Tuesday, July 31, 2012

A Stone Unturned: Lost Horse Mine

I'd wanted to hike the Lost Mine Loop trail to the Lost Horse Mine when I visited Joshua Tree back in April 2011, but I saved it for another time. I'd already run to Keys Ranch and hiked to the Desert Queen Mine and to Pine City. I didn't have the energy.

But this time, when I finally made the attempt, I didn't go the way I was supposed to. I was supposed to take the trail clockwise, so the Lost Horse mine would be only two miles in, and from there I could decide if I wanted to complete the entire loop, which clocks in at 6.2 miles.



I had it in my head that I could handle a four mile hike, so when I saw the trailhead sign for Lost Horse Mine at 4.2 miles, I went for it. It didn't occur to me until two or three miles in that I had misinterpreted the sign and gotten my roundtrip vs. oneway numbers mixed up, and that had made my decision for me: I was going to complete the entire loop.



My hiking guidebook warned that the loop should only be attempted by those experienced in backcountry navigation. Apparently I still need to work on my trailhead navigation.

Regardless, going backwards, I embarked on a hike that started out flat and clear for the first couple of miles...



...providing me with the wide open spaces I long for...



...on a broad wash that crossed several loose, gravely roads, but was clearly marked with signage.



The road began its ascent gently, past joshua trees...



...yellow-streaked rocks...



...and berry-bearing juniper bushes.





I hadn't spotted any ruins yet, but it was clear I was in mine country, as the trail steepened and became more rocky...



...turning into a narrow, single track ridge trail as it looped around.



Lost Horse Mine isn't the only mine along the loop trail: remains of the Optimist Mine are clearly visible and right on the trail, including a chimney...




...as well as some old rusty cans.







From the Optimist Mine, the climb to the Lost Horse Mine became more difficult, with clearer views of the valley below.



When I arrived at Lost Horse Mine - whose stamp mill loomed from the hill above - I was taken aback by the vision of a lone, shirtless man, sitting atop a ledge.



It was 10 a.m. and I hadn't seen any other hikers. It was the middle of summer when tourists tackle hikes like this far more infrequently than in cooler weather. And although I had pepper spray in my hiking pack, I decided not to brave an encounter with a desert eccentric. So instead of climbing up to the mill as I normally would, I continued my hike another two miles down the loop...



...until I arrived to the gate which should have been my starting point.



And now I still haven't really experienced Lost Horse Mine, though I've seen it.

Now that I know where I'm going, perhaps I'll give the Lost Horse Mine another chance in the next three weeks that I'll be here. I hate leaving a stone unturned.

Nearby mines & mills:
Wall Street Mill
Mastodon Mine, Cottonwood Springs

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