My friend Ronda grew up in the high desert community of Joshua Tree, allowing her plenty of time during her short life to find some interesting, off the beaten path locations in the region. It is this that has influenced her to become an anthropologist. She is also quite the little rock hound, a member of the Hi-Desert Rockhounds of Morongo Basin, she can go on and on identifying minerals. We recently met up for a trip to the Alvord Mine in the Alvord Mountains, outside of Newberry Springs.
We saddled up, and took off in Ronda’s F150 pick-up for a day of underground exploring. It was a pleasure for once to not be doing the driving, it isn’t often that I get the opportunity to kick back and relax. The drive from Joshua Tree took us through Johnson and Lucerne Valley, Barstow, Yermo, and finally Newberry Springs. Turning toward the Alvord Mountains, I was excited because this was all new terrain for me. For whatever reason the Alvord Mountain had never been on my radar, but Ronda promised that it was a worthwhile area to check out, and I had no reason not to believe her.
It was Thanksgiving weekend, and as we neared the Alvord Mine, we passed a large group of shooters that were camping near the base of the mountain. We rolled past them, and up into the mountains until we reached a crumbling stone structure perched on a bench along a deeply rutted wash. Ronda stopped, and we piled out of the truck. The building ruin was in as decent of shape as you would image an old abandoned building in the desert to look like. It was constructed in stone, and reinforced with concrete. The wooden roof, long gone. A photo that I found from 1970 shows the building in nearly the same structural condition, only now the interior has been defaced with spray paint.
In the wash below the ruins, I was saddened to find that the historic mine site has become a popular place for target practice. A layer of broken glass, shot up targets, and spent casings cover the wash and hillside. Precisely a reason why target practice should be confined to specifically set aside locations on public lands, or at a minimum be outlawed from locations of historic interest. I have no problem with recreational shooting, when it is done responsibly and safely, unfortunately like many things, bad people ruin it for everyone.
We walked the road past the removed mill site to an open adit on the hillside. Today there are only foundations and a cyanide tank that remain where the 10-stamp mill had operated from 1910-1952. Previous to the install of the 10-stamp in 1890, a mill had been built at Alvord Well, near the mouth of the canyon. It burned down one year later, with a replacement mill having been built in 1895.
This was Ronda’s baby, so she led the way through the dark tunnel, maneuvering us through off-shoot adits, and caverns. Along the way we passed several vertical adits with scaffolding being the only safety precaution to keep people from falling inside. Many of the cavernous portions of the adit were highly developed with support beams, and ladders reaching into higher levels of the mine.
Gold was found at the site of the Alvord Mine in 1880, the mine was worked by various owners from its inception until 1952, at which time it closed for good. The mine was named after the lost Alvord Lode, which Charles Alvord had stumbled upon in the Death Valley region in the 1860s. Naming it the Alvord Mine was likely a ruse to make the mine sound richer than it actually was, and to attract potential investors. In reality the Alvord Mine didn’t do too badly, bringing in $50,000 in gold by 1891, but was still a far cry from the more successful mines of the era. Later production amounts and values are not available.
Ronda and I didn’t find any gold in the Alvord, but we did find magnificent specimens of chrysocolla, and calcite crystals. Chrysocolla is a beautiful mineral that is often mistaken for turquoise due to its light blue color. Equally if not more impressive is the abundance of calcite crystals that sparkle like freshly cut diamonds. Looking closely in the darker cuts in the mine, we also noticed several instances of calcite stalagmites beginning to form.
We visited one other adit that was part of the Alvord Mine, and found a very similar layout of large caverns, and an abundance of both chrysocolla and calcite crystals.
All in all, it was a splendid day trip to an area that likely would have never caught my eye.