Exploring Unmarked Mines in Death Valley

Sadly, Thanksgiving 2020 (like everything in 2020) didn’t go as expected. I canceled our amazing Turkey-Holiday in the San Rafael Swell desert wilderness and instead I slept 12 hours a day with the flu (luckily not COVID-19). However, Sadie “Alpine Babe” Skiles and I did get out to explore around Death Valley in some unmarked mines…

Another beautiful vein in Monarch Canyon

The highlight from the weekend trip could have been the brush filled bushwhack that led to two unexpected pool-swims in 40 degree water and without wetsuit in Darwin Falls. However, what I most enjoyed was exploring an unexpected mine not on the geological maps but easily accessible in the non-technical Monarch Canyon.

After an aborted canyon ascent (yes, a different canyon) due to a pretty loose and risky rock pile ascent; Sadie and I drove to Monarch Canyon for a quick hike. A short walk down the trail was this beautiful metamorphic marble vein.

Breathtaking marble banding

The canyon continued bands of colorful swirls until we unexpectedly spotted some mining ruins. From the river-bed we could see an ore-shaft leading to a large industrial crusher. I wasn’t feel well, but the explorer in me had to see what else was above this shaft. 

The collapsed shaft leading to the rock crusher

At the top of the hill and the shaft, we could see a level rail track leading to a small hole. I had to take a little explore to see what the status of this sure-to-be mine.

The mysterious entrance to the mine

Typically old mining shafts are barred off for safety or shortly lead to a cave-in. After crouching to fit within the four-foot entrance, I was astonished to realize I could stand up easily at 6’6″!

Looking out of mine at the entrance

Ahead of me was a long entrance shaft with a shoot extruding from above and opposite it, a platform with a handle used to pull a rope of some kind.

Looking directly down the entrance shaft

Scrambling up from the left side of the upper shaft, I could see a whole section bolstered by several short wood planks. Looking around in these mines, I can’t help but wonder what wood planks with shunts hammered in for pressure could really do against all this rock. However, I am not a miner.

This looks safe?

Looking down the wood platform there was both an old ladder leading downward and another ladder leading up into yet another shaft!

Looking down the platform nearby the upper shoot
Exploring the bottom shaft

I scrambled down the rock to bypass an old mining ladder that looked suspect to me. To the left and right the cave expanded about 30 ft. In front of me was the next ladder into the deeper shaft. However, this is where my cave exploration differentiates me from true spelunkers. I saw two horizontal beams right before the ladder. I really didn’t want to touch any of these wood supports because I worry I could dislodge them… So I called it there and left to go back outside. While a true spelunker would be crawling around exploring every bit of it in good fun.

My first time in Death Valley I thought this was just a drive-through park of attractions. However, on each returning trip I find more gem’s to discover inside this mine-raddled hot desert. Like this natural squash.

A squash surprise found in Darwin Falls Canyon