On a drive through Saline Valley a pipe leading up the side of the Inyo Mountains caught my attention, prompting an impromptu investigation. Approaching the site, I found a very intact mining operation, appearing to have been worked and maintained in modern times. A sign along with a camera box is posted at the entrance to the claim, warning you that you are being photographed, and that vandals will be prosecuted.
A large wooden ore bin is situated at the bottom of the mountain, the long pipe that initially caught my attention was actually an ore chute. The ore chute runs down the mountain from the mine, and empties into the bin. The doors of the ore bin have recently been replaced with new lumber, as well as the support beams along the lower end of the chute. Thee is also a gas-powered Skagit B-20 Logging and Loading Donkey engine, used to operate a small aerial tram.
The mine is called the Grey Eagle Talc Mine. Historic references are far and few between, however the 1964 book, “Talc Resources of the United States,” cites the mine as containing the largest reserve of steatite talc (soapstone) in California, and one of the top four reserves in the country.
The California Journal of Mines and Geology, Vol. 47, No. 1, Jan. 1957 reported the following: “The talc is apparently on the edge of a pendant of limestone in quartz monzonite. The entire mine area, however, seems to be underlain by a landslide, and the mine workings are in highly fractured rock. The talc body is poorly exposed but has a maximum thickness of about 20 feet. It thins markedly in both directions along the strike. The talc resembles the steatite mined elsewhere in the Inyo Range and probably is of steatite purity.”
“Mining was largely a glory-hole operation. The talc was trammed to the surface along two adits, one below the other. Much timbering was required in the lower adit. One thousand tons of talc were removed from the mine between 1941-1942. ”
Rumors have floated around that two miners at the Grey Eagle, blew themselves up when dynamite exploded prematurely in the mine. Author, Bill Mann suggests that some of their teeth can still be seen in the timbers. Whether fact or fiction, it is nonetheless an interesting story worth preserving.