Destinations: Dale Mining District

Discovering an overlooked gem just outside Joshua Tree.

Once upon a time I lived in California, moving every year in search of a place I liked enough to settle down (and expecting, perhaps hoping, never to find it). Before crossing the river into the Arid Zone I lived in Twentynine Palms, about 15 minutes from the northeast gate to Joshua Tree National Park. The Dale Mining District was stumbled upon during an outing that was one-part “Where’s that road go?” and two-parts not wanting to pay the entrance fee at Joshua Tree (a mere $10 at the time, I didn’t have a pass yet).

Just outside of National Park boundaries, Dale can be reached (for free) via Gold Crown Road from Highway 62 to the north. Access from the south is within the park, via Old Dale / Eagle Mine Road from Pinto Basin Road. The region can be appreciated in a long weekend, but it’s just as easy to spend a week wandering through the various mines and abandoned structures. I leave discovering the rest to you, exploration is half the fun…

Over the course of a few days we wandered to and fro, dazzled by the drastic color changes the desert experiences over a matter of hours, or a matter of mere yards. Old Dale is about as isolated as one can get in the south Mojave, particularly so while baking under the summer sun.

The O.K. Mine, seen above, is one of two larger gatherings of abandoned structures, shafts, and equipment. Opportunities to explore the remains of this operation are ripe, but venture in at your own risk—help is many hours away, as is cellular service.

Darkness swept in fast on approach to the National Park border, and with it another dramatic show of shifting colors and fading light.

The decaying carcasses of dead classics litter the floor of Pinto Basin below the site of the abandoned Goldenrod mine, which was well worth the short climb to explore.

Crossing the next ridge revealed the best campsite in the entire Joshua Tree region—Gold Rose Cabin features a huge raised patio, fire pit, chairs, tables, a fire place, cots, supplies, and no pesky roof to block out the night sky. The owners of the nearby claim have set this up adopt-a-cabin style, with a leave-it-if-you-can-spare-it, use-it-if-you-need-it policy for visitors passing through (we borrowed chairs for the night and left cases of water, fair trade).

Morning required a swift, calm, creative evac—bees, thirsty in this parched terrain, arrived at sun-up to swarm anything smelling of water. The rising steam from boiling water calmed them just enough to pack up the tanks. Having only explored a fraction of the area by this, the third day, motivation to move onward was easy to find.

“Welcome to the Capps Claim. Had to go for more supplies. Make yerself at home. We’re goin to fix the place up again, perhaps you remember. Any extras you have left will be appreciated. I appreciate whomever put the beams along the ceiling walls. We’ll get her fixed up right nice when we’re thru. Had to take enough supplies with us to make it back to town or there would’ve been more. Hope you enjoy while we’re gone.”

Mission Mine, the second largest collection of structures and equipment in the District, and also the most recently abandoned operation (1970s). Mine shafts, tanks, containers, a make-shift workshop, an elevator tower, and even a crane were all left behind.

The Old Dale Arrastra, once the center of town, now serves as a map table for wayward travelers to find the route home…underneath one last glowing amber sky.

Originally licensed to American Adventurist for publishing on April 26th, 2016.