The Big Four Mine (Death Valley National Park)

For those of you that know your metal, and by metal I mean heavy metal (as in music), the Big Four Mine has nothing to do with Metallica, Slayer, Anthrax, or Megadeth. Sorry. I know that you got a little excited there. If you don’t get the joke, it is ok. Go ahead and go back to listening to Taylor Swift or whatever radio friendly pop music you prefer.

The Big Four Mine is located in a remote and unnamed canyon in northern Panamint Valley. Access is via a high-clearance 4×4 road running up the canyon drainage. It is notorious for being wiped out by flash flooding, so be very cautious when attempting this road, especially if you are alone. It is a long walk back to Highway 190, and this particular area doesn’t see much in the way of visitors.

For the Death Valley region, The Big Four Mine was a late comer. By the time William Reid filed on this location in 1940 (the mine was previously located elsewhere, and relocated to the current location), and began working the mine in 1942, most mines in the Death Valley area had long ceased production. What Reid was after was cerussite (lead carbonate) and zinc.

 

Ore chutes on the side of the canyon, extending out from the adit.

Ore chutes on the side of the canyon, extending out from the adit.

 

Ore chute on the side of the canyon wall.

Ore chute on the side of the canyon wall.

 

From 1944 through around 1952 the mine was leased to several different miners. Elmer Perry had a lease from 1944-1945, during that time he managed to mine 372 tons of ore. William Braun and Sials Ness operated the property in 1946, shipping 11 cars of ore. In 1949, Lee Foreman and William Skinner operated under a lease, but no production numbers are available from their time.  The last-named owners of the mine in 1951 were, Mrs. Agnes Reid of Panamint Springs; Silas Ness of Olancha; William Braun of Bishop, and Marie Keck of Los Angeles, California.

The California Journal of Mines and Geology, Vol. 47, No. 1, Jan. 1951 describes the workings as follows:

Replacement-type ore is in a brecciated and altered zone in limestone and consists mainly of cerussite, with some zinc and silver. Narrow seams of cerussite are in a zone 1-foot to 4-feet thick. The zone dips to the northwest about 30 degrees.

The workings are on two levels. The lower levels is a short adit driven S. 20 degrees E., ending in a small irregular slope. The upper level has a 110-foot adit driven along a fault S. 55 degrees E. The adit ends in an irregular 80-foot stoped section. Recently, an adit was driven eastward from the portal of the lower adit; stoping will continue from this new heading.

A 900-foot crosscut adit was driven N. 70 degrees E. at the base of the hill many years ago.

To the northwest across the canyon, two 30-foot adits have been driven N 25 degrees E. and N 30 degrees E.

 

Majestic Manufacturing Cast Iron Stove.

Majestic Manufacturing Cast Iron Stove.

 

 

Broken glass jug, and rusty cans.

Broken glass jug, and rusty cans.

 

Looking out of the canyon toward Panamint Valley, and the Panamint Valley Dunes.

Looking out of the canyon toward Panamint Valley, and the Panamint Valley Dunes.

 

Ore bucket laying in the wash below the mine.

Ore bucket laying in the wash below the mine.

 

When I visited this site in the summer of 2016, it was a tad bit on the hot side with temperatures creeping near 120F. I didn’t bother to check out the adit, but rather stayed in the bottom of the canyon. Here I found a rusted old ore bucket that at one time would have transported ore out of the mines via an aerial tram. In a corner of the canyon walls was an old Majestic Manufacturing Cast Iron Stove, along with a significant can and bottle dump.

Perched high-up on the canyon walls are the ore bins and chutes that extend out from the adit. It is my understanding that the adit remains open, and is complete with ore cart tracks. Some earlier reports indicate that the mine is unstable with collapsed support beams.

About the author

Jim Mattern

Jim is a scapegoat for the NPS, an author, adventurer, photographer, radio personality, guide, and location scout. His interests lie in Native American and cultural sites, ghost towns, mines, and natural wonders in the American Deserts.