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... 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

To become a fan on Facebook, click here.

Photo Essay: Desert Center Ghost Town

Some might argue that Desert Center is not a ghost town.

Sure, it has the Chuckwalla Raceway, and a senior living community with a golf course.

But it can only boast about 100 residents.

As one of the few stopovers available off the 10 freeway between Indo and Blythe, it could have a lot of business from drivers just passing through. But all of the services - gas stations, cafes, of which there used to be plenty - have closed.

I stumbled upon it after exiting Joshua Tree National Park from the southernmost end at Cottonwood Springs. I intended to take the 10 east to the 117 and make my way back up north through Rice and into Twentynine Palms.

But on a stormy day like today, the 117 was closed to traffic because of flooding. So I had plenty of time to explore what is left of Desert Center.

Desert Center was founded by "Desert Steve" Ragsdale, a preacher and cotton farmer who stumbled upon the remote area on his way to Los Angeles and decided to relocate his family there in 1921.

Two decades later, Desert Center still didn't have very many residents, until General Patton established an Army air field nearby. After World War II, the Kaiser Steel Eagle Mountain Mine became one of the largest open-pit minining operations in the world until its closure in the 1980s. (This is the same Kaiser that ultimately created Kaiser Permanente managed healthcare.)

A nearby prison also closed in 2003.

So what's left? Some state employees who work at a CalTrans maintenance facility, as well as...

...some relics from Kaiser Steel...

...some signs of the past...

...plenty of junk...

...and lots of former services.

Ragsdale was an opportunistic entrepreneur, and an avid advertiser of the services his town once provided, which included a number of cabins for rent.

At one point, there must have been enough local families to warrant having a school, which is now also closed.

The rain had stopped outside, but it was still raining inside the school.

Perhaps more livelihood lies beyond Ragsdale Road, Desert Center's "main street" which Ragsdale himself used to tout as 100 miles long.

I couldn't take the Desert Center Rice Road up to the Twentynine Palms Highway today to find out. But if I were to guess, I'd say I saw most of what there is to see.

Nearby ghost towns:
Rice, CA and Dale, CA
The Salton Sea (Salton City, Bombay Beach, etc.)

To become a fan on Facebook, click here.

July 29, 2012

Photo Essay: A Brewery in An Airplane Hangar

It may be a bit off the beaten path, but Hangar 24's brewery in an actual aircraft hangar across the street from the Redlands Airport is cool.

And, near the intersection of the 210 and the 10 freeways, it was on my way to Joshua Tree.

An aviation fan himself, master brewer Ben Cook (a former homebrewer) founded his brewery in the very same hangar where he once gathered with friends for a post-flight beer.

It may be small, but its beers are available by the keg, bottle, and soon by the can (but so far, mostly in Southern California, though as far north as Fresno).

All beers are pretty much made with the same ingredients: water, malted barley, and hops.

What makes the taste difference is the exact balance of those ingredients, any additional spices or botanicals added (as in the case of the deliciously light Orange Wheat), and the fermentation process.

Hangar 24 is a 24/7 brewery, meaning you could stumble upon any stage of the beermaking process...

...which today included letting off come CO2 yield from the yeast fermentation into a plastic bucket receptacle...

...and actual bottling (a rarity at the craft breweries I have visited), on a unique Italian bottling machine whose manual contains instructions only in Italian.

Much to the chagrin of those who must fix it when it breaks down.

In addition to the Orange Wheat, beers range from lager to pale ale to IPAs to an altbier and a chocolate porter, as well as a variety of limited seasonal offerings.

They're all fun to taste while planespotting.

To become a fan on Facebook, click here.