Hiking in Joshua Tree NP – Part 2

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.

Lost Horse Mine Trailhead

We hiked the loop in the recommended clockwise direction.  That put us at the mine after hiking about two miles.

Heading to the mine (white arrow)

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.

Remains of a stamping machine – it crushed rock to get at the gold

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.

Pleasant Valley

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.

Remains of the bunkhouse

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.

Hiking the sandy wash

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.

Warren Peak trailhead

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.

The summit comes into view

A small arrow on the post marks the final turn in the trail

We established a base camp half way up the steep section and enjoyed a snack before beginning the final assault on Warren Peak.

At the top without supplemental oxygen!

Yucca Valley is in the distance

Looking west to the San Bernardino Mountains

Lunch with a view

A young hiker meditates at the peak

Hiking poles save the day during the steep descent

Cool patterns along the way

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?

Ryan Ranch trailhead

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.

Adobe walls are all that remain of the ranch house

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!

A long set of steps begin the hike

At the high point we could see the palms below us (little spot of green in the center)

According to our count there were at least 49 fan palms growing at the oasis.

The view looking north toward Twentynine Palms

Winding trail with the parking area in the distance

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 . . .

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27 Responses to Hiking in Joshua Tree NP – Part 2

  1. ~M says:

    Sounds like a great adventure! 🙂

  2. Jeff Pierce says:

    I think you must have hit all the major hikes in the park. Thanks for taking us along. Do you have Idyllwild on list of places to hike?

    • placestheygo says:

      Over our three visits we have hit most of the main hikes and a few not on the park map. Glad you could come along. I don’t have Idyllwild on my list but will definitely check it out since Simpson Park is closed. Thanks!

  3. pmbweaver says:

    The bunkhouse looks like the walls just fell down and everything else is just in its place.
    Can’t image what the body was like after two months. That man must have had a strong stomach. And then to have the body stolen….good grief…they stole his skull….some sick people.
    We hiked 49 Palms Oasis too. One of the funnier hikes in that area. Love seeing the huge fan palms.

  4. That Warren Peak hike sounds like a challenge with the combo of soft sand and then steep hill! The views are pretty nice though!

    Pam is so efficient throwing in an extra hike since you were in the area! 😉

    • placestheygo says:

      I decided Warren Peak would be a nicer summit than Ryan’s Peak since Ryan’s Peak is usually packed. Warren Peak isn’t as popular which was much nicer with it being Thanksgiving week. The trail was almost empty. I thought I was being very efficient…and we did have a rest after all!

  5. Jim and Barb says:

    Such interesting history in that area. I wonder if 1,000 for that mine was a lot of money back then. For the amount of gold taken out it sure seemed like a bargain!

    • placestheygo says:

      You had me wondering what the mine would cost today. It would be around $25,000. Considering the gold and silver removed was worth 5 million by today’s standards, I’d say it was a steal!

  6. Laurel says:

    So….did you get some extra caffeine to help you with that bonus hike to the ranch? 🙂 I hope you liked the Forty-nine Palms Oasis hike — we loved it, but I remember it being warm even in mid-January. Those hikes through sandy washes count as double mileage.

    • placestheygo says:

      A little rest and caffeine wiped out the previous hike so we were ready to go! The 49 Palms hike was very nice with great views the whole way. That was the first Joshua Tree hike we’ve done with such strong heat warnings, even a huge thermometer at the TH. There was little to no breeze so it was very warm. I felt people didn’t read the park description and just saw the three miles.

  7. georgeyates says:

    We toured through JTNP about 10 years and thoroughly enjoy it, thanks for taking in all theses wonderful hikes that we were unable to do. Love the area.

  8. Sherry says:

    Another set of your terrific hikes. Interesting that the mine was stable enough until the last 15 years. Do they allow fracking in the vicinity or have earthquakes always been common? Wonder what damage a plastic plug will do. We seem to get ourselves in deeper and deeper creating problems. Pretty sad ending for the mine owner. An uphill climb in sand reminds me of trying to climb giant sand dunes in Colorado and Michigan. Really hard work. Another fantastic lunch with a view. Just love that there is no sign of man anywhere out there. Wow, 80 degrees on Thanksgiving.

  9. Jodee Gravel says:

    So fun to see through your eyes all the wonderful places there are to explore in Joshua Tree NP. I never made it to Warren Peak, but several of the park hikes bring back great memories. Of course you have even more history than I ever learned about some of the places :-)) When you drove from Parker to 29 Palms you passed Iron Mountain Road with a tall crossroads sign – that’s where I lived much of my childhood! Can’t wait to see what you get up to in Hemet – surely I’ve missed something there!!

  10. Gay says:

    Awesome hikes Pam. Summits always offer such amazing rewards! So cool to see all the palm trees.

  11. Among the trails you hiked, only Ryan Ranch was familiar to us. Should we be in that area again, we will follow the trails you blazed for us. The nimble hiker is really a good trail researcher!

    • placestheygo says:

      Thanks, MonaLiza! There are so many trails available that the park doesn’t have on their maps. But there are a lot of websites out there that describe so many trail. We also used the National Geographic Joshua Tree map.

  12. geogypsy2u says:

    Crazy how mining was feast or famine. The only ranch I’ve visited in the park was Keys on a tour long ago. Also haven’t checked out the Black Canyon area. You two sure do get around.

    • placestheygo says:

      It was very interesting that two mines so close to each other had direct opposite results. There are quite a few trails in the Black Canyon area and a nice campground where most trails start.

  13. LuAnn says:

    We have not explored Joshua Tree like you two did. The last couple of times we were set to head out there, the weather turned on us. I know where to research when we find the time to get back to the park. We are heading out today for OK. See you in a few days!

    • placestheygo says:

      We have had three very nice trips to Joshua Tree to do some hiking. I hope one day you do get there to hike and explore. You two will really enjoy it. It is such a large park that it makes it difficult to see all of it one visit. Have a wonderful visit with the family! See you real soon!

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