Located at the base of the Inyo Mountains between Independence and Lone Pine, the Reward Mine is so big you can drive a 4WD through it.
Drive 9.7 miles north of Lone Pine and you’ll find Manzinar/Reward Road, which sits directly across Hwy 395 from the Manzinar National Historic Site. The road passes over the runway of the old Manzanar Airport, built in the 1940’s to supply the needs of the Manzanar Relocation Camp, which was one of ten camps where Japanese American citizens and resident Japanese aliens were interned during World War II.
You’ll also crossover the Lower Owens River, which thankfully now has a fair amount of water in it after lawsuits forced the LADWP to start replenishing this 62 mile long section of the river in December, 2006. If you don’t already know the history of what LA did to the Owens Valley during the early 1900’s (and beyond), I suggest you look it up. Long story short, LA sucked up all the water in the Owens Valley in order to become the mega city it is today.
You also might see a few interesting things you weren’t expecting, like this decapitated cow head, skewered on a pole in order to dry it out for a cow skull keepsake (or at least that’s the story I made up in my head in order to justify it).
The dirt road leading up to the base of the Inyo Mountains is well maintained up until you reach the lower ruins of a small mill that was used during the mines earlier days. If you don’t have a 4WD vehicle, I suggest you park prior to reaching this area. As with any old mine site, you’ll find nails, broken glass and other sharp objects that could easily puncture a tire if you’re not careful.
The lower ore bin is situated partway up the canyon. It was filled via long, tubular metal chutes from another ore bin higher up the mountainside. These were once used to transport ore down to the mill, via a special ore cart mounted on an incline.
The views of the valley below were spectacular.
I attempted to find the entrance to the Reward Mine back in June of 2013 but almost got my jeep stuck trying to drive up to it. 2WD does not = 4WD. This time I parked my jeep about a quarter mile below the mine and hiked the rest of the way up to the entrance.
I discovered this incredible mine after taking a trip to Mammoth back in 2011. While passing through Bishop, memories of my family and I staying in this old miners cabin during our deer hunting trips in the nearby White Mountains began to flood my mind.
Back in those days my father was very protective and forbid me from entering any of the mines we encountered while out hunting or exploring. This vertical shaft mine was fairly close to our cabin and the temptation to sneak off and explore it was always present.
Those fond memories reactivated my interest in mines and mining history. I also think I may have a little mining fever in my blood since my grandfather was a coal miner from West Virginia.
I was no longer that young deer hunting teenager that seemed to spend more time taking Burgie beer breaks than I did actually hunting. Nope, I’m a grown ass man damn it and I can do whatever I want! And so began my obsession with researching, mapping and exploring as many mines as I could find.
While researching mines along Highway 395, I came across this photo of multiple 4WD Jeeps driving through the Reward Mine and knew I had to explore it at some point. Thanks Project-JK for inspiring me with your photos. (photo credit: Project-JK)
Thankfully that time finally came on my second attempt to enter Reward on Halloween 2013. The mine has eight connected levels spanning over 500 feet from top to bottom.
The Reward Mine is actually a cluster of several different mines and structures from various eras. The first mining operation in Owens Valley was discovered here in 1860. Originally known as The Eclipse Mine and later as The Brown Monster, it wasn’t until 1896 that it officially became known as Reward. The town site of Reward was established with the opening of the Post Office in 1900.
A 30-stamp mill was dismantled in 1903 and replaced by a 20-stamp mill which was located at the mine site and connected to the upper workings by a gravity tram.
An overhaul in 1911 brought electrical power to the mines but by the following year all operations were shut down in order to install a cyanide plant. The mine remained closed until 1932.
Mining resumed in 1932 and continued until the 1980’s. The mines are estimated to have produced $600,000 of gold, over 102,000 ounces of silver, 30,900 pounds of copper and over 203,000 pounds of lead from 1889 to 1951. Production levels after 1951 are not available but they were most likely lower than the previous years the mine was in operation.
Not many people would choose to walk into the darkness of an unknown mine by themselves on Halloween, but I’m not like other people.
Samples, get your samples.
Signage pointing to an adit that opens up to the outside further up the mountain.
These might look sinister but the red markings are used to highlight possible dangers to vehicles driving through the mine. In case you were wondering how they get their vehicles out of the mine after driving in, there’s a circular turnaround about a half mile down at the end of the haul tunnel.
A back sample is a rock sample collected from an excavated area for the purpose of determining grade. Or maybe it just means bullshit.
After an hour of exploration, it was good to see the light at the end of the tunnel.
A final farewell to my lovely Brown Monster (Reward is just too boring).