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Mojave National Preserve: History

Mining History in the Mojave Preserve

Mining activity played an important role in the history of the area that is now Mojave National Preserve. Geologists agree that mineralization is often associated with faults, joints in rock that allow mineralized water from inside the earth to flow toward the surface, where the water evaporates and leaves the dissolved minerals behind. The Mojave has been categorized as extremely geologically active, a consequence of its position at the junction of two of earth's crustal plates. This faulting and other geologic activity left the desert a highly mineralized area, with large varieties of precious metals and industrial minerals scattered in small deposits of rich ore. A truly remarkable amount and variety of minerals have been removed from the area of the Preserve, including gold, silver, lead, zinc, copper, tungsten, vanadium, iron, clay, and cinders. Discovery, exploration, and development of the area's rich mineral potential was facilitated by the lack of vegetation, which tended to obscure mineral deposits in more temperate locations. Most mines in the Mojave, particularly precious metal mines, offered small veins of rich ore, which led to occasional bonanza strikes but little long-term profitability. Nevertheless, mining activity was a consistent theme throughout the history of human use of the eastern Mojave desert.

Mining by Americans began in the 1860s, although many discoveries did not develop for several decades until the costs of production and transportation were reduced by the railroad. Before the arrival of Euro-Americans in the area, Puebloan people mined for turquoise at several sites near the boundaries of the Preserve, and persistent traditions of Spanish and/or Mexican mining activity tantalized early American miners. [26] Some of the soldiers stationed at the remote outposts along the Mojave Road, especially in the vicinity of Marl Springs, are thought to have conducted small-scale exploration in 1860. [27] The following year, gold was discovered in the Vanderbilt area, but thirty years passed before this deposit was developed. In 1863, prospectors discovered silver and subsequently formed the Rock Springs Mining District, also known as the Macedonian Mining District. The intense isolation of the area made profitable excavation almost impossible, and troubles with Native Americans caused its abandonment by 1866. [28]

The first significant mining activity in the present-day Preserve began in the mid-1860s, and profitably produced silver for more than a decade despite difficulties caused by geographic isolation. In 1865, prospectors discovered silver on the north side of Clark Mountain, and organized the Clarke Mining District that July. [29] The mountain was named after the district, itself labeled in honor of William H. Clarke of Visalia, California, owner of a popular saloon. [30] Ivanpah (later called Old Ivanpah) was the main town, located in the heart of the Clark District on the north side of Clark Mountain. The area, described by one modern author as "the most important [mineral area] ... of all of San Bernardino County," produced a considerable amount of silver between 1869 and 1880, when profits began to decline and people moved away. The district hung on until the late 1890s, when a crash in the price of silver ended mining there. The extraordinary remoteness of the area caused profitability problems as well. [31]

The other major mine before the turn of the twentieth century was the Bonanza King Mine, located near the present 7IL Ranch. Discovered in 1880 by Ivanpah prospectors, the Bonanza King produced rich silver ore until 1885, and sporadically thereafter. The mill, believed to have been near the current 7IL Ranch headquarters, burned in 1885 and was not immediately rebuilt. Later owners revived the mine several times, most significantly between 1905-07 and 1915-1920. Bonanza King workers lived near the mine in the town of Providence, where stone ruins still stand. The profitability of the mine was helped by the construction of the Atlantic & Pacific Railroad to the south; Bonanza King stock was listed on the New York Stock Exchange, and output eventually totaled more than one and a half million dollars. [32]

Railroads helped stimulate mining in the Mojave. The Atlantic & Pacific was completed in 1883, but had little effect on the Ivanpah mines, which were already in decline. Beginning in 1893, the Nevada Southern Railway, built north from Goffs to Barnwell, tapped the Vanderbilt area, the Sagamore Mine, and other potentially profitable ventures, and helped stimulate prospecting and small-scale mining in the area. Just after the turn of the century, that railroad extended branches from Barnwell through the New York Mountains to the Ivanpah Valley, as well as to Searchlight, both of which coincided with additional mining activity. [33]

The "Great Years" of mining in the eastern Mojave, so named because adequate capital financed substantial production of both precious metals and industrial metals, came between 1900 and the end of World War I. In 1900, a boom at Tonopah, Nevada, sent prospectors throughout the desert region, and a large number of claims were staked in the Mojave. Several Mojave mines were big producers. The Copper World, in the Clark Mountain section of the Preserve, produced 100 tons each day, making it one of the larger copper mines in California at the time. The Von Trigger Mine, later known as the California Mine, produced 30,000 tons of copper between 1907 and 1909. The Paymaster Mine, discovered in 1900 on the slope of Old Dad Mountain, produced some $75,000 worth of gold between 1910 and 1914. These small bonanzas were short-lived. The depression that followed World War I caused substantial contraction of mining nationwide; smaller producers like those in the Mojave simply found it impossible to operate economically. [34]

The Great Depression sparked an increase in gold mining in what later became the Mojave National Preserve. The Depression caused an increase in the price of gold, and labor expenses were low. These factors, combined with another key ingredient, described by one author as "men not having much else to do," caused a surge of gold mining activity in the area. The Colosseum Mine, discovered as early as 1880 but never mined comprehensively, began substantial production in 1929, and the Telegraph Mine, first located in 1930, produced $100,000 in gold between 1932 and 1938. [35]

The entrance of the United States into World War II in late 1941 prompted a change in mining activity in the eastern Mojave, accelerating a shift from production of precious metals to excavation of industrial minerals. During World War II, mining of almost all precious metals was halted by executive order to free resources for America's war effort. Some resources made more valuable by the war were found in the eastern Mojave, including copper from several small mines, and tin and tungsten from the Evening Star Mine. The most important wartime production came from the Vulcan Mine in the Providence Mountains, which supplied iron ore for the blast furnaces of Henry Kaiser's Fontana steel mill and turned Kelso into a boom town of 1,500 people. [36]

After the shutdown of the Vulcan Mine in 1948, much of the remaining mining activity in the eastern Mojave focused on salable materials such as cinders. [37] The Aiken Cinder Mine and the Cima Cinder Mine both began operation around 1948, and profitably worked their deposits through the 1990s. The primary exception to the focus on salable minerals was the Mountain Pass Mine, located just outside Preserve boundaries, which was purchased by Molybdenum Corporation of America (Molycorp) in 1951 and remains one of the largest producers of rare earth elements in the world. [38]

The period between the late 1970s and mid-1990s saw a worldwide revolution in gold mining methods. The development of cyanide heap leaching, first proposed to the mining community by the Bureau of Mines in 1969, enabled miners to recover microscopic amounts of gold. [39] This was merely an interesting tool until the price of gold, which had been regulated until the 1970s, was allowed to follow the market. The value of gold skyrocketed, which prompted demand for new sources of the metal. Cyanide heap leach technology permitted companies to extract gold from the tailings left behind at older mines. The new technique also permitted companies to profitably extract gold from mines that had not previously had concentrations of ore rich enough to mine. Three major mines in and around Mojave National Preserve were opened or re-opened using cyanide heap-leaching: the Colosseum Mine and the Morning Star Mine were both located inside the boundaries of the Preserve, and Viceroy Gold's Castle Mountain Mine was specifically excluded from the park in the passage of the California Desert Protection Act. Neither of the open pits inside the park were actively mined after the establishment of the Preserve, but these mines have left behind enormous piles of tailings with residual cyanide, as well as the open pits themselves.

Source - NPS

Providence Mountains

Like the New York Mountains to the north, the first discoveries made in the Providence Mountains were ...

    Rock Spring

    Charles Hamilton and Francis B. Austin on March 12, 1863, discovered some rich silver ore about 10 miles ...


    In the spring of 1880, George Goreman and P. Dwyer, prospectors from Ivanpah, discovered rock that ...

    Providence Mountains (Gold-Iron)

    The gold mines in the Providence Mountains that were first worked lay south of Foshay Pass, and were ...

    Gold Valley

    In late summer of 1908, high grade gold was discovered 28 miles southwest of the new boomtown of Hart. ...

Clark Mountain - Ivanpah

In 1868 a Piute Indian brought a piece of metallic copper to Johnny Moss, ďa frontiersman and well-known ...


    In the declining years of Ivanpah during the 1880s, there was at least one mine, the Cambria, about 6 miles ...


    After lying idle for 30 years, the Copper World was reactivated in 1898. The Ivanpah Smelting Company of ...

Ivanpah Mountains

The Bullion Mine, on the north end of the Ivanpah Mountains is reported to have been discovered and first ...

New York Mountains

James Crossman indicates that mining commenced in the New York Mountains in 1861 when prospectors ...


    At the same time that all of Blake's energy and money was being poured into the Eastern Mojave, the ...

    The Garvanza Mine

    The Garvanza Mining and Milling Company of Michigan first worked its mine in Cliff Canyon on the north ...


    On December 19, 1907, Jim Hart, with Bert and Clark Hitt, discovered gold, soon transforming a corner of ...

    Death Valley Mine

    The Death Valley Mine was discovered in 1906 by J. L. Bright of Kelso. In July, 1906, the Death Valley Gold ...
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