The Pinto Mountains are home to hundreds if not thousands of abandoned mines and prospects. Three mining districts sprang up in the range between the late 1800s and the early 1900s. The most prominent and well know district being the Dale Mining District, but there was also the Rattler District, and the Monte Negras District. In these districts, for every one mine that has a recorded name, there are three that don’t. This often makes research difficult, to downright impossible.
The “Arrastra Mine” is one of those nameless mines. It is located in a now roadless canyon in the Pinto Mountains that is accessed via the Pinto Basin floor. Geographically the mine likely falls within the Monte Negras District, but the Rattler District is also a distinct possibility.
I first took notice to this mine some months back while scouring the mountains and basin via Google Earth for anything odd, or that appeared to be disturbed ground. In a canyon along the Pintos there appeared to be glimmering square box that grabbed my attention. I wasn’t exactly sure what I was seeing, so I saved the location, figuring that one day I’d get the bug to hike out and check it out.
That bug finally bit, my curiosity got the best of me. I drove down through the Pinto Basin in Joshua Tree National Park, then back up through the basin via Old Dale Road toward the Pinto Mountains. Parking just above Mission Well, I began the hike across the open desert, soon entering the wash that runs through the canyon that I was looking for. In the wash there were ruins, and an adit from the neighboring Sunrise Mine (more on the Sunrise Mine at another time).
I soon crossed over the NPS / BLM boundary. It was about that time that I could see what appeared to be a structure standing above the wash about a quarter of a mile away. I wondered, could this be my glimmering square box from Google Earth? As I got closer I began finding rusty cans scattered about in the wash, and I could make out a pile of tailings just beyond the structure. It was appearing that my hike would not be in vain.
The structure was a stone cabin with a concrete foundation. Inside there was a rusty bed frame, a staple of many of the old abandoned mining structures in these parts. Directly beside the structure it appears that there was at one time a wood addition that has been lost to fire, several charred pieces of lumber lie in place. This was indeed my glimmering box in the desert, but I couldn’t figure out what made it seem that way in satellite images. No matter, without it, I likely wouldn’t have taken notice.
A little further up the canyon, and across the wash were the tailings that I had noticed from a distance. The pile was larger than I had originally thought. The ruins of what was another stone structure sat nearby. The ground was littered with discarded cans, broken glass, and an array of machinery parts. I tried to not get too excited, I half suspected that the adit would be sealed due to the close proximity of the National Park. I was pleasantly surprised when I approached it, and found that it wide open.
The wood frame on the outside of the adit was in a bad state, the wood rotten, and falling down. It was definitely a warning to proceed with caution. The adit went back maybe thirty feet before coming to a very deep looking shaft. A few pieces of wood extended out over it, and the adit continued tunneling through the mountain. Unfortunately that was the furthest that I would venture. I was alone, nobody was aware of my exact whereabouts, and the boards didn’t appear safe enough to walk across. While saddened that I wasn’t able to continue, it is important to keep in mind that safety comes first in these old mines, even if it dampens the adventure.
After exiting the adit, I looked over the area once again. I was shocked to find that one of the biggest surprises was right under my nose the entire time, a stone arrastra was built into the side of the canyon, directly beside the large pile of tailings. It blended into its surroundings so well that I almost completely missed it. Arrastras were a primitive way of milling ore, originally innovated by the Chileans, and widely used by small mining operators in the desert southwest. With so many smaller, and remote mines in the Pinto Mountains the arrastra was widely used, and the ruins of them can be found regularly in this region. It would be my guess that based on this arrastras placement on the side of a hill that it was engine operated, as opposed to mule, burro or horse powered.
Curious if anything further laid up canyon, I followed the wash for an additional mile past the mine. I found a rusty can here and there, that had washed down canyon, as well as an occasional rock cairn, that were used as boundary markers. Other than that I just enjoyed the peace and quiet, and some time being alone with nature.