Saturday, December 17, 2016
It’s the holidays and time for hiking in Joshua Tree National Park (JTNP)! Since my daughter moved to Twentynine Palms in 2014, Christmastime and Easter have become de facto opportunities for me to hike JT. And last month I had the occasion to drive out to 29 to culminate the Thanksgiving weekend.
With my time constraints for this hike, I needed a hike that would be close to 29, so I began looking at hikes along the Park Boulevard area. Shall I do a peak, nature trail, oasis, mine? Part of me wants to keep visiting the marquee tourist sites just to cross them off my list, but part of me wants to adventure off the beaten path and bag peaks. Perusing through my three books, a write-up for Desert Queen Mine and Wash caught my attention (Best Easy Day Hikes in Joshua Tree National Park by Polly and Bill Cunningham). A visit to the largest and longest operating mine in the park seemed good, and if I add the wash it would be a nice 4 miles outs and back. But then as I was looking at the map, I saw Negro Hill (4875’) nearby. Hmmm. So I did some more sleuthing and found a hike description for it in On Foot in Joshua Tree National Park by Patty Furbush: Cross county, 1.5 miles round trip, 439 feet in elevation gain, 360 degree panorama. I chucked at the route description. This is it in its entirety: “Route: Negro Hill is the obvious hill located a short distance west of the backcountry board. Head west up any likely slope.” That’s my kind of hike! And I can add that to my mine visit and get the best of two worlds: a marquee site and off the beaten path.
it was my first peak in JT, which I hiked on 1-3-15. I’m enjoying the amazing “viewshed” (new word for me. I read it in the park’s Fall Guide and I really like it). I’ve not seen a single bloom of anything yet, but I am stopping occasionally to admire small cacti, which seem to get lost in the sea of tan desolation. I’m pleased that I recognize the hedgehog cactus (Echinocereus engelmannii) and the foxtail cactus (Escobaria vivipara) which were two of the plants I photographed at the visitor center. I’m slowly gaining a familiarity with desert flora.
2:04 - Negro Hill (4875’). Splendid peak! Sprawling desert fills a 360-degree panorama. It’s cold and windy but the warm sun feels good. I review the maps and enjoy identifying various landmarks in the distance. My 250mm telephoto lens helps bring things closer. Queen Mountain dominates the skyline to the immediate north. I’m scoping out the Desert Queen Mine site to the east and pondering my visit as part 2 of today’s outing. I have a bit to eat and soak in the beauty around me.
Gangly Joshua trees accent the desolate landscape. When I reach the main wash I started on, I continue past it a couple more minutes to intersect the north-south trail to Pine City. I turn right (south). Off to my right I admire my new friend, Negro Hill, rising from the desert floor. Up ahead the parking lot comes into view.
3:29 - Trailhead (Pine City Backcountry Board parking area). Wow, that was a fun little excursion, good for 1.5 miles round trip with 440 feet in elevation gain. There are nine cars in the lot (including mine). Sunset is at 4:46 today, so I’ll see how much of Desert Queen Mine I can explore before dark.
From here I have a better view south into the rugged canyon and I can see a trail winding deep into the canyon. A trail continues down into the canyon from the ruins and I wonder how the network of routes tie together. Before leaving the ruins, I climb a little knob abutting the east side of the ruins for a better look at the surrounding topography. To the north, the hills are more gentle and dotted with tailings (the rock debris that is excavated from a mine shaft). Back on the main trail, another two minutes delivers me to my first planned destination.
An interpretive sign narrates an overview of the mine’s colorful past. Gold was discovered here in 1894 and the mine operated until 1961 as one of the most productive mines in the area. It was entered into the National Register of Historic Places in 1976. A large metal cylinder stands a few feet away from the sign. A use path leaves the site heading south into the canyon. I remember the trail guide says to retrace my steps back to a junction for a trail that circles around descending into the canyon. But I’m losing daylight so I decide to see where this use path takes me. It’s well traveled so it should get me to the bottom ok, right?
Far below, a group of seven hikers walk the canyon bottom on their way back. I turn left (northeast) on the narrow road and step into welcome sun. I pass another grated tunnel below me. Giant rock formations to my right bask in the warm light of the golden hour. Up head is another huge tailing mound. As I arrive at its origin, a horizontal tunnel greets me. It’s not blocked so I eagerly step inside. About 15 feet in, steel bars block further access. Small gauge train rails still run along the floor, absent of their wooden ties. It’s amazing to think about the rugged miners who bore these shafts through sheer rock and spent their careers laboring deep in bowels of these desolate rocky masses.
I find another grated tunnel, this one vertical. I’m gambling on there being another route down from here. I circle around a giant boulder and discover a draw that heads back to the mine road. It’s a fun climb down some large rocks and a minute later I’m back on the beaten path near the mining equipment were I came up.
Soon a path cuts right (north) and I suspect it is the use trail coming down from the structure ruins. I take that route and in about 3 minutes I arrive at the structure ruins. It’s is satisfying to see how a network of trails comes together.
4:48 - End hike. My mine excursion was good for 1.5 miles round trip with 320 feet in elevation gain. The whole outing was good for 3 total miles with 760 total elevation gain. There are 5 cars (including mine) and it’s 36 degrees. The total step count on my Fitbit for the two parts of my hike is 10,374 (5,494 for Negro Hill and 4,880 for Desert Queen Mine). Now I head back to the house to get ready for a 7:00 concert in Joshua Tree.
See Joshua Tree hikes at Dan's Hiking Pages
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