The Sunrise Mine & Mill…A mining camp with a fish pond. (Joshua Tree National Park)

The Pinto Basin in Joshua Tree National Park is arguably one of the harshest environments in the lower forty-eight states. Summer temperatures are rarely below 100°F, and often reach Death Valley extremes. The nearest place of population is Twentynine Palms. Depending on where you are in the basin that could be as many as forty miles the way the crow flies. The most that 99% of the people who visit Joshua Tree National will ever see of the Pinto Basin is the Cholla Garden, or the hokey “exhibits” that are placed every few miles apart along the paved Pinto Basin Road.

Thousands of years ago the Pinto Basin didn’t look anything like we see it today. This was a swamp, a forest, there were rivers. Miniature horses and camels roamed the landscape. After their extinction there were the Pinto Basin people, one of the earliest known people to live in the region. A little over 100 years ago the basin was teeming with miners in search for riches buried deep in the earth.

The Sunrise Mine may have been discovered as early as 1900, nobody knows for sure. The earliest known location notice is dated 1927. The mine operated on and off through the mid-1940’s. The group consisted of fifteen claims, and was part of the Sunrise Group, which also operated the Zulu, Outlaw, Moose, and the Cortez group of mines.

Located in the hills just below the Pinto Mountains near the site of Mission Well, it has been discussed about what mining district the Sunrise belongs to. It has been listed as part of the Dale District, the Pinto Basin District, Monte Negro, and an unnamed district. The National Park service however seems to believe that it is located in the Dale.

 

Overlooking the Sunrise Mine camp.

Overlooking the Sunrise Mine camp.

 

The fish pond.

The fish pond.

 

Fish pond inscription, "JKB May 4 1935."

Fish pond inscription, “JKB May 4 1935.”

 

Cellar dug-outs.

Cellar dug-outs.

 

The Sunrise had a pretty darn impressive camp for its day, consisting of an office, mess hall, bunkhouse, assay office, three cabins, and decorative landscaping complete with a fish pond! Over the hill from the camp sat the Sunrise Mill. In the late 1930’s the mill was converted from a ball mill to a twenty-five ton cyanide operation, utilizing equipment from the defunct Gold Crown Mill. Between the camp and the mill, sixty-five gallons of water was pumped and piped in from the Sunrise Well every minute.

In 1939, the mine and mill were leased to the Pinto Basin Mining and Milling Company. The mill was transformed to perform custom work, and began milling for other mines in the Basin. The mill employed four men, and was looked at as being essential to other area mines due to the closure of the Gold Crown Mill.

 

The ruins of the Sunrise Mill.

The ruins of the Sunrise Mill.

 

Close-up of the mill.

Close-up of the mill.

 

Close-up of the mill.

Close-up of the mill.

 

Cyanide laced muck from the milling process.

Cyanide laced muck from the milling process.

 

"Cyanide Poison"

“Cyanide Poison”

 

The mill was closed in 1942 under the War Production Board Order L-208, which closed unessential mines across the country. Like many mines, the Sunrise never recovered from the closure, and by the late 1950’s a majority of the structures and equipment had been removed from the site.

The Sunrise Mine is credited with having recovered 82.51 ounces of gold and 28 ounces of silver, but those figures only account for production in 1933, and 1941. No other records survive.

The ruins of the Sunrise Mine and Mill sit less than a half-mile from Old Dale Road, obscured by the hills behind the Mission Well. Pay close attention as you drive by, you can catch a quick glimpse of the cyanide slurry that covers the ground below the mill. A couple of closed roads leave Old Dale Road and cross the short distance across the Basin to the abandoned camp and mill. Along the roads are hundreds of scattered cans and various other rusty metal objects.

 

The site of where a cabin once overlooked the camp.

The site of where a cabin once overlooked the camp.

 

Old Maxwell House Coffee tin.

Old Maxwell House Coffee tin.

 

Jug handle.

Jug handle.

 

The largest dump site has recently been disturbed by bottle hunters.

The largest dump site has recently been disturbed by bottle hunters.

 

Shattered glass milk jug.

Shattered glass milk jug.

 

The camp consists of a collection of concrete slabs that were the foundations of the many structures that once stood making up the tiny community of miners. The roads are lined with stones, adding a decorative touch to the landscape. In the middle of the camp is the large concrete basin that was the fish pond, something that I have never heard of another mining camp having. The dump sites are plentiful, and impressive. There are literally thousands of cans, and bottles strung about. It is sad to report that the largest of the dumps appears to have been recently dug out by bottle hunters.

The Sunrise shaft is 300 feet deep, with levels located at 100, 200, and 300 feet. The hoist house and headframe above the shaft have long been removed. An adit of unknown depth has been sealed by the National Park Service, so that aspect is disappointing but not surprising. In addition to the adits, there are dozens of surface cuts across the hillsides.

 

Bat-caged mine adit.

Bat-caged mine adit.

 

A large concrete foundation, possibly the mine office building.

A large concrete foundation, possibly the mine office building.

 

The cyanide mill has been reduced to nothing more than large concrete slabs. An explosion of an array of doohickies and doodads, and buckets and barrels, covers the cyanide laced earth. I found the lid of one of these buckets with a cross & skull bones, along with “Cyanide Poison” imprinted into it.

All in all there is a lot here. The ruins are scattered over a large area, with every hill crossed there is another element of surprise waiting.

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.

1 Comment

  • Hey Jim, do you know if anyone has hiked from Coxcomb Mtns all the way down through Pinto Basin to the park road? how many miles would that be?

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