks, the Pleasant Valley, and the Little San Bernardino Mountains. It was very windy on top and we had to find some shelter. After a quick rest we headed down to the mine again. I read later:
“A wealthy rancher from Montana, J.D. Ryan, bought out Johnny’s partners in 1895. The next year he found a steam-powered, ten-stamp mill somewhere near the Colorado River and had it dismantled and hauled to the mine site. To provide steam for the mill, Ryan ran a two-inch pipeline 3.5 miles, from wells at his ranch to an earth and stone reservoir near the mill. Steam engines fueled by trees from nearby mountains were used to push the water up the 750 foot elevation gain where it was boiled to power the stamp mill. Heating the water at both the ranch and the mill required a lot of wood, and the results of the timbering can be seen today in the sparsely vegetated hillsides at both sites. The booming of the ten 850-pound stamps could be heard echoing across the valley 24 hours a day as the ore was crushed. Water added to the crushed rock made a slurry, which washed over copper plates covered with a thin film of mercury. The gold particles clung to the mercury and the debris washed away. The amalgam of mercury and gold was smelted to separate the two metals. The mercury could be reused and the gold was formed into bricks. These 200 pound bricks were carried to Banning every week, concealed in a 16-horse freight wagon. The 130-mile trip to deliver the gold and return with supplies took five days. As the story goes, the day shift was producing an amalgam the size of a baseball while the night shift, supervised by Lang, recovered a mere golf ball. Ryan hired a detective to investigate and discovered that when Johnny removed the amalgam from the copper plates, he kept half for himself. Ryan gave Lang a choice: sell out or go to jail. Lang sold, then moved into a nearby canyon where he continued to prospect.
The Lost Horse Mine continued producing until 1905, when the miners hit a fault line and forever lost the ore-bearing vein. The mine was leased to others or left dormant until 1931, when rising gold prices prompted the processing of 600 tons of tailings (unprocessed chunks of leftover ore) with cyanide, producing a few hundred ounces of gold. During one of the mine’s dormant phases, Lang returned and set up residence in the cookhouse. According to Keys, a long-time resident in this area, Lang had hidden his stolen amalgam at the mill site and, unable to get to it before Ryan ran him off, had returned to retrieve his stash. Lang sold what Keys called “pure gold bullion” on several occasions during this time. In the winter of 1925, sickly and unable to walk out for help, Johnny Lang died of exposure along Keys View Road. Two months later, Keys found his body and buried him across from the access road to the mine.
With the creation of Joshua Tree National Monument in 1936, Lost Horse Mine came under the protection of the National Park Service. With time, the wooden portions of the cabins and the headframe of the mill collapsed. (The latter was removed for safety reasons.) During the last 15 years, the 500 foot mine shaft, with horizontal tunnels at each 100 foot level, began to collapse. The combination of unstable mine workings and earthquakes created a sink hole near the mill that eventually threatened the entire structure. Even the cable netting and concrete caps, that were installed to protect visitors, were consumed by the ever expanding hole. In 1996 a new technique for capping mineshafts was tried. A plastic foam product called PUF (polyurethane foam), similar to the material used for home insulating, was injected into the hole to provide a stabilizing plug. The plug was then covered with fill to protect it from UV damage and a wooden replica of the shaft collar was constructed.”
|Lost Horse Mountain||Lost Horse Mountain|
Before heading back to the cars I told everybody that I will quickly hike up to the summit of Lost Horse Mountain, the highpoint of that small range. Everybody was fine with that and said they will wait for me for about 15-20 minutes. I figured that should give me enough time. And so I start jogging up the trail to a saddle east of the peak. There was a use-trail going up the east slope in switchbacks but I took the direct route. I reached the summit, took some photos, signed the register, and enjoyed the scenery for a few minutes. I tried to spot the others way down but was not sure whether I could see them. I started to run back, this time on an even more direct path towards the mine down the northeast side of the mountain. When I came back to the mine, of course everybody else had left already. It took me about 15-20 minutes for a little bit under one mile and 300 feet of elevation gain and loss. After catching my breath for a minute I started to jog again and after another 5-10 minutes I caught them. We had a good time hiking back. That time there were not many people on the trail anymore and when we returned to the parking lot there were maybe 2 other cars there. Quite different compared to when we came. Since it was only a short hike and everybody seemed to be full of energy still we decided to walk a little bit more somewhere else in this area. So we looked at the map and found a short one-mile loop trail in Hidden Valley not far from the Lost Horse Mine area.
Real Hidden Valley
|Hidden Valley||Hidden Valley|
After a short drive we arrived at the Hidden Valley Day Use Area with many picnic tables. We were surprised and excited to see so many boulders and rock walls in that area. Of course, only later did I find out that this area is very popular and known by climbers. The setting sun bathed the rocks in a gorgeous warm light. Yan and her mom had some snack at the tables and the kids and I decided to scramble some of the bigger boulders up. It was a lot of fun squeezing through narrow gaps, jumping over gaping holes, climbing on boulders, and looking for the best route up or down. The kids had a lot of fun. Eventually we reached a point where there did not seem to be a non-technical route further up. So we returned back to the tables and started the loop trail into the Real Hidden Valley. If you have not been in this area before you will be amazed by the sheer number of boulders and rocks that await you here. It’s a bouldering paradise.
|Real Hidden Valley||Real Hidden Valley|
We took the trail in a clock-wise direction that led us beneath an impressive rock wall (Sentinal East Face) where some climbers tried their best. We watched them for a few minutes before heading further into the Valley. There were so many interesting things to see and do: gorgeous rock walls and boulders inviting to scramble over, beautiful blooming cacti and other wildflowers begging to have their picture taken. We stopped at so many places marveling at our surroundings. We even spotted a Chuckwalla; at least I thought it was one. After getting uncomfortably close, it squeezed itself into some cracks and out of our sight. No longer staying on the trail we wandered through the bushes and rocks searching for other animals and flowers. We took many pictures of the blooming Joshua Trees and Barrel Cacti. Shortly before we returned back to the cars, we noticed some movement in the bushes. We found a cute little rabbit looking for some food. It did not seem to be bothered by us too much and we were able to get pretty close. We watched it for a few minutes before the kids eventually got too close and it hopped away.
|Blooming Yucca||Blooming Cactus|
When we got back to our car we all seemed to be very happy. And we were getting hungry. It was already after 7pm. We drove to Yucca Valley and the kids had some burgers there. Yan, her mom, and I had dinner later in Alhambra.
Tired, but with the fresh memory of a beautiful day, we returned back to Los Angeles at around 11:30pm and were soundly sleeping shortly after.
I know I will be going back...going home