The Helly & Cross Mine was on my radar for nearly a year. It wasn’t a matter of not knowing where it was located or how to get there that kept me away, but rather a very rocky road that climbs 600 feet in just under a mile along a narrow shelf.
If you’ve followed my writing for any amount of time you are probably aware of my fear of shelf roads. It isn’t just shelf roads either, but rather any heights that I’m relying on a mechanical instrument. I loath everything from ferris wheels to ski slopes. If I’m on my own two feet I’m usually perfectly fine.
Sometime back I found myself on the shelf road to the Helly & Cross. A quarter of a mile up the road I freaked out. With the help of my friend Mike, I managed to pull something like a fifty point turn while staring down a cliff. For sometime my interest waned on visiting this mine because of the road (I’m aware that I could have hiked up to the mine, but for whatever reason I was feeling lazy with this one).
Recently I got a hair up my butt and decided to give it another ago. Somewhere I found the determination, and I was going to drive that road, and cross the Helly & Cross off of my list. On the drive out I could tell Mike was nervous, he was trying to talk me out of it before we even arrived. Meanwhile, I kept my composure and determination. This was the day, I wasn’t putting it off any longer.
When we arrived at the bottom of the shelf road I stopped and aired down my tires to give them a little more traction. As I looked up at the road it appeared longer than it did the first time, at least from what I remembered. I dropped the Jeep into low-range four-wheel-drive, and began the slow crawl up the mountain. Before I knew it we were past where I had somehow managed to turn around the last time. We were still alive, the Jeep hadn’t managed to jump off of the cliff, and the road didn’t collapse under us. So far, it was good day.
At what I thought was the half-way point I stopped to remove some large rocks from the road. I was the first one up the road since the last rainfall, and several largish boulders found their way down the embankment and onto the road. I could have driven over them, but I wasn’t taking any chances of teetering over the edge.
I approached a long section of wide road that I thought was the homestretch, only to find that the road again ledged, and continuing climbing up the mountain. While I managed to keep my composure, I was hoping that this would soon be over. Finally the tailings of the mine came into view. With a sense of relief, I parked and we began the climb up to the adit.
In reality the road wasn’t bad, I have driven much worst. This is simply a mental thing for me. Part of wanting to drive this was simply to prove to myself that I could do it, and that the next time I will accept the challenge head on. In reality flipping a bitch like I did on the previous occasion was far more dangerous than actually driving the road to the end.
The tailing pile below the adit was relatively large, indicating that the length was going to be sizeable, and that the mine was at least somewhat profitable for the operators.
We entered the mine, and found that the height of the adit was relatively short, causing us both to walk along like a couple of hunchbacks. It isn’t unusual to find adits that aren’t very tall, people were shorter in the past. We passed markings on the wall every fifty feet indicating the depth of the mine. At around four-hundred feet a tunnel shot off to the right, while the main adit continued straight ahead. We decided to take the passage to the right.
Finally we were in a place where we could stand up straight, it felt really good to stretch out the back after being hunched over for a period of time. It was in this offshoot that we found what we had come here looking for. Written on the walls were the names, dates, and sometimes messages from the miners that once worked here. The miners created the graffiti with the soot from their carbide lamps, this was a common practice for miners around the globe.
In this offshoot there were a couple of dozen names, many of which were dated between 1934-1937. One of the names stood out to me due to his association with several other mines in the Dale District, that was Jack Meek. Meek was the proprietor of the Meek Mine, at one time the Golden Egg, along with additional properties. He was known as colorful character around nearby Twentynine Palms, and lived in the region from about 1921 until his death in 1951.
Back in the main tunnel there were dozens of additional names written on the wall, many of which were surprisingly female names. There was Millie, Iris, Grace Carl, Bessie Kaylor, Virginia Lee Cross (the wife of Les Cross, one of the mine’s owners), and several others. Many were dated July 4th, making me wonder if they had a celebration at the mine with their families.
At about 500 feet back a well timbered vertical shaft was sunk, with what appeared to be a pretty stable ladder reaching down to the lower level. Near this shaft there was another shaft leading up to higher level. As much as I’d love to explore these other levels it is something that I just can’t bring myself to do.
When we reached the 550 feet the main adit came to an end. On the back wall were the names of the mine owners, Les Cross and Fred Heely, dated February 14, 1949.
Gallery of miner graffiti
The Heely & Cross Mine was a gold producer, but like many of the mines in the region there are no production records available, and the history of mine has been lost in time. Based on the dated inscriptions inside of the mine it can safely be assumed that the mine operated from 1934-1949, but before and after those years is unaccounted for.
The California Division of Mines and Geology provides the following details about the work performed, “Mineralized shear zones contain quartz stringers and veins up to two inches wide in quartz monzonite. Shears trend N40-80oW, dip 800S to vertical, and are up to 4.5 feet wide. Area developed by a 15-foot vertical shaft at the end of a 20-foot open cut which joins a 110-foot adit, a 60-foot adit driven east from a 35-foot cut, and a shaft reported to be about 30 feet deep.”
Joshua Tree National Park’s, Historic Resource Study from 1983 provides the following insight, “This property was described as located two miles north of the Gold Crown Mine, and comprised five claims. Development works consisted of an adit 700 feet long. Its ore was being milled at the Gold Crown Plant.”
Despite the lack of surface artifacts and historic details, the Heely & Cross has earned itself a place as one of my all time favorite mines based on its beautiful location, a deep and interesting adit, and all the names cataloged on the walls.