Blind Mule Placer Mine (Joshua Tree National Park)

The mines in Joshua Tree National Park’s, Pinto Basin and Eagle Mountains are lost in a black hole. Forgotten about, ignored, their history unrecorded, their stories tossed to the wind like a discarded cigarette butt. Joshua Tree’s own historic research studies list the mines as unimportant, having no historic value, and recommend no preservation. Interesting enough these very locations that have been deemed unimportant or insignificant are better preserved than a majority of the “historically significant” locations. Of course that may be for a few reasons, their remoteness, and/or the fact that the average visitor has never heard of them. Despite what the National Park Service says, I like to think that all of these places matter. We may not know their stories, but each of these mines were a part of someone’s American Dream, and who are we to say that their dream wasn’t as important or significant as say a William Keys?

In regard to the Blind Mule Placer Mine, we know extremely little. A research crew visited the site in the early 1980s, they found a claim notice dated 1932, and stack of magazines dated to the mid-1950s inside of a small metal cabin. No names, no production values, no information on the size of the crew, etc…and there my friends is government research at it’s finest. It may be safe to assume that they didn’t release any additional details because again like a majority of the Pinto Basin mines, the Blind Mule was again classified, “not historically significant.”

With nothing to go on except a perceived location, I teamed up with my buddy, Ranger “X” for yet another extended hike into the Pinto Basin bake oven. Like we have with previous Pinto Basin mines, like the Lucky Turkey #2, and Mystery Mine we began our hike at the wilderness boundary in Grubstake Canyon.  The route sent us down the duration of Grubstake, until we found the traces of an old road veering off to the northwest, and straight into the basin. We followed this road for some distance before realizing that it was taking us far out of our way, as we wanted to be against the mountain, not in the middle of the basin. The decision to ditch the road we would soon find out wasn’t our best decision as we encountered many deeply pitted washes running out of the mountain’s canyons. This of course was likely the reason that the road had been placed out into the basin before making a “B-line” straight for the small mining camp.

 

Blind Mule Placer Claim cabin.

Blind Mule Placer Claim cabin.

 

A look inside of the cabin reveals an old bed frame, and a tattered blanket or mattress.

A look inside of the cabin reveals an old bed frame, and a tattered blanket or mattress.

 

We persevered, and made it to where we believed the old metal shack should be located, but found nothing at first glimpse. Our first thought was that the shack had seen it’s demise, but then we looked down into the highly eroded wash, and there it was, the desert gold that we had been searching for. The shack had obviously seen better days, however its rusty tin can appearance held a charm all its own.  It was a small shack, smaller than the average modern-era storage shed, the bed frame that was lodged inside took up nearly all the interior. Outside we found an assortment of relics, ranging from an unopened can of Ben Hur Coffee, dozens of glass bottles, oil drums, and of course the usual assortment of cans. Several of the cans had been well preserved because of the dryness of the area, and we were able to make out names such as “Rival,” and “Swift’s Premium.” I even found the lid of a cyanide container, with a skull & cross-bones embedded in it. Yet, despite all of the historic elements just lying out in the open, the Blind Mule is classified as  “not historically significant.”

 

Ben Hur Coffee.

Ben Hur Coffee.

 

Swift's Premium

Swift’s Premium

 

Look closely: "Cyanide Poison" and a skull & cross-bones.

Look closely: “Cyanide Poison” and a skull & cross-bones.

 

Glass bottles galore! Guess the shooters never found this place!

Glass bottles galore! Guess the shooters never found this place!

 

Scattered historic trash around the camp.

Scattered historic trash around the camp.

 

We further combed the area, and located a tent foundation up on a hill. The stakes which once held the tent down are still embedded in the ground. Finding the tent site brought some new thought as to how this camp may have been situated. The earliest miner(s) of the Blind Mule likely lived in the tent structure, and the small metal cabin in the wash below was used as a storage shed. The bed frame in the metal cabin was likely placed there in the 1950s by whomever was mining the site in the 1950s (explaining the magazines found by JTNP research team).

Hiking further up the canyon, we found extensive evidence of where the wash had been dug out and mined. Unnatural drops in the wash, significant amounts of stone casing and masonry work, and a well carved trail traversing one end of the claim to the other. It was obvious that great pride and hard work had been put into the operation.

Unfortunately the Blind Mule Place Mine story will probably never be told. The old metal shack will continue to deteriorate until it finally falls over, and is washed away by the next big flash flood. But until then it stands as a testimony to the past, a testimony to a time when people worked hard, and had little.

 

Tent foundation.

Tent foundation.

 

Look closely in the low center of the image. A tent stake remains in the ground.

Look closely in the low center of the image. A tent stake remains in the ground.

 

The most significant diggings on the claim. I love the stone work!

The most significant diggings on the claim. I love the stone work!

 

Diggings in the wash.

Diggings in the wash.

 

More diggings, and the wash even has stone walls built up around it.

More diggings, and the wash even has stone walls built up around it.

 

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.

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