April 2004 Spring Hike To Big Bell Mine and Tucki Mine
Dear Death Valley Hikers,
Last month's weekend in Death Valley was a wonderful trip full of mining history in two different areas of the park.
Friday 4/2/04. On our (Stan and Chuck) way to the Keane Wonder Mine. I checked the cars behind us and to my surprise it was Silvia and Karen.
After leaving a couple of cars at the parking lot we drove up to Monarch Canyon to set up our camp. We stretched a tarp between two trucks for a rain protected kitchen. Chuck made burritos before Silvia and Karen prepared their famous pasta dinner, salad, and garlic rolls. Our group slowly shows up; by 11pm all ten were at camp. We enjoyed a good camp fire that evening after the rain stopped. We had 40 mph gusty winds that evening. We talked about past stories and desert tales. The leader of the REI group camped down canyon from us came over and asked us to hold down the noise. Guess we must have been loud.
Saturday 4/3/04. We got up to a good day and had pancakes and bacon for breakfast. We broke camp while Ernie and Dave left another car at the base of Keane Wonder Mine so we could better our car pool. On the way to Chloride City I took the wrong turn. Years ago you could get to Chloride City by this route but I'm not sure now. So we turned around and made it up to the backside of Chloride Cliffs. Our hiked started. Everyone enjoyed the strenuous down hill hike. While we were exploring around the Big Bell Mine it started to rain again, but the sprinkles did not last. We continued down the canyon following a wonderful old miners trail carved into the side of the mountain, all the while watching the rain clouds coming closer. It started raining as we got to the cars. After driving around and picking up our shuttle vehicles it was too late and too wet to start the second hike. We all agreed to try to get out of the rain and call it a day. So I took them all up Tucki Mine Road (Sheep Canyon) to where the overhanging rock formations are next to the road. There we made a dry camp area. No tents were needed while sleeping under the ledges. We had a wonderful evening.
Sunday 4/4/04. We got up and had a slow breakfast. That meant we were late getting started. We drove up to the summit of Tucki road. After seeing the dugout Vicky decided she wanted to walk to the Tucki Mine. (She is a pair of lungs with legs.) We continued downhill until we got to the end... there it was, the edge of Death Valley, dry falls. We really enjoyed the canyon, approximately three mile hike. Afterwards we drove up hill towards Martin's Crossing. We stopped just to have a look at the cabin further downhill.
Next it was on to Telephone Canyon and all of us enjoyed the Natural Arch. Bill, Gene, Dave, Vicky and Don took off for home. Silvia, Karen, Ernie, Stan, and I continued exploring up Telephone Canyon. We took a side canyon and climbed up to the ridge with a view of Highway 190. At 4pm we all seperated for home.
It was a good trip even with the rain, wind, and short hikes. The weather turned this weekend into a 4WD trip.
From the west side of Chloride Cliff offered this spectacular view of the valley floor, with cloud covered Telescope Peak in the distance.
Vicky looking down at the Big Bell Mine Site. Remnants of the old cable road are scattered along the ridge leading down the steep hillside.
It was hard to watch every foot hold and marvel at the view at the same time. This was my fourth visit to the mine and the excitement of this remote area had not diminished in the least bit.
The Big Bell is an interesting and educational site. The majority of its remains date from the 1935-1937 Coen Company operations. The ore was extracted from several stoped tunnels on the north side of the canyon. It was conveyed by rail to an ore bin on the edge of the canyon. From here it was transported via a short aerial tramway across the wash to the mill, on the south side of the canyon. The milling complex is dominated by the remains of a ball mill and its ore bin, huge water and cyanide tanks in the wash, several tailings and shacks. The processed ore was loaded on the Mack truck that still stands near the mill, and winched up to Chloride Cliff along the cable road, on the steep ridge behind the mill.
Bill looking for the emergency brake, gear shift, gas pedal, clutch or none of the above. The old mack truck frame used to haul ore up to Chloride Cliff and mining supplies back down the steep cable road.
Big Bell Mine is a great place to visit, but plan on a whole day to make the trip. Its easy to spend hours exploring the area, and always hard to leave. There are several ways to reach the mine, plan your route carefully and always take a friend. Chuck took us out on an old miners trail, very well defined, but god help you if you slip or miss a step. Thats where the friend comes in handy. Trail was good and we were at the Keane Wonder Mine in no time. The views were magnificent all the way down.
Views from the mid way tower down the old Keane Wonder Mine Tramway.
The final leg of the hike is just like the beginning all down hill. Those four little dots down at the bottom are our vehicles.
Group picture was taken east of the Tucki Mine. Sunday was a beautiful day up in the Panamints, couldn't have asked for better weather or people to be with.
Picture taken over Gene's shoulder is of the Funeral Mountains to the east of us and the Death Valley floor. The green patch at the base of the Funerals is Furnace Creek Ranch.
Before some of us headed for home Chuck took us up Telephone Canyon to see the natural arch. The rains might have dampened Saturday afternoon but Sunday was unbeatable, as everyone would agree, beats the hell out of any day at work. Thanks again Chuck for making this a great outing and we all want to thank Stan for joining us.