Ibex Springs is located along the extreme southeastern border of the Death Valley National Park. Despite it’s close proximity to Highway 127; between Shoshone and Baker, the entire southeastern corridor of the park remains one of the least visited sections of this vast desert park.
In 1881, Frank Denning and Stanley Miller (both miners) found an outcrop of silver and copper in the hills north of Saratoga Springs; they named it Ibex. In May of 1882, the two men sold the claim to Reverend Calvine A. Poage, the publisher of the San Francisco Occident for the sum of $48,000. That same fall, the reverend formed the Ibex Mining Company along with eighteen partners, and a working capital of one-million dollars. A five-stamp mill was built at Ibex Springs the following spring, it’s operation was sporadic however, due to the limited supply of wood and water. The summer heat of Death Valley also played its toll on the mine, it was often deemed too hot to mine for several months of each year. During the limited mining season, roughly $60,000 worth of bullion per month was easily obtained. The Ibex Mining Company finally called it a day in 1889. Tt is believed that the mine never actually made any money, but didn’t lose money either.
In April of 1901, Judge L. Bethune located three claims at Ibex Springs. These claims went on to become a “lost mine” story after Bethune got drunk and died in the desert in 1905. They didn’t remain lost for long, and were relocated in January of 1906 by a group of men from Rhyolite, NV. In October of 1906, they incorporated as the Lost Bethune Mining Company. At Ibex Springs, several bunk houses and a boarding house were built to house the company employees. By March of 1908, Lost Bethune was employing eight men, and they had sunk a two hundred foot shaft, had fifty tons of ore on the dump and had shipped over 300 tons, which averaged $43.30 per ton.
Meanwhile, some one hundred plus miles away, Rhyolite, NV was seeing it’s demise. This effected the Lost Bethune Mining Company greatly, the men involved with the company had secured much of their funding sources in Rhyolite. Monthly shipments of ore continued through May of 1909, with the mine shutting down a short time later.
Five year later the original Ibex Mine was sprung back to life by Frank Barbour; in 1915 it was employing twenty men. Barbour sold the Ibex the next year, it’s new owners operated it consistently through 1921 before closing it down one last time.
Ibex Springs would lay dormant for the better part of a decade.
In the mid-1930s, Ibex Springs would spring back to life after the location of sixteen talc claims by John Moorehouse; the mine would become known as the Moorehouse Mine. This would also be the last era of mining in what is now Death Valley National Park. By 1941, the Moorehouse Mine had removed 1,110 tons of talc. Somewhere between 1941 and 1945, the Moorehouse Mine would go idle. Then in 1945 the mine was leased to the Sierra Talc Company. Sierra Talc produced 62,000 tons of talc by 1959, after having done extensive developments to the ore bodies. The Moorehouse Mine saw only sporadic activity from 1959 through 1968. Assessment work continued to be done for several years after.
The Moorehouse Mine is presently the best example of mining in Death Valley National Park. The mine consists of three levels of workings, the lowest and middle levels are from the earliest workings. These earliest workings include several adits, ore bins, ore chutes, and a beautiful tramway network. Between the stunning backdrop of mountains and the valley, along with the structural ruins the Moorehouse is picturesque.
The upper workings, are very late era, and show the scars of a modern-day strip mining operation.
The National Park Service concluded in their Historic Resource Study of Death Valley National Park that the Moorehouse Mine is not of historical significance, and a policy of “benign neglect” should be assigned to it. They later add, “Conversely, the mine structures certainly should not be destroyed or carted away, as the value of the complex will obviously grow with age.” What it likely boils down to is that the location is so far removed from the typical tourist thoroughfare, they don’t want to be bothered with it.
Other nearby talc mines are the Monarch and Pleasanton. The Monarch consists of four claims, located by Ralph Morris in 1938. In 1945, it was also leased to the Sierra Talc Company, whom operated it through 1950, producing 46,000 tons of talc. In 1956 it would again be leased, but this time to Southern California Minerals Company.
The Pleasanton consisted of two claims, founded in 1942. In 1946, like the other mines in the area, Sierra Talc leased the operation, pulling 16,000 tons of talc out during a one year lease. In 1956, it was leased to the Southern California Minerals Company. They connected the underground workings of the Monarch and The Pleasanton. Southern California Minerals Company only managed 7,500 tons during their three years of operation.
Several mining relics remain at both sites, but none rival those of the Moorehouse Mine.
Ibex Springs itself has served many purposes over the years for several groups of people. Its earliest inhabitants were the Shoshone Indians. The earliest miners in the area reported arrowheads, pottery, and stone structures around the spring. One of these stone structures was later converted by the miners into a bunkhouse. A 1907 account stated, “it is a fine camp of bunk houses, boarding house, etc.”
During the talc boom of the 1930s, Ibex Springs grew to have a dozen wooden building, including a bathhouse with plumbing, several sheds and storehouses, and several living quarters. During Sierra Talc’s reign of the region, Ibex Springs was considered a company town, they even charged their employees rent to live there, despite little or no other options.
Today the Ibex Springs Ghost Town is in poor condition. Most of the buildings have suffered from years of neglect and vandalism. The few that still remain standing are missing a majority of their walls, or have had them kicked or punched in by vandals. Despite the careless attention that has been paid to the site over the course of the last thirty years, the town site remains intriguing and hauntingly beautiful in its own right.