The desert mountain ranges going into Death Valley contain many canyons where old mine shafts, cabins, mill sites and various ghost towns of past mining operations lay silent to be discovered by the exploring traveler.
One such place of interest is the Minnietta cabin and mine in the Argus range. The well-maintained cabin is one of the many mining shacks in the Death Valley area adopted by off-road groups. Travelers caught in the harsh elements can find a place of refuge, or like us, simply camp in our truck nearby to enjoy exploring the ruins and equipment abandoned where it was last operated.
The type of equipment spans the century from old west wood trams and iron rails to 1940s and 50s boilers and trucks. Rust comes slowly in the dry desert leaving the ruins preserved for the history buff to puzzle out how the mines were operated. My hubby once worked as a stationary engineer and he loves to examine the old steam boilers and machinery closely.
Camp for the full experience:
An old concrete foundation where a house or workshop once stood serves as a great spot to park our truck and oversee the surroundings that grow eerie as the breeze rustles through loose tin and decaying boards in the night. Lonesome brays of Jacks looking for company echo in the area. Bats leave their mineshaft homes to flit nearby in the evenings. The milky way can be enjoyed from the dark sky away from city lights.
We enjoy a campfire in our Smokey Joe BBQ that is small and portable but large enough to cook 2 steaks with our favorite camp potatoes. We smoke cigars as the glow of the embers die down to enjoy the serene quiet of the desert. I always look forward to our tradition of Pres reading to me while snug in our sleeping bag by flashlight. We usually bring a Louis L’amour book and have been delighted to find that at times we have explored in an area that is described and used in his historical fiction, bringing it to life.
I feel like a man standing at the mouth of an old mine-shaft that is full of cave-ins waiting to happen, standing there and saying goodbye to the daylight.”
― Stephen King, It
My grandparents were rock hounds and I loved my trips to the Texas desert with my grandfather to hunt for treasure. Grandaddy would have loved the various kinds of mines in Death Valley – gold, silver, lead, talc, sulfur, borax, onyx, etc. I always keep my eye open for that gold nugget left behind, but so far only the “fools gold” of pyrite has been my find.
Unusual sights in the desert
One morning after camping at Minnietta overnight, we headed out Shotgun Road towards the Panamint Resort. We were shocked to find a dead burro laying beside the road with his throat deeply slit as if by a hunting knife. We reported our findings to the Resort who told the authorities. It remains a mystery as to how the burro got this type of deadly injury. It heightened my awareness of the possibility of meeting a person with ill intentions while traveling alone in the backcountry.
In between the Osborne Canyon and Minnetta Mine is a stretch of dirt road that is also designated and used as an airstrip. On our last trip there we stopped to allow a small plane to take off as we were heading out.
How to get there:
You can reach Minnietta coming from the south via Trona Wildrose Road or Panamint Valley Road from the north. There are several ways into the canyons but the most direct is via Minnietta Road, a graded dirt road that turns off the pavement with a marked signpost.
Detailed directions are offered in the Death Valley SUV Trails book by Roger Mitchell. Also noteworthy is the ghost town of Ballarat, which lies southeast of Minnietta with a clearly marked turn-off along Trona Wildrose Road.
The neighboring canyons can be reached via the rutted Shotgun Road which offers great 4×4 roads into Snow Canyon with the St. George mill site and old tin-roof cabin. Head north to Lookout City with a panoramic view of the valley from its rocky ruins, then on to the Osborne Canyon with its zebra-striped limestone formations. Osborne is where the Surprise Mine cabin sits with a picturesque dinosaur back ridge behind it. Lookout City and the neighboring canyons require high clearance, shorter wheelbase, 4×4 vehicles for access.
Jerry Fullerton says
Good short story about one of several cabins in the Argus Range. The Ridgecrest BLM sponsors the “Adopt-a-Cabin” program to supply material to volunteers. I am very familiar with the local BLM Ranger (Terry Allan) and always look forward to his visits in the back country to see what I am up to. Slept many a night under my truck shell but as of late I have upgraded to a Four Wheel Camper in a Tacoma, am loving it! Happy camping and if our trails cross we will have a lot to talk about.
Thanks for the info about the “Adopt a Cabin” program! I so appreciate the work of the volunteers to maintain these structures from history. We come across many cabins in the back country, with some not so fortunate to be cared for. Enjoy the luxury of your truck camper!
Nancy Day says
Jani, I was drawn to the cabin pictures when I saw the couch fabric! Strange, I know, but I just got rid of a sleeper sofa with the exact same fabric, a wedding present to my late husband and I in 1975! It was built so well, I just couldn’t get rid of it! As for Patrick McManus, he is a wonderful story teller! My sons grew up hearing my mother and I reading his stories! Loved them! The books are long-gone (I think they stayed with Mom.). I would love to win “A Fine and Pleasant Misery!”
Thanks for sharing your special memories! You are entered into the drawing for the fun McManus stories. The winner will be announced June 1st – bon chance!
Steve Austin says
Glad to see the Minnietta Cabin is still in great shape as of 2019. Only got to visit there once in 2004. One of my buddies was Lead Volunteer there for Adopt a Cabin, and they did a wonderful job on the place. Hoping to re-visit the Minnietta in the next few years. The Beehive Kilns across Panamint Valley were built to supply the charcoal for the Minnietta Mill production process. The mining history in the area is fascinating. Best to all.
Thanks for sharing your knowledge about the cabin and tell your buddy thanks for his work to keep the historic mining cabins throughout that desert region from falling into ruins. My hubby especially enjoys the old equipment left behind and trying to figure out how some of it was used. Be well and happy trails Steve.
Dr. Walt (Coroner) says
Correction — Your photo of a ”Boiller” up on the hillside above the Minnietta Cabin is actually an AIR COMPRESSOR ; the Air Receiver sits horizontally across the top , the large Two Cylinder Compressor is on the right , and the Four Cylinder Engine that powered the Compressor is on the left underneath the Air Receiver , and it’s all mounted on an old wagon frame .
Thank you for your expertise and correction. Pres will especially appreciate your info.