Backpacking Trip Report: Dale Mining District



Location: Near Joshua Tree Nat’l Park

Type: Loop

Mileage: 5
Days: 3

OK, this wasn’t really a backpacking trip, we drove through in 4WD and camped. Still, the area would have been fun to explore on foot, so here’s the report.

I have often camped at Joshua Tree Nat’l Park, and while it’s a beautiful place, I was always intrigued by the blank space on the map labeled only as the ‘Pinto Basin’. Theres a few places along the park road where you can look down into it. Its just a huge, flat, empty, remote space. I’ve never met anyone who had been there. So, naturally, I had to go…

A little research revealed that the easy way in is not from the park, but to drive down from the north through the Dale Mining District. About 13 miles east of Twentynine Palms is ‘Gold Crown Road’, which eventually becomes ‘Old Dale Road’ and proceeds through mountains, into the basin, down a many mile long jeep trail of deep sand, and finally into the park.

So, on the last weekend of February, my daughter and I loaded up the ol’ Ford 4×4 and headed east.

When you leave the pavement on hwy 62 east of twentynine palms, the road starts out innocently, leading straight and narrow with just a few inches of sand. About 4 miles down the road the road forks, and you reach the first of many mines, shafts and audits. This is the Virgina Dale mine. Here you’ll find a short tunnel ending in a shaft, a rusty overturned car, a few cyanide vats, and some concrete foundations. We collected a few shiny rocks, but nothing of any value.

Now the road becomes rougher, and from here on 4WD was required. We went another couples miles, past a few more old rusty cars and a few audits and mine tailing piles, then pulled over and camped on a ridge with a great south view. We spent two days here, exploring and enjoying the last of the Southern California winter weather. Sunny, but only in the mid 70s. By mid summer, it will still be sunny, but running in the 90s-100s temperature.

We drove over to the nearby Supply Mine, and found a VERY long tunnel to explore. This must have been one of the largest mines in the area, with water tanks, concreate foundations, multiple tunnels and shafts, rock walls from what must have been a cabin, scattered sheets of corregated steel, and the biggest pile of rusty tin cans I have ever seen. It completely filled a ravine, nearly an acre long and maybe 12 feet deep.
Again, we collected a few shiny rocks. Some pieces of quartz so pure it looked as dazzling as sugar in the sun. No gold though, so it looked look I would have to drive back home to go to work on Monday.

Since we had the truck, we brought all the luxuries we don’t usually have when backpacking. Plenty of water for hot showers, the meat smoker to cook ribs, cots to sleep off the ground, etc… Well, we got lazy and spent the rest of the weekend there, and never did get all the way down into the Pinto Basin.

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