Death Valley, CA
ZUKIWORLD Travels To Echo Canyon and visits the INYO gold Mine
Story/Editor: Eric Bewley Photo: Sara Bewley
DEATH VALLEY, CA. This year’s kick off to the 2003 Adventure Series was a blast. A full itinerary with wheeling every day had the group seeing something new and sometimes unbelievable each and every moment. Our first full day had us exploring the INYO mine located in Echo Canyon.
The INYO mine is one of Death Valley’s most historic sites. Every piece of rusting machinery, every building, and every bit of wood preserves a part of it’s past. In January 1905 Maroni Hicks and Chet Leavitt discovered gold here. Within a year more than two dozen claims were established along Echo canyon, but the Inyo mine was the largest in what was to become the Echo-Lee mining district.
Production began in the winter of 1906. Most of the ore assayed at $300 per ton with some running as high as $650 per ton. By the fall of 1907 the mine had three vertical shafts, 755 ft. of tunnels, hoisting equipment and a blacksmith shop, boarding house, and store.
The mine changed hands several times over it’s 34 year life. The Inyo Mine was worked for the last time in 1940 with the addition of a small smelter but the deposit ran out and the mine became unprofitable which forced it’s closure.
Our day’s journey began just South of our base came at Furnace Creek. The group, consisting of three Samurai piloted by ourselves, Gene and Sharon Forrer, and Dennis Hurt with a special reconnaissance vehicle (Honda 250R) ridden by fellow Samurai enthusiast Stasi Vaillancourt, started up Echo canyon at a reasonable pace. As with most of the canyons in Death Valley, the way was rocky but passable by most all wheel drive and certainly all 4wd vehicles. Along the route we noticed several interesting rock formations, cacti, and washed down tin cans and other artifacts from the mining town a head.
In short order we were at the Inyo mine. All were amazed at how much of this mining town remained. One could easily imagine the entire operation from the extraction to the processing.
After kicking around the townsite and processing mill, it was time to explore the mine shafts. The National Park Service has recently ‘child proofed’ a lot, if not all, of the known mines in the valley due to a law suit from a visitor the fell and was killed. Now, many mines have a stainless steel chicken-wire like material that keeps adventures out. The Inyo mine, however, is mostly open and accessible.
The mine seemed quite secure even with the wood wedges and braces. It is amazing how well the wood holds up in this dry environment. The main mine shaft went on for quite some time and was well ventilated by functioning air shafts which made for a pleasurable experience even for the claustrophobic of the group. At the end of the main shaft and a ‘left turn’ there was the shaft that followed the gold vein. It was quite a bit smaller and headed off in about a 45 degree angle. Sara was the bravest and climbed up, up, and away out of sight. She returned to report that the shaft hit a landing and then started down in a similar fashion continuing on out of sight.
We walked out of our first Death Valley mine shaft exhilarated and wanting more. We new the next few days would expose even more opportunity to experience the history, beauty, and awe inspiring nature of this desolate and inhospitable land which was tamed, even if briefly, by men in search of their fortune.