Located 20 miles north of Bishop, CA at the base of the White Mountains, water from Millner Creek was once used to power the mining operations of the nearby Champion Spark Plug Mine.
The mine and camp are located over 7500 feet high on the west flank of the White Mountains. Andalusite was discovered here back in the 1920’s and was used to make spark plugs until mining operations ceased in 1945. I first heard about the mine when I was teenager back when my family and I would go deer hunting in the White Mountains. While we never killed any deer, we did enjoy playing cards, BBQ’ing and spending time in this old miners cabin (pictured above) in Wyman Canyon.
By the time we passed the hydroelectric generating plant that was once used to power the mining operations at the Champion Spark Plug Mine, it was already 10:30am.
As soon as we started driving on the first dirt road, I could tell that we may have a problem.
My suspicions were confirmed after talking to a couple of ranch hands who were working on the side of the road trying to repair damage from a massive storm that caused major flooding in the area the month before. We were told that the roads leading to the mine had all been washed out and that the only way to make it there would be to hike in, which we weren’t prepared to do.
Even through we were both bummed that we wouldn’t be seeing the Champion Spark Plug Mine on this trip, we didn’t let that ruin our sense of adventure. Instead of turning around and heading back to Mammoth, we decided to continue to drive up the unnamed dirt road that made its way up into the canyon. While this dirt road wasn’t affected as much by the storms, you’ll still need a high clearance 4WD vehicle to explore it.
Artifacts from previous mining operations in the canyon could be found everywhere.
The dirt road eventually hit a dead end after approximately 5.1 miles. Fortunately there was a big enough space to park Big Yella before we headed off on our hike.
The white raised area in the background was most likely used as a loading area for the unnamed mine that’s located further up the mountain.
The switchbacks leading up to the mine were used by mule trains to haul the ore down.
You can see the location of the unnamed mine circled here. Also notice that the map shows an aqueduct running along Millner Creek.
Water from Millner Creek was sent down via this aqueduct to the hydroelectric power plant to generate power for operations at the ranch and the Champion Spark Plug Mine.
Even though it was November, an early winter had already started to freeze the creek.
There was a wide variety of rocks too see along the way.
As we made our way up the switchbacks and looked back down into the canyon…
…we were able to get a good view of the pipe that was used to tap the creek that still generates power for the ranch down below.
We made it all the way up the mountain but weren’t able to find the actual mine, so we decided to take a couple of photos of the amazing view and make our way back down.
In April, I was finally able to complete the hike to the Champion Spark Plug Mine. My solo adventure up to the camp that once housed the miners was one of the best hiking experiences of my life. You can read all about that trip in my post: MINING AT 9000 FEET.