John’s Camp and the Gold Hill Mine (Joshua Tree National Park)

Johns Camp - An old stove has managed to partially survive for nearly the past 100 years.

The National Park Service at Joshua Tree have not been kind to many of the historic mines and communities that thrived here prior to being made a National Monument / National Park.  Many of the mines, even the largest ones to have operated have been reduced to nothing more than tailings and bat caged holes in the ground. The reason behind this? All in the name of safety, the casual visitor can’t be trusted to make their own decisions; therefore a government agency must step in and make decisions for the people. Sad, isn’t it?  Anyway, the point that I’m getting at is that Joshua Tree has several very old mines, and small mining communities scattered among the backcountry, many of which have far more interesting ruins than that of the more “tourist driven” mining sites.

John’s Camp, which served as the camp for the Gold Hill Mine is one of such places. Located only a little over a half mile from Loop Road, it is a site not located on any current maps of the National Park. It receives a brief mention in a popular hiking book about the park, and of course there is no mention of it in Park Service literature or their website. So why the big secret? I don’t really know if there is one, like other mines everything here has been sealed, there is no risk of falling into a hole. I can only assume that the site has been deemed insignificant, and uninteresting to the “casual visitor”.

If you are reading this website, I can only assume that you are not the “casual visitor,” you have a taste for the finer things in life; a good book, maybe a cigar, and hopefully a good microbrewed beer. You like your historic sites to be obscure, less traveled, and there sure as hell better not be someone else there when you arrive. If that is you, the rundown ruins of John’s Camp will be right up your alley, if not stick to the Barker Dam Nature Trail…that is where “they” want you to go anyway.


Johns Camp - An old stove has managed to partially survive for nearly the past 100 years.

John’s Camp – An old stove has managed to partially survive for nearly the past 100 years.


Very little is known about John’s Camp or Gold Hill Mine, even Joshua Tree has admitted to that in their 1983 Historic Resource Study. It states, “Little information was found on the ownership of this mine, its dates of operation, or its production record.” Report XXV of the State Mineralogist, published in 1929 provides the following statement, “It comprises 5 claims located 6 miles east of Keys’  and 12 miles south of Twentynine Palms, in the San Bernardino  range of mountains. Owner’s, C. H. Wiser, Anvil B. Johns, Rialto,  California, and J. A. Johns, San Bernardino, California.

Further research revealed some details that had been previously been missing. I found in the July 26, 1928 edition of the San Bernardino County Sun the following:

“Fontana Men Hit Big Gold Ledge at Desert Queen – Morongo Valley Mining District Booms With $240 Ore Furnishing Newest Incentive Gold ore which assays from $103.64 to $239.99 per ton has been taken from the Consolidated Gold Hill mine, in Riverside county near the famous old Desert Queen mine which 26 years ago produced thousands of dollars worth of the precious metal”

“In addition to streaks of gold in the ore, pockets of pure gold are said to occur in the new mines. The new strike was made in March, and located at once by Anvil B. Johns and C. H. Wiser of Rialto, A. B. Johns and Joe O. Johns of 1146 Bellview avenue, San Bernardino.”

“Samples of the ore have been placed in the Riverside county chamber of commerce, in the basement of the county courthouse and may be seen there. According to a description of the mine, there is an outcropping ledge about one-fourth mile in length. The same ledge appears at intervals along a course of about five miles. In the Consolidated Gold Hill mine a shaft 4x6x16 feet in depth has been worked, and good showings made.”

“The mine is reached by going through the San Gorgonio pass, and Whitewater to Morongo valley, and past Warren’s well. Thence the road goes via Quail springs and Keys ranch. Six miles east of Keys ranch on the old Twentynine Palms road, past the Wall Street mine and the Los Angeles mine, one-half a mile past Split Rock road and tanks. Here the route goes north one-half miles to the main strike.”


Johns Camp - This metal lined shaft was likely used for cold storage.

John’s Camp – This metal lined shaft was likely used for cold storage.


John's Camp - One of several can dumps in the vicinity.

John’s Camp – One of several can dumps in the vicinity.


Unfortunately, this little bit of unearthed detail doesn’t give the entire picture…how long did the Gold Hill Mine operate? How many men in the employ? What was the total haul?  Some signs do point to some of the answers, for instance despite claims of gold ore assaying for $103.64 to $239.99 per ton, the shafts of the mines making up the group are considered shallow. This would indicate that the mines lifetime was relatively short, and the actual value of the ore was much less than reported.

Anyway, the site of John’s Camp is pretty bitchin, the largest relic is that of an old stove. I’m not talking the kind of stove that one would have in their home, this is a total rig job that has managed to survive for nearly 100 years. I wouldn’t go firing it up today however, because desert rats have managed to make it into a cozy living space. An interesting metal lined shaft of some sort sits just a short distance away, it only goes down about two feet – I suspect that it served as a cold storage box.

Several can dumps can be found in the vicinity; these rusty relic dump sites can serve up a good bit of history in and of themselves if you are versed in the several types of can styles used in the early 1900s. Many times the cans found at these long abandoned sites can help archaeologist pinpoint the years in which a mine or camp was occupied. If you are interested in learning how to date cans, I recommend this article.


Gold Hill Mine - Tailing piles, stone walls and foundations.

Gold Hill Mine – Tailing piles, stone walls and foundations.


Johns Camp - Historic or not? It sure looks old.

John’s Camp – Historic or not? It sure looks old.


As for the mines, as I already stated, they have all been sealed…however there are stones walls, and machinery foundations near the shafts.  One of the foundations is inscribed, “A.B.J. April 1, 1930,” on it’s side, likely for Anvil B. Johns, one of the mines founders and owners.

While the full story of John’s Camp and the Gold Hill Mine will likely never surface, I hope that I have managed to piece together enough to keep it interesting, and you intrigued.

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.