Ruby Lee Mill (Joshua Tree National Park)

The Ruby Lee Mill site is located in the rugged Hexi Mountain Range. There is a pretty well-defined trail to the site which begins at the Porcopine Wash backcountry board. It leads across a stretch of wide open desert before dropping down into a canyon wash, then joining up with an old mining road that had been used to access the “mill site”. The hike comes in at five and a half, uneventful round trip miles. It poses no challenges, or scenic opportunities that can’t be had in other more easily accessible parts of the park.

The Ruby Lee Mill site also isn’t much to look at these days. A single room of a stone building remains standing alongside a concrete slab. An assortment of rusted treasures are spread out across the site, including a bed frame, bucket, refrigerator, several sheets of corrugated metal, old cans, and rusty nails and bolts. The most interesting of the artifacts that remain is the bed of a Ford pick-up truck, in all of its rusted glory.

The 1983 edition of the Historic Resource Study performed by the park service mentions that a wood cabin, and adjacent outbuildings were standing, fully furnished, and locked at that time. They went on to recommend that the building be torn down, citing that because it was furnished, it could attract “transients.” I can only assume that the park service went along with that recommendation, destroying a piece of desert history that could have been enjoyed by this generation, as well as future (totally throwing their “mission” statement back in their face – Organic Act of 1916).

 

A cabin once stood at the Ruby Lee Mill site, it has been reduced to nothing more than scrap metal.

A cabin once stood at the Ruby Lee Mill site, it has been reduced to nothing more than scrap metal.

 

The bed of an old ford pick-up trip.

The bed of an old ford pick-up trip.

 

Despite the fact that I can’t find any evidence of there having actually ever been a mill on site, behind the building ruins, there is a small pile of tailings from an area mine.

Ruby Lee Rule, a Los Angeles resident by way of Illinois filed a claim in February of 1936 on the Ruby Lee Lode Claim, then in March filed on the Ruby Lee Mill site, located roughly five miles from the mine. It is very likely that she filed these claims for her friend, and future husband, a Mr. Charles W. Landford. Lanford was the owner of several other mines and claims in the vicinity, including the Captain Jenks, Cross Country, Ridge, Combination #1 and #2, Broken Hill, Silver Peak, and Gateway.

None of Lanford’s or Rule’s mines proved to be successful, so that may be the reason that the mill was never built, and utilized more as a homestead. By the late 1930’s Lankford and Rule had for the most part ceased their mining operations, with the final nail being the beginning of World War II, and the closing of all unessential mining operations.

 

Tailings from an area mine.

Tailings from an area mine.

 

The Ruby Lee Well is hidden among dense shrubs. Hundreds, if not thousands of bees were swarming it on my visit.

The Ruby Lee Well is hidden among dense shrubs. Hundreds, if not thousands of bees were swarming it on my visit.

 

Water was readily available at the Ruby Lee Mill, a well is situated fifty feet away from the cabin site, hidden in brush. The well is apparently dry today, some sources state that an earthquake shifted the water tables, while others state that it is due to the dwindling water supply in our underground aquifers. I was not able to visually verify the current water situation due to hundreds if not thousands of bees swarming the well.

Above the well, there is a simple inscription on a boulder, “Ruby Lee 1935 Mill Site.” It has been speculated that the inscription was placed here by either Lanford or Rule, however since the claim wasn’t placed until 1936, I believe that the inscription was made at a later date by an individual not associated with the owners.

To be frank, there isn’t much to see here, mostly at the fault of the National Park Service. For the completist, like myself, you’ll eventually feel the need to make the hike, simply out of obsession.

 

"Ruby Lee 1935 Mill Site" is carved on a nearby boulder. The mill site was claimed in 1936.

“Ruby Lee 1935 Mill Site” is carved on a nearby boulder. The mill site was claimed in 1936.

 

Discarded cans and broken glass.

Discarded cans and broken glass.

 

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.

  • Tender Branson

    There must have been some water. That’s what the bees were after.