Per a press release issued on 2/12/2016 by Joshua Tree National Park, you may also no longer visit the El Sid, aka. The Moser Mine.
I’ve always been a huge supporter of National Parks, and have encouraged people to get off the beaten track. I’m beginning to think that superintendents like my friend, David Smith would prefer if everyone stay within the confines of Barker Dam and the Cholla Garden.
If the park service would have actually done their job in the first place by better educating visitors in regard to etiquette, both in land stewardship and historical/cultural preservation problems like those cited in the press release would have been easier avoided.
These National Parks are ours as citizens of this nation – not some ranger’s with a weird little hat. I have to admit that the actions of the National Park Service closing off segments of our land because of their shortfalls that they so conveniently blame on “press” and “social media,” has me second guessing my interest in supporting them in any way in the future.
Go see everything that you want to see NOW, before it is closed.
It all began when I was mapping a route for a future backpacking trip into the most remote backcountry that Joshua Tree National Park has within its 1,123 square miles. As usual it started with an idea of geographically where I wanted get into, and from there I went to satellite imaging to determine the best possible route. It was when I was studying the satellite imagery that I found signs of several structures in an area that has had no vehicular access for several decades. Not only has there been no vehicular access, but this is an area that NOBODY goes into, it is virtually unexplored.
These findings caused me to call my partner on the upcoming trip, and request that we perform a reconnaissance of the region. I explained what I had found via the satellite images, and suggested that we check it out, as well as figuring out if what I had mapped would work on our backpacking trip.
On Sunday we drove out to the region. The first order of business was to figure out how close we could get my Jeep to the area that we intended to penetrate. Once finding the wilderness boundary it was on foot, across the open desert to the canyons. My anxiety was getting the best of me as we hiked out into the great unknown, only because I knew that whatever we would find out here is not often visited.
After walking a great distance, the first set of buildings that I had seen on the satellite images came into view, but they appeared to be collapsed – this was confirmed as we came upon them. Despite the collapsed buildings there was still a nice size can dump, intact and broken glass jars, bottles, and china. I thought to myself, “ok, this is typical”, but hadn’t completely given up hope that in the coming twists and turns of the canyon, that we would find something significant.
In the next turn of the canyon, there was confirmation that we had found something exciting…standing structures in Joshua Tree National Park! You have to understand, a majority of the old mining structures have long been removed from the park, either by the hand of the NPS, or from natural deterioration. Then of course there was Bill Keyes, the areas most well-known classic character. Keyes was notorious for removing buildings from abandoned mines and homesteads, moving them to his ranch, or utilizing the wood for other purposes. So it is safe to say that a majority of the buildings which would be considered historic today, are long gone.
The first structure that we approached was a classic desert cabin. It was built out of both metal and wood advertising signs that can be dated from the 1930’s through the 50’s, the most prominent being a rusted Coca Cola Classic metal sign, and a 7Up sign that utilizes slogans from campaigns in the 1930’s. The interior, plastered with 50’s era newspaper and magazine pages. While the furnishing have been gutted, and sat in a stack outside of the cabin – it is possible to picture how this miner’s cabin was once set up. It has a rustic charm that only a desert rat could appreciate.
The second cabin was larger than the first, and included a full kitchen, complete with a range, stove, and refrigerator. The refrigerator remains stocked with blown-out sodas, and jugs. The shelves in the kitchen contain an assortment of old canned goods, and sardine cans, which have expanded almost to the point of burst. A 1970’s style ski lodge style fireplace sits in the corner, and adds a bit of chic to the otherwise unkempt cabin.
Written on the wall of the second cabin, I was surprised to find some records kept by the last operator of the mine, as well as recordings of the daily London Stock Exchange prices for gold. Some of the entries on the walls read as follows, “Dec 24, 1980 – 209 grams, Jan 19, 1981 – 149 grams, Jan 21 – bad day, Feb 10 – sick”. While the records are not extensive, it gives a small glimpse of the mine operation in its final days.
Up the hill from cabin #2 is the mine itself, complete with the ruins of a ball mill which once operated on site. Several large engines sit in the place in which they last operated, and chemicals such as cyanide are in glass jars, with a not a thought of the possible danger that they pose. It becomes apparent that what we are seeing, is probably the exact way things were left when the last miner walked away, only now with a little more than two decades worth of impact from the environment.
The mining appears to have been rather extensive. The lower level tunnel has a large metal door, with ore cart rails running out of it, leading to the site of the ball mill. Several industrial sized extension cords run the length of the hollowed-out tunnel. The tunnel shoots off in a couple of directions, we walked the length of each, finding extensive timbering, and chutes coming down from the upper level(s). Brand new machinery equipment still in its wrapper was stashed for safe keeping, and a yellow jacket is still hung on a nail waiting for its owners return. In one direction the tunnel is collapsed several hundred feet back, while the other simply comes to a grinding halt. Due to limited time, the upper tunnel remains unexplored – but it won’t stay that way for long.
After inspecting the mine, we headed back toward to cabins, then further up the canyon to yet another cabin. Nearly a mile later, and a hefty elevation gain we reached the third cabin. From a distance it looked as if we might have found the Ritz Carlton of cabins, it appeared big and in excellent condition. As we approached it, it became clear that it wasn’t the Ritz Carlton, but your standard rustic wooden shack. The cabin was empty except for a few rusty coat hangers, again the cabins furnishing stacked in a state of disarray outside. A couple of vintage, mint condition Coca-Cola bottles are sat neatly a short distance from the cabin.
Another mine sits on the mountain above this third cabin, unfortunately time wasn’t on our side – and it too remains unexplored. The possibilities of what is inside are endless.
Mining began here in the 1880’s, but the site forgotten after the owner was struck by a vehicle, causing him severe mental impairment. In the 1930’s the mine was rediscovered when two prospectors came upon the original owner’s rusted tools, and stone shack. The two men began working the mine, and the gold assayed for between $65 to $850 per ton. In 1973, it was reported that the then owner of the mine slipped from a narrow trail at the mine, and fell 60 feet to his death. After 1973, the history goes blank with the exception of what is written on the wall in the cabin.
While I can only assume, I doubt that these mines and cabins have been visited by any more than a handful of people since their closing – along with the NPS employee that has done limited tagging of environmental hazards (but completely missing the cyanide in plain sight).
For now the location, and the names of the mines will remain a mystery, as I would like the opportunity to explore the area more thoroughly before publishing additional information or identifying attributes. For the time being, I hope that you have enjoyed the story, and the images.