Treasures of Death Valley

Mountain Secrets

editorial@sierrastar.comApril 22, 2014 

Note: This is the second part of a two-part story about the treasures of Death Valley National Park.

Part one of this story ended with hiking partner Nancy and myself on our overnight stay at 6,500 feet. We were in for a surprise when waking up to temperatures below freezing and shaking the ice from the tents surface. Hot coffee sure tasted good that morning.

I won't be repeating that statement this morning. This dry camp below Lippincott Mines is at 4,000 feet and all I can see surrounding me is sage brush, cactus, rock and sand. But I still need hot coffee to jump start my morning.

After researching the Death Valley map there are two old roads, upper and lower to the Lippincott Mines. First I attempted driving my Jeep following this abandoned desert road through a dry stream bed, only to realize my vehicle was lacking enough ground clearance, and I almost got stuck. Larger diameter tires would have solved this problem. I managed to turn around and drove back to the campsite. That is when I decided to refer back to my original mode of travel — hiking — you know, putting one foot in front of the other.

The minerals of copper, lead, silver and zink were the primary ore extracted from the Lippincott Mines. The earliest mining activity around these mines was in December 1906. There was a common ownership between each of these mines. Raven Mine, Lead King Mine and Southern Lead Mine all had unknown production until 1942. That was the time George Lippincott first leased then purchased the property for development. They even used the dry lake bed (race track) for a landing field for business purposes.

These were very rich mines with 65% lead and 35 ounces of silver per ton. Up until 1954 they produced 2,000 tons of lead, silver and zinc with a total value of only $80,000. It was still the third largest producer of lead in Death Valley.

Remaining today are the foundations from the abandoned cabins. Some artifacts still remain, like a huge water tank converted from a semi trailer. Huge wooden structures like storage bins and loaders made from wooden planks are located close to the mine entrances. History states that before 1942 over 2,000 feet of shafts are hidden within these mines.

Rather than walk back to the main area along the upper road we decided to descend down the mountain and create our own route to the lower road. Some areas of this route finding were class 3, but we saved over an hour of hiking in this desert heat.

Another huge mine with an adjoining wooden loader and storage bin were located at the end of this lower road. I musts confess I did explore the insides of a few of these mines. But using caution and limited myself to those mines with reinforced beams or tunneling through hard rock. I forgot to mention that the views of the distant canyons and mountains offer a great setting for photography.

After two days of adventure exploring around this remote campground, the time has come to break camp and continue the 26 mile drive back to Mesquite Campground. I just wanted to make a personal comment concerning this corduroy type road. If your vehicle had no rattles, it does now! If you had a few loose parts in your vehicles suspension, don't worry there not there now, because they have fallen off.

While we were setting up our new campsite we were approached by Jay and Liz who were seasoned Death Valley hikers. That evening they suggested two separate hiking adventures within a three mile radius of our campground.

The following morning we hiked across the Death Valley Wash, located the western canyon and climb its steep wall and started our hike across the plateau toward the Cottonwood Mountain Range. Our objective today is to locate the petroglyphs concealed somewhere inside one of these canyons. When we returned six hours later, our only comment was; we'll be back next year and search again.

This is the morning of our last full day and I'm looking forward to this six mile hike up the wash and locate another canyon which may have fossils dating back 10,000 years when Death Valley was a huge lake. Before noon we located three natural springs with foot prints of the local inhabitants. Next to cross the Death Valley wash and locate the remote canyon and follow it to the base of the Cottonwood Mountain Range once again. This adventure turned out to be a success because the fossils we found were embedded within the canyon walls.

On our return we stopped at the largest of the three natural springs and found obsidian chips and even a small piece of flint which the American Indians used to start fires.

Overall this was a successful six days hiking these remote canyons and mountains of Death Valley. The only disappointment of this adventure was the Barrel Cactus and Joshua Trees. Their blooms were a little larger, but no flowers to photograph. This was my fifth trip to this enchanting place and I'm looking forward to my next visit to unlock a few more secrets.

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