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Thursday, February 19, 2015

When You Find Homer Simpson, You're Getting Warmer...

It might have been on the first visit to Joshua, or maybe it was the second (there is a difference of opinions  in our Lazy Daze rolling homestead). But, "when" is of little consequence to this story. You see, this is what happens to old married couples—mature relationships, then, if it makes you feel better. The cadence, buildup, and point of a good story goes down the drain when an interjection/argument breaks out over what, where, when or who the person was that told you something that relates to the story… ah, what was her name? started with a "B," Betty? Bonnie? Before you know it the audience is implementing emergency exit strategies… fake phone calls, pulling fire alarms, jumping out of second story windows! Anything to avoid Fred and Wilma's diversion into irrelevant minutia.   Anyway, as I was saying, sometime between the mid to late 90's and the early 2000's (happy Bobbie?) we found ourselves immersed (aka, lost), deep in the throat of Joshua's labyrinth laced wilderness, when we stumbled upon something incredible.

I ducked out of a wash into a brushy slot between massive boulders in order to take a leak (I don't know why, there was likely no one within miles… and yes, I do seem to pee frequently). As I came out of the shade into daylight something caught my eye… a glint, or flash. Upon further inspection, there, behind long dead vegetation, was a six pane window mortared into a gap between boulders. WTF?

I peered through the glass and saw what looked to be an olden campsite. Rusty tin cans adorned the window sill and beyond that a fireplace, with pots and pans hanging overhead. I called out to Bobbie, "You need to see this." A moment later she found a way inside; we spent an hour rummaging around in what proved to be some gold miner's long-ago living quarters. 

Clue one: This huge boulder that seems out of place.

As I said, the first find happened a long time ago, and the exact year is neither here nor there. Bobbie and I were doing our usual thing, wandering Joshua's bouldered innards, exploring pell-mell one drainage to the next. We were seduced by all the anthropomorphic rocks, challenging routes, and the feeling of being totally alone—beyond prying eyes and ears of the madding crowd. Like the view from a mountain summit after an arduous trek, the miner's quarters was our reward for perseverance and curiosity, and sweat; a serendipitous "hidden treasure." 

Clue two: These rock gardens...

Since that long ago discovery, we have been unsuccessful at re-finding the miner's stone "cabin." It would be impossible to retrace the random route taken that day, so random that it took hours to find our way back to civilization, and with little daylight to spare. Memories of where we started have aged with time, such that where to begin became as fuzzy as the notorious rotten orange, hidden in the middle of a bag. 

Clue three: This pointy stone

Over the years, my failure to re-find the miner's quarters had become a personal torment, to the point that this time around I was fixated on getting back to it. Start the Impossible Mission theme song NOW. "We will look for the treasure one more time, till summer's heat drives us from the land." 
Clue four: Homer Simpson; you are getting warmer.
On the way into Joshua this time, we stopped at the Visitor's Center to inquire about the miner encampment's whereabouts. Well, you know how Park Rangers are nowadays… all secretive and oblique when it come to guarding their "treasure's" whereabouts. They route tourists like cattle to some "sacrificial lamb" trinket—a fenced off scribble or corncob or grinding hole—in hopes that they will be sated and go away, while the good stuff remains hidden behind a "curtain" like the great and venerable Oz—unseen, untouched and therefore, unappreciated and unexperienced. 

Clue five: When you see this, you are getting very warm...
But I tried...
"We don't like to give out specific locations of the Park's antiquities," said Mr Ranger Sir. 
"Do you see a can of spray paint on me?" I was getting upset.
"I just want to re-find this place, take a couple pictures and get out… not graffiti, pillage, and plunder it." 

I was told to go talk to the next Ranger up the chain of disinformation. 

Clue six: Now you are HOT. It's in there somewhere...
Thwarted, we tried the Visitor's Center on the other side of the park, some 35 miles distant, near Palm Canyon. This time I assumed a humble posture as I approached the counter… made polite conversation, threw out a few compliments to the Ranger and his volunteer. 
"Hey. You know the little woman and I were here about 15 years ago and stumbled across an old miners quarters built amongst huge boulders. Anyway, I was wondering… uh… we've been trying for years to find it again and can't seem to succeed. I know you can't tell us where it's at, but could you at least point us in the right direction?" 

The volunteer was hesitant, he looked over at Mr Ranger Sir… waiting for approval. He nodded. He nodded!!!! The volunteer pulls out the freebie map, the one that's so un-detailed you can barely find campgrounds and trailheads, and draws a line out from a dead end road. 
"This is the three mile trail to 'such and such.' But over here," he drew a straight line spur, "is a faint trail that will take you in the general direction. Good luck."

Well, at least we knew where to start. The rest would be up to us.  

The faint trail dropped precipitously into a wash. Definitely not maintained, that's for sure. Up the wash past some house-sized boulders and across, we picked it up again, passing a long dead mine operation. Beyond the mine, the trail became lighter, but still evident. Several other trails took off here and there, so we systematically detoured to explore each, one by one, just in case, then resumed the search where we left off. 

Eventually, miles in, a nearly imperceptible trail split off of the "faint" trail… one that could be easily missed by those in a rush. We checked it out, thinking it would be another dead end spur… which it was. But, it led us to the treasure we so earnestly sought. 

Here's the thing. You can be standing within spitting distance of the miner's quarters and not see it. It is well hidden in a bouldered slot, as intended, I'm sure. We would have missed it yet again if not for the stupidity of some rule-making idiot desk jockey, who decided a "No Camping" sign was needed to "protect" the "antiquity." Here "they" are, trying to keep this and other places like it a big secret, but they can't help themselves. They just had to put up a freaking "No Camping" sign. Well duh? They might as well have put up a flashing neon arrow, "Look In Here." 

Bobbie and I looked at each other and agreed that they must be trying to hide something. We snooping around among the boulders, looking for pictographs or petroglyphs, actually. It didn't look familiar, and didn't occur to us that we were close to finding what we had been searching for. At a dead end, we shrugged. Bobbie turned around and walked back out while I stayed to take a leak. 

Not a minute later I hear my hiking buddy. "Theres a window over here, I think I found it."

A "mission accomplished" smile on the way out.


  1. How very cool, an old hidden miners cabin with so many artifacts still in tact. Any idea the year this was built, who built it, what metal was being mined? Maybe the guy just wanted quiet place to call home? Thanks for sharing the search and pictures.

  2. Whoah!! What a super cool find!! I can totally understand being tormented by that place. What stories it holds.

  3. Totally fabulous! Holmes has nothing on you two. Great pictures and suspense. Guess you must have looked like good guys at least to the second pair of protectors. But the no camping sign really is a riot!

  4. So incredible! Thanks for putting the effort into finding it, again. It's nice to see the 'stuff' has survived as well as the structure. The rusty tin cans are integral to the story the shelter tells.

  5. Regarding your "find", according to Death Valley Jim's website,...

    "Like the Desert Queen, the mine shaft at Eagle Cliff has been caged off by the Park Service. The show stealer here, is the miner’s cabin that was built into a rock shelter near the site of the mine shaft. The cabin is stunning, and has been left intact complete with pots, pans, shelving, crates, utensils and more. A stone fireplace that was built to help battle the winter nights still stands in its place.

    Little is known about the Eagle Cliff Mine, it does however date back as far as 1895; making it part of the McHaney Mining District, one of the earlier mining districts in the area.

    If you decide to visit the Eagle Cliff Mine, please the leave the cabin as you found it. Do not take any of the relics, and be respectful of this wonderful hidden gem."

  6. Amazing. What a great tale.

  7. Outstanding rediscovery! So inspiring to see that folks who have stumbled upon this site have been thoughtful enough to leave it preserved for the next person to enjoy. I think you're getting close to having enough subject matter and photos for a "Hidden Secrets of the National Parks" book!

  8. Wow how
    Many. Comments about a book is needed from bcb. Material!! Get er done

  9. Right on, you refound it. With only a little help from "them". I'll bet the rocks are littered with old mine cabins. Of course, working for the Feds, I understand about telling where these archeological sites are. In fact, sometimes they won't even tell me at the canyon. Be heading to JT tomorrow but don't think I'll take this hike alone. Hope you found cooler camping.