The Granite Mountains are an interesting place to camp, or make a
base for exploration. Before Interstate 40 stretched its concrete
ribbon across the desert sands and low mountains it was necessary to access
it from the old road from Barstow, California, proceeding Eastward and
onto the old National Trails Hiway at Ludlow, California. You
could also pick it up by following the Amboy Road out of Twenty-Nine Palms,
then North and across the salt flats of Bristol Dry Lake where table salt
and chemicals were leached from the super-saturated brine.
A dog-leg at Amboy and heading East about 5 miles brought us to our old
friend, the Kelbaker Road, and thence North.
An early Saturday morning in October of 1972, found myself and a good
friend and co-worker I was introducing to the desert, along with my new
(1956) Karmann Ghia dune buggy I bought from my San Diego friend Larry
(in an earlier Notebook adventure) on the road to the Granite Mountains.
Soon, we were smelling the desert dust and watching offroad motorcycle
racers disappear over the horizon as we passed Marble Mountain, and headed
to a camp I had picked out on the Eastern flank of Granite Mountain.
I pulled my faithful truck into position at the empty camp site, unhitched
the dune buggy, pushing it into the shade, and friend M and
I broke out the chairs and the beer!
This must have set off some invisible vibrations, for all
of a sudden, we were visited by two pickup truck loads of kids and moms
and dads all claiming they had met us (somewhere) didnt we remember?
No, I didnt, nor did I offer them the hospitality of my ice chest.
I suspect they worked that scam successfully on other campers, two or
three sheets to the wind. Shouting their loud and happy Byes!,
they left. Bizarre!
M is an accomplished cook, and had brought along two ice chests
of ingredients. That nights
dinner was memorable! Tomorrow we would go exploring.
The beginning of a day on the desert is not a soft and cuddly event. First
there is dawns early light. Followed, as if shot from a cannon,
the full and brilliant majesty and glory of the coming day! (Hand me the
Well, the day arrived and while there was an October nip to the morning
air, we still had our breakfast chores to do, including firing up the
communal coffee pot of water to go into freeze-dried breakfast items,
or decaf or tea. I have a preference for freeze-dried beef-noodle soup,
and a cup of decaf or maybe a cup of hot chocolate, topped off with a
After breakfast, and watching two ants struggle with a donut crumb, we
cleaned and put stuff away; securing the camp, filling plastic water bottles,
loading film into the cameras, looking over the topographic maps (this
was before the GPS receivers), making sure we had at least one compass,
two if possible, and the AAA auto club maps. The hard part was stowing
our equipment on board the dune
buggy, to keep it from bouncing around, yet be handy. This was a very
new experience for my friend.
Today, M and I were going to search for the Hidden Hill Mine.
This was quite an exciting journey, as I managed to stick the dune buggy
in a crack in the side-wall of a now-dry streamlet. We had to kick down
the walls so the poor buggy could drop fully into the dry wash. Made note
to bring collapsible shovel and on we went.
This part of the desert had only very low ground cover, so we had a feeling
of wide open space in all directions. After awhile, a low range of hills
appeared off to our left. It was Hidden Hill.
Selecting a canyon,
I guided the dune buggy up a low wash. In the distance we saw an unusual
grouping of buildings, that at first looked like a movie set for a grade
B Western. But, as we approached, we saw a compact arrangement. The buildings
housed a neatly laid out small mill! Above the mill buildings were the
mine tunnel and ore car tracks ran level to the tipple. I parked the dune
buggy and we grabbed our cameras prepared to explore.
My copy of Mines and Minerals of San Bernardino County says that the Hidden
Hills Mine was located in 1882. It had pockets of high-grade ore. One
pocket mined in 1915, was said to consist of
300 pounds of high grade ore valued at $13,000. The ore was said to be
in the form of lenses, which varied from 1- to 12- inch thick quartz veins
following fracture zones in the granite.
To me, the most interesting part of this mine was the layout and cleanliness
of the buildings. It looked like it had never been used. Equipment was
still in place but not hooked up.There was a small ball mill to crush
the ore into a fine dust. Followed by, in another room, an amalgamating
table with mercury-coated bars of copper that the ground-up ore slime
flowed across. The amalgam was scraped off the copper bars and heated
in a retort furnace to separate the mercury from the gold.
As the photos show, the structures appeared to be relatively recent, the
spoke of a small operation. The only damage to the buildings were a collapsed
porch roof, possibly a victim of an occasional snow storm.
That was 28 years ago, and I never had a chance to go back to this interesting
place. M and I had other sights to see in this area, and so
with a few backward glances from our moving dune buggy, our attention
was drawn to the open desert ahead of us.