I was still living in Los Angeles when this adventure happened. My buddy, Larry, living in San Diego, California, had not yet acquired his own truck; though he had built his dune buggy and a T-bar hitch that enabled any pickup truck to haul the dune buggy on it’s rear wheels.
About two or three O'clock in the morning, I left my house in Whittier, all loaded up with my camping gear, and headed South over the freeways to Larry’s house in San Diego, some 2 ½ hours away.
Arriving in San Diego, I topped off my trucks two gas tanks, then drove up to his house, around five AM. He had rolled the dune buggy out of his driveway into the street. After greasing the hitch ball on my truck, I lifted the front of the T-bar and lowered it onto my hitch on my dock bumper, plugged in the towing tail lights he had built into the bug, tested them, and loaded Larry’s gear into the trucks cargo box. The sun was just coming up. First stop, breakfast!
After breakfast, we headed up what is now I-215, but back then was sections of freeway and long runs of farm land, fruit packing houses, and small agricultural towns, until we stopped for gas in Riverside, stretched our legs, and headed East over what is now I-10.
Just beyond Whitewater we got on State route 62 driving North over parts of the north fork of the San Andreas Fault. Unknown to us, we were then driving on the Pinto Mountain Fault all the way to Twentynine Palms, our last gas stop.
We continued East out of Twentynine Palms on a narrow two-lane road. Out there on the desert, all the little dirt roads leading to a home, had a post by the side of the road with a combination of red, blue, orange, and white plastic reflectors, so the residents could find their property in the dark “sameness”of the desert night.
The road we wanted was the Gold Crown Road, a county-maintained dirt road, that in those days would take you South, all the way through Joshua Tree National Park and intersecting with I-10. That is, if a long sandy stretch through Pinto Basin was not all churned up by other cars.
The site of Old Dale was on the North side of the junction; nothing left to see. We turned South toward the Virginia Dale Mine and the site of New Dale, passed both, (we had been here before), wound around a small hill studded with mines, and soon dropped down to the edge of Pinto Basin itself.
A small hill about forty feet in height, near the road, looked like a good place to set up camp.
The ground was firm with just enough space for the truck and the dune buggy. With practiced efficiency, we made camp.
We were to be here several days in an effort to see some of the local mines off the Zulu Queen Mine road, then continue further South on the Old Dale Road and into the Eagle Mountains.
The afternoon of the first day, we prepared the dune buggy, and headed Northeast on the Zulu Queen Road, taking side trips when we saw them. It was either the Zulu Queen or the Outlaw Mine that we arrived far too late. We could smell the heavy astringent smell of recent fire.
Some vandal had torched it. It was written-up in the guide book as a very interesting mine. Now, but a hole in the ground, and any timbers had burned and fallen into the shaft. The part that hurt was, by the mine’s burnt smell, and faint wisp of smoke, we had missed seeing it by a day.
Returning to camp, Larry parked the dune buggy out of sight behind my Ford ¾ ton F-250 and we fixed dinner on the tailgate. I didn’t have my camper shell at the time, just a framework of wood where we could drape canvas, etc, to keep the wind off and us warm. At least we slept off the ground and enjoyed a fantastic view of the star-lit heavens.
Morning dawned icy cold, as usual for that time of year, but with some hot chocolate and cereal we soon warmed up. We decided it would be a good day to explore the back road into the Eagle Mountains. The usual preparations were made to the dune buggy and we added my cardboard tube of topographic maps, camera gear, canteen, and my old army surplus jacket.
During this period there was a great interest in old bottles of all types, unbroken, and of many colors. Larry had the eyes of an eagle and could spot an old bottle off to his side while going forty miles an hour. When he found one we came to an abrupt halt and off he’d go returning with a fascinating bottle.
After eleven miles South South-West, we connected with the Black Eagle Mine Road. This road, for the most part ran five miles to the North-East before looping East like a demented snake from wall to wall of a very narrow canyon, entering the Eagle Mountains.
We came to the side road to Barry Storm’s “Storm Jade Mine” and turned South up to a small mesa. Barry Storm, a sometime writer for Desert Magazine, and sometime hunter of lost mines came across what he decided was Mayan Jade.
When we visited the mine, there were cars parked here and there and happy families picking and chipping at the deposit. When they had collected enough they would carry it to his tiny cabin and it would be weighed and priced.
The next time Larry and I were through there, in December of 1983, the place was abandoned, and the canyon we drove in was badly sanded. But I digress. Returning to 1970, we dropped back into the narrow canyon and continued East.
As we progressed, there were lots of hand-dug “roads” that would deposit you right on someone’s claim. At this time Larry found lots of colored bottles. After stopping for lunch, we continued our journey. The walls of the canyon began to change colors, and suddenly widened.
With little warning, we passed through an open metal gate and there was the Black Eagle Mine, in the midst of roaring giant earth movers speeding off to the ore source, reload, and drive back to the ore processing area.
Larry parked our dune buggy out of sight, and keeping a low profile, I took a number of pictures and was able to get close enough to see the details of the mine. Expecting at any moment to be spotted by a guard, we returned to our dune buggy and hastily passed back through the gate and headed back to camp.
I was amazed that the Kaiser Steel operation would leave such an interesting artifact in place. Like many desert gold/iron mines, the Black Eagle had a string of owners from 1923 thru 1951. Production was spotty. Sometimes there were large yields of several hundred-thousand dollars and some yielded a fourth or less of that. Much depended on how much equipment the owners were willling to install.
The sun was not too far from setting as we started back. I discovered I had lost my map tube full of maps of this trip at one of the many tiny mining operations just off the canyon. Larry turned us around and we went back for a bit. We found them. But that was going to bring us back into camp in full dark with no lights or reflectors to show us where our camp was.
Larry fixed instant soup on the tailgate while I shivered in the cab with the engine running and the heater going full blast. After that nice hot soup, I dove into my sleeping bag under the canvas in the pickup bed. Next time I’d have some really warm clothing!!
Larry and I went back again in December 1983, using dual-purpose motorcycles geared for the desert. We encountered lots of sand on the road and the “gulch” posted. Hurricane Kathleen
had visited the area too. Kaiser Steel was shutting down; one of many steel companies that could no longer compete with the Orient.
I hope you enjoyed our adventure. We did!