The Eagle Mountains and the Pinto Basin are two areas of Joshua Tree National Park that much remain a mystery. For the most part the Pinto Basin is an extensive wilderness area where access is limited to foot traffic, the same goes for the portion of the Eagle Mountains that currently falls within the National Park boundary. Due to the limited access much of these areas remains unseen by the casual, and even a majority of the more adventurous visitors of the park. Several of my upcoming articles will highlight the nearly forgotten mines in this region of the park.
How can one not love the name? The name Lucky Turkey #2 Mine is evidence enough that the tough, hard as nails miners of yesterday had a sense of humor. What the name is derived from, I don’t know, but it does bring a smile to the face. The Lucky Turkey #2 is located at the north end of Grubstake Canyon, where the canyon opens into Pinto Basin. From the wilderness boundary the hike to the mine isn’t rough, as is follows the easy to follow canyon for roughly three-quarters of a mile.
The first evidence of the mine is located on an embankment above the wash, here you will find the mine’s camp. Typical of these early mine sites there is scattered old trash in the form of cans, barrel rings, broken glass, and even part of a bed-frame and headboard. There is minimum in the way of the structural ruins, with the only exceptions being an old fireplace pit, and what appears to have been a tin shack at one time, but is no longer there.
The mine itself is located in a wash behind the camp. The lower tunnel is a 270-foot-long adit, it remained uncaged until as recent as five years ago when the National Park Service decided that it needed to save us from ourselves, and seal it off. I find it surprising that they would waste the money and resources on caging mines in the remote backcountry. It is one thing along popular hiking trails, or even places with road access, but not in the wilderness. Essentially a waste of thousands of dollars on the ten people who will actually venture out here in a year.
On the hilltop above the lower adit is a timbered 150-feet vertical shaft, which meets the lower horizontal shaft. It too has been caged off, which is more understandable than the horizontal.
The highlight of the Lucky Turkey #2 is a milling arrastra located on the south side of the hill, directly below the upper vertical shaft. The arrastra is in impeccable condition, constructed of stone and cement. Two drag stones remain inside of the ring, and the wooden gate which would have been opened to allow the mercury amalgam containing the gold to be drained, remains in place.
Wikipedia describes an arrastra as follows:
An Arrastra (or Arastra) is a primitive mill for grinding and pulverizing (typically) gold or silver ore. The simplest form of the arrastra is two or more flat-bottomed drag stones placed in a circular pit paved with flat stones, and connected to a center post by a long arm. With a horse, mule or human providing power at the other end of the arm, the stones were dragged slowly around in a circle, crushing the ore. Some arrastras were powered by a water wheel; a few were powered by steam or gasoline engines, and even electricity.
Arrastras were widely used throughout the Mediterranean region since Phoenician times. The Spanish introduced the arrastra to the New World in the 1500s. The word “arrastra” comes from the Spanish language arrastre, meaning to drag along the ground. Arrastras were suitable for use in small or remote mines, since they could be built from local materials and required little investment capital.
For gold ore, the gold was typically recovered by amalgamation with quicksilver. The miner would add clean mercury to the ground ore, continue grinding, rinse out the fines, then add more ore and repeat the process. At cleanup, the gold amalgam was carefully recovered from the low places and crevices in the arrastra floor. The amalgam was then heated in a distillation retort to recover the gold, and the mercury was saved for reuse.
As for the story of the Lucky Turkey #2, nobody seems to know. The National Park’s Historic Research study states that no history on the mine has been able to be located. Other resources that I regularly turn to also came up empty. My assumption is that the mine was located and worked in the 1930s and 1940s, the same as a significant number of other mines in the immediate vicinity. It was probably a small operation, consisting of no more than a half-dozen men, if that.
A visit to the Lucky Turkey #2 is definitely worthwhile for the picturesque views of the Pinto Basin, the hike through Grubstake Canyon, and the very impressive and intact arrastra.