Exploring a former hard rock precious metals processing and extraction facility that’s slowly decaying in Mojave National Preserve.
I’ve been wanting to explore this old abandoned mill for quite some time and finally had my chance on a recent visit to Mojave National Preserve.
The 40-acre site is situated on patented private land within Mojave National Preserve on the eastern edge of the Ivanpah Valley. The actual location and name of the mill will not be provided in this post, so please don’t ask.
The exact periods of operation and termination of ore processing activities on-site are unclear but most people I’ve talked to seem to think it ceased operations sometime around 1992. However, documents found within some of the buildings have dates all the way up through 1994, which is the same year that the California Desert Protection Act went into effect and changed East Mojave National Scenic Area into Mojave National Preserve.
The 40-acre site consists of two main structures, the laboratory building and mill building, as well as an ore crushing/conveying circuit and screening plant which fed the mill. Also present at the site are numerous above ground storage tanks, tailings ponds, sheds, abandoned vehicles, debris and other unit processes associated with extraction and tailings processing.
I knew the place was abandoned but there’s always that feeling that someone could be lurking around the corner.
The inside of the lab building was trashed.
But reminders of what used to take place here could still be found.
It’s over there…
…you mean over here?
The ore crushing/conveying circuit and screening plant that used to feed the mill was huge.
This “Grizzly” was used to screen the ore.
The exterior of part of the conveyor that transferred ore down into the mill.
The 2-story, two room mill building contains approximately 30,000 square feet of space.
This enclosed conveyor once moved ore from the outside into the mill.
Once the ore made it into the mill building, it was fed into a large cylinder (ball mill) and crushed into powder.
The mill office on the second floor wasn’t in the best of shape…
…but the color combo sure was pretty.
The site remained fairly untouched through the nineties but as word got out, looters, scrappers, taggers and vandals moved in and started to destroy it.
Ironically, it was these same vandals that would eventually get the EPA involved in cleaning up the hazardous materials that remained at the site after it was abandoned.
In 2007, Southern California Edison (SCE) reported that numerous transformers had been vandalized on the property.
An investigation by the San Bernardino County Fire Department Hazmat Division (SBCFD) found the following violations at the abandoned facility:
• Improper Maintenance and Operation of the Facility (CCR 66265.31)
• Improper Storage and Labeling of Hazardous Materials (CCR 66261.2(f))
• Improper Labeling of Hazardous Waste Containers (CCR 66262.34(f)
• Improper Management of Used Oil (CHSC 25250.4)
• Improper Management of Spent Lead Acid Batteries (CCR 66266.81)
• Improper Management of Empty Hazardous Waste Containers (CCR 66261.7)
• Reckless Management (Storage) of Hazardous Waste (CHSC 25189.6)
• Failure to Provide Security for the Hazardous Waste Storage Areas (CCR 66265.14)
• Illegal Disposal / Abandonment of Hazardous Waste (CHSC 25189.5(a)
More specifically they found:
• mineral oil potentially containing PCB’s
• numerous 55 gallon drums of waste oily liquids
• various drum storage areas with drums not labeled with unknown contents
• leaking drums with soil contaminated by oily liquid beneath
• 2 open drums containing sodium cyanide
• several settling pond/leach field areas with soil discoloration indicating possible heavy metal contamination
• numerous lab size amber bottles containing cyanide
• an open burn area with unknown contaminants
• drums of sodium cyanide, sodium hydroxide, “hydrochlorite” and other unknown contents in drums stored onsite in a manner not conducive to preventing the unknowing or unauthorized entry of persons, livestock, or wildlife
They also found a heating element with a 5-gallon propane cylinder connection and other equipment in proximity to some hydrochloric acid and iodine containers suggesting that the site was also being used as an illicit meth lab.
Based on the presence of these abandoned hazardous substances, the San Bernardino County Fire Department Hazmat Division submitted a formal Request for Federal Action.
The EPA eventually removed all immediate threats posed by the uncontrolled hazardous substances at the site for an estimated $264,000. Long-term cleanup will be left up to state and/or county agencies which could take years, if not decades to complete.
Rest Room anyone?
Wait, is that blood on the wall? Moving on.
The maintenance area of the mill building appeared to be in better condition…
…but looks can be deceiving.
Do you think there were more accidents before or after the mill closed its doors for good? Hmmmm.
It’s good to know that installing a new shaker was more important than figuring out if there were rats in the ore.
A tank farm with four approximately 30,000 gallon above ground storage tanks (ASTs), associated clarifiers and other unidentified process vessels are located outside along the western portion of the mill building.
The tanks mixed the ore slurry with potassium cyanide.
Fortunately, it looked like the cyanide may have been cleaned up by the EPA.
Tank farm color magic.
Further out to the west of the tank farm is an even larger tank…
…with great views overlooking the mill’s old tailings ponds and Mojave National Preserve, which is managed by the National Park Service. Some people would rather not see sites like this when visiting places like Mojave National Preserve but you have to admit the combo looks pretty damn good from this vantage point. There’s no telling what the National Park Service will eventually do with the site, so for now it continues to sit abandoned, slowly fading and decaying in the National Park Service’s third largest unit it manages in the contiguous United States.