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Report - Warm Springs Mine (with Swimming Pool!!!)- Death Valley, California, USA (March 2012)

Discussion in 'European and International Sites' started by 747_kirki, Mar 21, 2012.

  1. 747_kirki

    747_kirki Death Valley is Mine
    28DL Full Member

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    Sorry for the delay in posting this one up… Our mad flying visit to spend two days in Death Valley at the start of March ended with a trip to Warm Springs Mining Camp – pretty far off the beaten track.

    To get there you have to take the Badwater Road about 6miles south of the Furnace Creek Inn:
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    Then turn right and continue south on the graded West Side Road another 33 miles. At this point keep your eyes scanning for a sign pointing to the west (that’ll be on your right) that reads “ Butte Valleyâ€￾; turn right on this graded road. Back in the days when the mines in Warm Springs were operating, heavily laden ore trucks used this road regularly. Since the last talc mine in Warm Springs Canyon closed in the 1980s, it has deteriorated some, so you’ll be in for a bumpy ride and you need a 4x4 or high-clearance vehicle at the minimum, and some decent off-road tyres are advised. It’s also really remote out here – don’t head this way without telling someone where you are going first (you are unlikely to bump into anyone), or do what we did and take a SatPhone with you (you can probably hire them in Vegas on your way out here).

    Anyway, after about seven miles, this track enters Warm Springs Canyon - shortly before, you'll get visual confirmation that you're headed in the right direction!
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    After 9 miles you start finding side-roads – head off down these and you’ll get to Big Talc Mine and Number 5 Mine (we didn’t have time!), but they all had underground workings that connected and were all part of what was known as the Grantham Mine.

    The history books tell us that of the one hundred or so women who trod Death Valley’s barren hillsides in search of mineral wealth, Louise Grantham was by far the most successful. In 1931 she recognized the potential of the talc deposits and started staking claims up and down the canyon. The big depression was on at the time, so the demand for talc was not great; nevertheless talc mining began in 1933. With the start of World War II, talc became an important commodity (I still don’t know why – anybody know?), and by 1943 it was a commodity crucial to the war effort. The mine’s output was continuous in the post war years. In 1972 Johns-Manville Products purchased the property, and they operated the mine another fifteen years.

    In those later years I’ve read that both mines had extensive underground workings on sixteen different levels. Many of the tunnels were big enough to accommodate the use of diesel trucks and front-end loaders. The ceilings of the tunnels were supported in one of three ways. At times extensive heavy timbers were utilized. In other areas, roof bolts were driven into the “hanging wallâ€￾ (the ceiling). In yet other areas, room-and-pillar mining was employed, where large columns of ore were left in place to support the ceiling. As these levels were worked out, the last areas to be mined were the pillars themselves leaving a very dangerous unsupported void. As you can imagine, books on the area say (they have to, don’t they!) that none of these underground workings are now safe to enter!

    The third mine encountered off to the left is the Warm Spring Mine – and if my map reading skills are correct, this is the one we visited first.

    The little track to it was great fun:
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    The mine itself wasn’t sealed up, so you could get in:
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    But we soon encountered a steep shaft dropping away to the left which (thankfully) was covered over with some fencing wire. Looking down it with a torch there was no ladder – it was just a steep shaft going somewhere deep.
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    The tunnel ahead continued on a little way but we soon reached a collapse and could get no further:
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    And just outside were some other workings:

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    Look back to where we parked the car for this side-trip (such a beautiful place out here:

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    You get to the really good bit at a point 10.8 miles in, where a side “roadâ€￾ left goes to the Warm Springs Mine Camp. I wasn’t expecting much, but was totally overwhelmed by the size of the camp. There were multiple buildings dotted around like this one (impossible to get a good shot to show the size, as there were so many overgrown trees and shrubs hiding everything - the presence of a "spring" in the area means this is one place in Death Valley where things actually grow.

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    There were multiple buildings still standing, some in a good state of repair, and people obviously use them to sleep in occasionaly if camping in the back-country overnight, of if they run into trouble. If doing this, there is a sign inside the main building asking you to keep the doors shut when you enter and depart, to avoid the packrats entering (apparently they can make a real mess of the place). Ewwwww!

    Warm Springs had served as a comfortable base camp for the many talc miners who have come and gone since the 1930s. Louise Grantham is credited as having brought this bit of luxury to the mining industry who worked here. It was by far the best mining camp I have ever encountered in the US.

    Whilst no doubt added much more recently, it had its own kitchens and a massive thick door off into a separate room. At first I thought I was opening some kind of safe, but it then turned out to be a deep-freeze!

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    Out the back there was also a swimming pool, complete with diving board. You really have to visit this place and know the surroundings to appreciate how TOTALLY unexpected this is. You are in the middle of nowhere (truly, no one could hear you scream out here), the last thing you expect to find is a sturdy group of buildings – let alone a bloody swimming pool! I can imagine this was an utter luxury on days when it can reach 120 degrees in the heat of summer.

    The pool is spring-fed, and water still trickled into it, although it was now just full of brown sludge:

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    Some other shots arout the camp:

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    TO BE CONTINUED...!

    Only a few yards down from the camp was the largest mine opening I’ve ever found in the US. It was ginormous, although totally sealed up with metal bars to prevent anyone – or any vehicle (yes, it’s that big) – from even having a sniff of underground exploring action. A heavily worn sign a little way up reveals that this mine was once owned by Pfizer.

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    The roof above the opening to the mine doesn’t look “too healthy!â€￾

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    Again, some research on the area revealed that talc was not the only mineral commodity handled here at Warm Springs. In 1939 gold miners erected a mill here to process gold ore from the Gold Hill Mine (a few miles away). The mill has suffered relatively little vandalism in recent years and looks very much like a reconstructed museum piece designed to display various types of ore dressing. Through a series of belts and gears, a single, horizontal-cylinder gasoline engine drives three different kinds of ore crushers:

    CIMG9480.jpg

    This was a truly amazing place to explore in Death Valley – I would recommend the Warm Springs Mining Camp to anyone going here. It’s on my list to come back to next time, so I can explore all the side-roads which each lead to their own little mines. What a place!

    They estimate there are between 10,000 and 50,000 mines in Death Valley National Park alone. But the truth is, no one knows exactly, as so many are off the beaten track and the hostile environment / terrain means many are probably yet to be “re-discoveredâ€￾. But what a place! So get on a plane do some exploring out here…! You won’t regret it.
     

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