Rich Ore of Legend at the Desert Queen
Perched atop cliffs north of Jumbo Rocks Campground are the considerable ruins of the Desert Queen Mine, one of the more profitable gold mines dug in the desert that we now call Joshua Tree National Park. Shafts, stone building foundations and rusting machinery are scattered about the slopes above Desert Queen Wash.
If murder and intrigue are what fascinate us about desert mines, then the Desert Queen is quite a story. In 1894, a prospector named Frank James discovered some rich gold ore in the hills north of Jumbo Rocks. Word of his discovery reached cattle rustler Jim McHaney who, as the story goes, ordered his men to follow James to his claim and talk things over. One of McHaney’s thugs shot him dead. McHaney owned the Desert Queen for two years, but he squandered the $30,000-$40,000 yielded and the bank reclaimed the mine.
Hard-rock miner William Keys took control of the mine in 1915, and Altadena jeweler Frederick Morton in 1931. Morton was convinced by a dubious “mining engineer,” to acquire and to invest heavily in the Desert Queen. Against all odds, the miners under his supervision actually struck pay dirt. The engineer sent the daily diggings to a secret stamp mill nearby to process the ore and, of course, pocketed the profits.
You can visit the ruins of the Desert Queen from a northern trail head shared with the path to Pine City or from a southern trail head at Split Rock Picnic Area.
Directions to trail head: From the park highway, opposite the geology tour road, turn right (north) for 1 1/4 miles to park.
The hike: The path, an old mine road, heads east, past some building foundations. The trail forks. The right fork splits south for two miles, past the Eagle Cliff Mine to Split Rock Picnic Area.
Adventurous walkers can take the left fork, climb a bit through pin~on pine- and juniper-dotted Desert Queen Wash, pass a mining area called John’s Camp, and travel three miles to the park road.
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DESERT QUEEN MINE TRAIL
WHERE: Joshua Tree National Park.
DISTANCE: 1.2 miles round trip.
TERRAIN: Pinon pine- and juniper-dotted wash.
HIGHLIGHTS: Ruins of fabled mine.
DEGREE OF DIFFICULTY: Easy.
FOR MORE INFORMATION: Joshua Tree National Park, 74485 National Park Drive, Twentynine Palms, CA 92277; tel. (619) 367-7511.