Prior to being National, State, and other protected public lands, California’s eastern deserts were honeycombed with a variety of mining claims. While some of these claims were more successful than others, all of these claims had a variety of unique structures, and methods to extracting minerals. Today, many of these structures have disappeared, or have been closed off by various governmental agencies. Those that remain, fall into a number of categories ranging from easily found and known about (such as Bodie State Park), or unknown and visited, to known or unknown and closed off (such as Carey’s Castle in Joshua Tree National Park). The first and third categories are easily dealt with, as they provide explorers and visitors with clear direction. The second category, however, provides writers with difficulty in both reporting, and describing them, but in general, my approach to such things is to provide information, as they are on public land, and the best way to preserve them is to allow people to appreciate them and experience them.
Joshua Tree National Park as a whole is a park with a number of these type of locations; some, like Samuelson’s Rocks, are unrelated to mining, and others, like Carey’s Castle, and other spots are directly related to mining. The Eagle Cliff Mine, is one of these spots that occupies the middle ground described above. For years, people who knew the park well, and the desert well knew of the location, but did not disseminate information, except to friends. In 2018, some Park Rangers will provide information about the Eagle Cliff Mine, even though it is not a maintained hiked; and others will not. In addition to this, there is a lot of information about this spot on the internet, which in my mind, also leads to disclosing the location, especially in light of my experience traveling to and from it.
Today, the “Eagle Cliff Mine” is less of a mine, and more of a cabin, as the mine shafts have been closed, as have the shafts of the nearby Desert Queen Mine. Having said that, the cabin that remains, where the miners worked is in stellar condition, which makes the hike, and the experience spectacular. Overall, not much is known about the actual Eagle Cliff Mine, other than the fact that mining commenced around 1895, when the claim was filed, and that it was a lead mine with two shafts. For a period of time, the mine was owned by Bill Keyes, who also had an ownership stake in the Desert Queen Mine; both of which were very remote at the time.
Directions: There are multiple ways to get to the Eagle Cliff Mine, but the easiest is from the Desert Queen Mine trailhead. From the west entrance station, visitors will want to follow the park road (Park Boulevard) for nineteen miles to the east. At that point, there will be a turnoff to the North (to the left) that is signed for the “Desert Queen Mine”. Visitors should be aware that from this point, the road is not maintained, and is a dirt road; however, this road is generally passable for all types of vehicles. Once on the dirt road, visitors should follow it North to the parking area for the Desert Queen Mine, which can become full on weekends in the winter.
From the parking area, visitors will want to follow the established trail to the Desert Queen Mine lookout, which is a short walk. Slightly before the lookout, hikers will want to make a deviation to the right, past the remains of a large blockhouse from the Desert Queen Mine. The use trail then descends down toward the wash where some remains of the Desert Queen Mine can be found. While the wash does head in the general direction of the Eagle Cliff Mine, this is not a route hikers wish to follow for a simple hike. Instead, hikers should ascend out of the wash, and up onto a use road/trail that was in part, used by the Desert Queen mine workings. Along this road there are numerous pieces of mine equipment, tailings, and a couple of the now closed shafts of the mine. The road slightly ascends to the top of a ridge, where the upper areas of the Desert Queen mine shafts have been sealed with grates by the National Park service.
From this point, the sealed grates (which are not the sealed tailing grates that can be seen from the lookout), astute hikers will want to face toward the northeast, where a use trail and purported old wagon trail from the Eagle Cliff mine still exists. This use trail is readily visible, and can be easily followed from this point. This is the route hikers will want to follow. Overall, it is well marked by prior hikers, with cairns, and is also readily visible as a former wagon trail and by the use that it receives. Having said that, if you are attempting this route, you will want to have a map and compass, or a GPS unit, or program to ensure your personal safety, as this is not a maintained trail, and it is possible to get lost.
From the top of the Desert Queen, the route is largely level with a slight uphill grade, which then descends down into a valley that has views of nearby mountains. In my opinion, this hike, while not maintained is one of the best in the confines of the park. After roughly a mile and a half, there is an uphill section that is somewhat steep that passes a old mine shaft just below a ridge. While the use trail continues up and over the ridge, this is not the route to the mine; and is the junction of a separate use trail to Eagle Cliff. From this mine shaft, hikers want to bear due west for about a tenth of a mile down into a small valley. Once in this valley, nothing other than some small NPS signs and the aforementioned excellent views are readily visible. However, with a little exploring, a determined hiker will easily see the entrance to the Eagle Cliff Mine cabin, which was constructed between a number of rocks. From the entrance, it is a short walk into the cabin, which is in exceptional shape. The return back is through the same route, for an approximate 3.5 mile moderate hike.
Tips/Disclaimers: As noted above, as this is not a maintained park trail, proper preparation is very important with appropriate navigation equipment, food, and water as temperatures in Joshua Tree regularly exceed ninety degrees for over nine months of the year. Separately, while the Eagle Cliff cabin is in exceptional shape, there is a reason for that: people have exercised leave no trace principles for years. Do not touch things. Do not take things. Do not vandalize things. Preserve the cabin as it is so future generations can appreciate it. The sole exception to this is a register that visitors have been utilizing - do write in that! The park service has a history of closing sites in the park - Carey’s Castle - that have been vandalized or otherwise altered by visitors. Don’t allow that to happen to this site; be responsible. Finally, for the old-school parties who may feel this is “their spot”. Simply put, it is not. It is now on public land, and technically, accessible to all. Per the log when I visited, approximately 15-20 people visit daily - that record their visits - and from the use trail, this is a well-known spot that can, and should be preserved by people appreciating it.