September 2000

The Granite Mountains are an interesting place to camp, or make a base for exploration. Before Interstate 40 stretched it’s 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) didn’t we remember? No, I didn’t, 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 night’s 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 aspirin please).

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 cinnamin-coated mini-donut.

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 machinery inside 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.

Jerome W. Anderson