It was just another day of fun and adventure, this time in the Dale Mining District. Ranger “X” and I set off mid-morning for a day filled with terrible roads, underground terror, and swapping lies along the way. I can’t think of a better way to spend a day in the desert.
The Dale Mining District is located fifteen miles southeast of the city of Twentynine Palms, it was a very active mining district in the late 1800s and into the turn of century. The two largest mines in the district were the Supply Mine and the OK Mine, both operated until 1917, and have seen some sporadic resurgences over the years after.
On this particular day we had our sights set on a turn of the century silver and gold operation known as the Carlyle Mine (sometimes called the Calisle Mine). The Carlyle Mine was actively worked through 1941. It was owned and operated by Carlyle Mining Corp., William A. Dorman, president; A. E. Gates, secretary; G. Gemmell, superintendent, Los Angeles.
In 1938 it was reported that twenty-four men were employed at the mine. That same report indicated that there were two shafts – one 1500 ft. in length, the other 1200 ft. in length; with 2000 ft. of raises, winzes and cross-cuts. An aerial tram 2600 ft. in length delivered ore from the mines to the floatation mill, which was capable of processing sixty-tons per day.
Those figures from 1938 are the most recent historical account that I was able to locate, detailing the operation. In the years after 1938, additional work was done on the existing tunnels, along with the addition of a third tunnel. When the mine closed in 1941 it was speculated to have stemmed from the high cost of supplies at the time.
Fast forward to 2015. We arrived on the scene not really knowing what to expect, I try to do as little sleuthing on a place as possible prior to paying it a first visit, I enjoy the element of surprise, or in some cases I don’t enjoy disappointment. Making the turn into the canyon, we could see the toxic sludge run off, and the concrete foundation of the floatation mill on the hill-side, and above it a still standing tram tower. We followed the road up, passing can-dumps and collapsed stone structures along the way, finally reaching a point were the road had been washed out from flash flooding.
We hiked our way up what remained of the steep road to the location of where the mill had once stood, all that now remains are concrete slabs and walls. Standing there, staring at the foundation I was able to conjure up images in my head of the size of the structure, and the men working it. I could also hear the sounds of the men and machinery working as if it was happening in front of me. But it wasn’t, it was dead silent – the silence that you can only hear when you are far enough away from anyone or anything.
Continuing further up the slope we encountered the first of the three mine shafts. It was nearly 100° outside, stepping inside of the dark chamber provided an instant relief with a temperature drop of roughly 30°. This first tunnel had several raises and cross-cuts, with old wooden ladders leading to the upper levels. Both of us being “big fellas” declined climbing any of these ladders, opting for the safer alternative of staying on the lower level. Nearing the back of the shaft, we were both in awe of a cavernous room with the ceiling extended twenty to thirty feet tall, we nicknamed it “Yucca Man’s lair.”
Finishing up in the first shaft, it was time to again ascend up the hill, now to the tram tower. For it’s age the tram tower is in impeccable condition, and is the last standing historical structure of the mine. Be kind to it…! A nicely worn trail continues along the slope to a second tower, unfortunately it hasn’t had the same luck as the prior.
The final two shafts are now within a site, a massive tailing pile sits below the entrance to the uppermost shaft, so that is where we head first. The entrance is partially collapsed from falling rubble, but enough space remained to enable a crawl space. Once inside we walked, and walked, and walked – it felt like the never-ending shaft. There are no cross-cuts, no chutes, no nothing. Just a long-ass tunnel leading through a mountain.
At roughly an eighth of a mile into the mine we noticed that the walls had writing on them, lots of writing. The miners had used their carbide lamp to write their names, the date, and in some cases their addresses along a stretch of the shaft. Most of the dates were from the early to mid-1930s, and for the most part are probably as vibrant as the day that they placed them there. This was by far the highlight of the day.
Once past the signatures the mine enters a stretch with significant timbering. In some places the timbering has burst allowing for broken chunks of ore to spill directly into the path. The timbering goes on for some time, eventually coming to a stretch where the wood is so rotten that it crumbles with the slightest touch. Once through the timbering the ceiling lowered, forcing us to walk hunching over. The tunnel soon comes to end. In total we estimate the tunnel to be roughly a quarter of a mile long. For the most part up until the timbering the shaft is relatively safe, with ample headroom.
After the first two amazing shafts the third was underwhelming, descending only a hundred feet.
In terms of mines despite the lack of surface structures and artifact, the Carlyle is one of my favorites. An incredible tunnel system in a rugged and beautiful canyon.
PLEASE ENJOY THIS VIDEO TAKEN IN SHAFT #2