This is only one of the many posts relating to our Death Valley adventure. If you would like to see more of what we did on that trip please visit our main Death Valley page.
On the same exploration day where we found the Heart-Shaped Pool we also came across several interesting as well as downright scary old mines back up in the hills behind the Geologists’ Cabin. One small ridge over from the pool we found our first remains.
As is our habit when we find a vertically organized mining operation we eventually head up to the top side and see how the process worked from that angle. Most times we do this by foot and paw but this time we drove up and almost took a nose dive in the Tacoma down the old mine shaft.
Not really, as we did see the fence and smartly took that to be a clue 😉 After catching our breath we parked the Tacoma and got out to take a few more pictures.
Now that we had seen this first old mining operation we continued on up that “road” until we came to a spot where we could not go any further. Parking the Tacoma we got out to have a look around since we could see several piles of mine tailings which inevitably mark the location of a mine or prospecting hole. The first one we found went horizontal into the side of the hill like a cave instead of a vertical shaft like our first discovery.
The strong ammonia smell of guano indicated the presence of bats. Staying outside but taking a look in we could see an old rod with an attachment at the end sticking out of the side of the shaft all of 10 feet inside the opening.
Leaving well enough alone we hiked around across the face of the hill to a small plateau where we found another small opening into the side of the hill much like the one we had found at Emmett’s Camp.
Taking a closer look though revealed that this one had an actual door, with hinges, that once was a walk-in entrance to the mine or possibly the mine office.
I am happy my self-restraint (and lack of a flashlight) held out over my intense desire to crawl in just a few feet and take a closer look. I can see how old mines might have a strong and hypnotic pull calling out to those weaker-willed souls who then answer that siren song and are never heard from again. Next time I am bringing a flashlight with me though so we can at least get a better look from the safety of outside.
Our third find of the day was the scariest as it was another vertical shaft with no fencing around it. I saw it about three seconds after I looked up to see Willow standing on the edge of this precipitous drop off directly over the opening of the shaft.
(Lots of rock face between that and…)
This is one of those times that I am extremely happy Willow is a good girl and listens to her daddy. I barked the “STOP” command which is an effective one and means “don’t move a muscle” and she did just that which made me really relieved. I then pointed “back” and gave the “GO” command and she backed up, trotted down the hill out of sight and then reappeared at my side about thirty seconds later…almost trotting right into the shaft opening! Oh. My. God! “STOP”…again. “HEEL”…now! My morbid imagination can clearly see what horrible things would happen to her if she fell either 30 or 60 feet onto those planks and even then the planks might not hold and even worse death and destruction would result. Sometimes a vivid imagination is a curse. Far too much drama for one day.
Our last find of the day came on the way back down off the hill. We were taking a different but parallel trail down and came across this cool little spot we will surely camp at a night or two next time we are in this valley. Traveling slowly downwards I happened to glance in one of my side mirrors and caught a glimpse of this behind us.
It was a large boulder, sitting astride two smaller boulders that essentially made a nice cave. Someone had built two small rock walls as a wind screen and there was a fire pit out front as well as a smaller one inside.
There was a decided lack of rabbit or rat poop inside the area which makes it all the more desirable as a future “wait-until-someone-vacates-the-Geologists’-Cabin” spot.
We climbed up behind the cave rock a little ways just to get a better overview of the area.
We made it back to the Geologists’ Cabin all in one piece after about an hour of slowly picking our way down the hillside and back to the road. When we arrived back we celebrated another awesome day of adventuring with a cool drink – Willow with freshly Brita-filtered water and me with a fine IPA.
Within Death Valley there is a plethora of things to do and see and places to go. Far too often we see or hear about visitors focusing only on those places that are easily accessible from the comfort of a rented RV. Don’t get us wrong, there is some allure to that mode of cushy travel and exploration with showers and toilets et cetera right at hand. What we do want to make clear is that the vast majority of the National Park’s interesting places to go and things to see cannot be gotten to or seen from the comfort of an RV. So, our wish for you is that, if you are ever given the opportunity to really explore the park (and are physically capable) you do so in a high-clearance 4×4 (either yours or a rental) and take a little extra time, work a little harder and drive a little longer so that you might see and experience as many of those little, less flashy and famous but still quite interesting places that make up the historical backbone of Death Valley.