Ghost towns from the booms and busts of gold, silver, and assorted mineral mines are scattered all through Death Valley National Park. Lonely ruins from the promise of gold are at the Inyo Mine, deep within Echo Canyon, lying in the Funeral Mountains between Amargosa and Furnace Creek. The Echo Canyon turnoff (a dirt road), is marked on Highway 190, driving a few miles east of the beautiful Furnace Creek Inn.
Sights in Echo Canyon
Before reaching the mine site, driving in from the west side of Echo Canyon, be on the lookout for the “Eye of the Needle.” This picturesque landmark is a window in the rock with a triangular hole about 10 feet tall, overlooking the scenic gorge. We also got a glimpse of ancient petroglyphs in the upper reaches of the canyon. Continuing up the road you will see a sign for Inyo Mine.
Gold mine history
Rich, gold-bearing quartz veins were discovered at the Inyo site in January 1905. The booming mining camp had a blacksmith shop, boarding house, and store. Due in part to the great financial panic of 1907, the Inyo Gold Mining Company was unable to finance its plans to construct a mill needed to process the ore for shipping. They ran out of funds, forcing it to cease operation in January 1912.
Interest in the mine was renewed around 1935 -36 when the Inyo Consolidated Mining Company leased the claims to rework the old tunnels. The camp was revived with the installation of a 25-ton ball mill and small amalgamation and concentration plant, run by water hauled in from Furnace Creek. In 1939 high-grade ore was struck with 36 tons of ore shipped, valued at $280 per ton. The strike was short-lived with the mine closing for good in 1941.
A more complete history of the mines in the Echo Canyon mining district can be read in, Hiking Death Valley: A Guide to its Natural Wonders and Mining Past by Michel Digonnet. This informative guide also gives details for interesting hikes in the park.
Today, numerous structures, cabins and mine equipment lie silent, undergoing the slow decay of the desert. We saw the remains of a jaw crusher and ball mill, an arrastra for ore processing, and a large diesel engine used to power the ore processing equipment. Another diesel engine and a manually driven cable hoist can be found by hiking further up the steep canyon at the higher mine sites.
Exploring mine shafts
This mine has several shafts, both vertical and horizontal, layered up the mountainside. The lower horizontal shaft lies near a wood bunker and mine tailings, which can be explored by a reliable lantern or flashlight. I like to have 2 flashlights with fresh batteries, in case one should fail. Headlamps are the most convenient. This was the ONLY shaft that looked safe to explore at the time of our visit. I watched other people go in and out safely.
The cool, eerie, darkness of a mine is like nothing else I have experienced. The darkness is so complete that you cannot see your hand in front of your face. The silence is overwhelming with the only sound being your own heartbeat. Some mines have water seeping through the rock. Coming out of a mine gives the phrase, “seeing the light at the end of the tunnel,” fresh meaning. In contrast, I imagine the canyon echoed loudly with the sounds of machinery and crushing ore in its heyday.
Enter abandoned mines at your own risk and be on the alert for rattlesnakes and bats that like to make their homes in these dark caverns. MOST mines are NOT stable with poor air supply, making it unwise to enter. Death Valley National Park is working to cover old, caving mines with heavy netting or bars to protect folks from foolish curiosity.
Wilderness is not a luxury but a necessity of the human spirit, and as vital to our lives as water and good bread.”― Edward Abbey, Desert Solitaire
We found dispersed camping near the ghost camp however, it took quite a bit of blocking to level our camper. The silent beauty of the sun playing on the deep wrinkles of the mountains and the haunting frames of old houses gives enjoyment to this reflective spot. We visited in February after a rainstorm. The air was free of dust and the old wood siding and rusting metal were freshly washed.
I have put together a handy list of tips for backcountry camping in Death Valley to help you prepare for your next desert trip.
Driving to the mine
High clearance 4×4 vehicles are a must for reaching the mine site. Most of the drive is an easy Class 2 along the canyon’s sandy washes. However, there are a couple of more challenging places rated as Class 3 or 4 before reaching the mine site. A flash flood can change everything, so be sure to know the weather forecast. The most current trail conditions are available at the park ranger stations.
Echo Canyon has one stretch of impassible Class 5 over a narrow bedrock cascade that is NOT part of this recommended outing. My adventure-loving desert rat drove this rough section (with a spotter to help), in our short wheelbase 4×4 pickup truck many years ago. We still have the bent rear bumper as a memento. Only experienced, skillful off-roaders should attempt this dry fall.
Inyo Mine can be reached without going over the cascade section, starting from the junction of Highway 178 and Highway 190, driving 2.1 miles east, past the Furnace Creek Inn on the 190 to Echo Canyon, where the road marker stands on the north side.
Guide books for routes
I highly recommend using our “go-to” guide books; The Explorer’s Guide to Death Valley National Park by T. Scott Bryan and Better Tucker-Bryan or Death Valley SUV by Roger Mitchell. These trusty guides offer desert travel safety tips and give helpful details for driving and exploring the back roads of Death Valley.
Inyo Mine photo gallery
Please enjoy the photos we took of Echo Canyon and the Inyo gold mining ghost town.