Twentynine Palms, CA
About half way through our week-long stay here we drove back into Joshua Tree National Park to hike the 6.7 mile Lost Horse Mine Loop Trail.
We hiked the loop in the recommended clockwise direction. That put us at the mine after hiking about two miles.
The history of the mine dates back to a rancher who bought the claim for $1000 in 1890. This mine was very successful, producing more than 10,000 ounces of gold and 16,000 of silver in 37 years of operation.
With the creation of Joshua Tree National Monument in 1936, Lost Horse Mine came under the protection of the National Park Service. 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 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.
Continuing on the trail past the mine we came to a great view of Pleasant Valley to our west. The black hill in the distance is Malapai Hill, formed by eruptive activity sometime between 8 million and 100,000 years ago.
Continuing along the trail we crossed the most difficult section of the hike, going down a long, steep, hillside and back up the other side. Soon we came to remnants of the Optimist Mine bunkhouse scattered along the southern side of the trail. Over 300 mine sites were established within the current boundaries of the park. Optimist Mine is an example of the failure the vast majority of mining operations encountered within a few years of being established. A stone chimney, broken bed frame, and assorted pots and cans are all that remain. It’s interesting to consider how just a mile away, partners of the Lost Horse Mine were making up to $3000 a day on their mine while places like Optimist struggled to even get going.
After passing the bunkhouse remains the trail goes over some small hills before entering a sandy wash. The trail follows this wash through a long, wide valley filled with Joshua Trees until returning back to the trailhead.
Driving back out from the trailhead we stopped at the dirt road’s junction with the main road to look for an interesting marker. On the west side of the paved Keys View Road, almost across from the entrance to the dirt Lost Horse Mine Road, lies the grave of John Lang, one of the original owners of the Lost Horse Mine in 1890. When Lang was found to be stealing from the profits he was forced to sell his share in the mine. During one of the mine’s dormant phases, he returned and set up residence in the cookhouse. In the winter of 1925, sickly and unable to walk out for help, Lang died of exposure along Keys View Road. Two months later, a local resident found his body and buried him across from the access road to the mine.
An interesting side-note: Grave robbers struck in the dark of night in 1983. They dug up Johnny’s grave and made off with pieces of his remains, his skull included. They were never apprehended.
The next day we drove 22 miles west on CA 62 to the town of Yucca Valley. From there we turned south for just a few miles and entered the Black Rock Canyon Campground, just inside of the national park. At the southern end of the campground is the trailhead for the Warren Peak Trail, a 5.5 mile round trip hike to the 5,103-foot summit of Warren Peak.
The trail to the peak is a slow, steady climb up through two sandy washes. There are three forks in the trail that are well-marked, directing you to take the right fork each time.
As we made our way up the final, narrow wash we could see the peak directly in front of us. The climb looked to be quite challenging after the steady uphill hike through the sand.
We established a base camp half way up the steep section and enjoyed a snack before beginning the final assault on Warren Peak.
Once back at the Jeep we made a quick stop in Yucca Valley at one of those chain coffee shops. During that respite the nimble hiker had a great idea (she has those often!). Since the main road through the national park is right on our way back to Twentynine Palms, why don’t we take that road and stop for a visit at the remains of the Ryan Ranch. What a great idea. After a tough hike through the sand with a steady elevation gain to a high peak and back again, why not stop and hike for another 1.5 miles! Did we mention that the sun would set during our visit to the ranch? Do we want to hike back out in the dark?
The ranch was established by the family of J.D. Ryan, the later developers of the Lost Horse Mine. The six room house was built as an adobe residence in 1896 with later wood frame additions. It was destroyed by fire August 12, 1978. We managed to get to the ranch and back just before it became really dark.
Our final hike in Joshua Tree NP was a three mile round trip trek to the 49 Palms Oasis. While not long, there is no shade on the trail and it goes up 300 feet and back down (in each direction).
There are strong warnings at the trailhead about carrying enough water, especially during the summer months. The day of our hike (Thanksgiving Day) the temperature was about 80 and we needed to drink quite a bit of water. We can’t imagine hiking this trail when the temperature is around 100 but many do it!
According to our count there were at least 49 fan palms growing at the oasis.
That winds up our stay outside of Joshua Tree NP. The Friday after Thanksgiving we left Twentynine Palms and headed west to the town of Hemet, south of Riverside, CA in what is known in Southern California as the Inland Empire. We’ll stay here for a week before heading south to San Diego for the month of December.
The nimble hiker has been looking at some nearby hiking trails so we may have a post or two from here in the near future. More on that later . . .