On a recent camping and mine exploration trip out in the Mojave Desert, I explored my first vertical shaft which plunged 15 stories deep into the earth.


We made our home in an old abandoned mining camp that straddles the Kern-San Bernardino County line.

Randsburg, Johannesburg and Red Mountain are three small towns along U.S. Highway 395 between Ridgecrest and Boron, California. They are the mining district towns of the Rand area, the gold and silver mining belt of Kern County, named after the Witwatersrand of South Africa

The camp sits between three small living ghost towns along Highway 395 between Ridgecrest and Boron, CA. Atolia, which was the source of large amounts of tungsten ore during the two world wars and the Korean War, is also located nearby.

I met up with my crew of fellow

I met up with my crew of fellow mine explorers who had already set up camp next to an old abandoned building that was most likely used as a machine shop back when the mines in the area were still in operation.


Our first mine of the day just happened to be next to where we had set up our camp for the weekend. The collar of the 150-foot vertical shaft can be seen here in between our vehicles.

It was a long drop down to the bottom.

It was a long drop down to the bottom.

The ladders had been removed

The ladders that used to reach all the way to the top of the shaft had been removed or destroyed at some point within the last few years, so it was a rather perilous journey down to the first landing. The three of us made our way to the bottom of the shaft one at a time in order to avoid getting hit with falling dirt or rocks as we made our descent.

We used

We dropped a tape measure down the shaft, even though we already had a pretty good idea of its roughly 150 foot depth after watching a video of other explorers making the same descent back in 2012.

Heading down to the second platform.

Looking up from the second platform.

We found a small exploratory drift with an urn, this is 58 feet down.

We came across this memorial in a small exploratory drift 58 feet down from the collar. The inscription read: “R.I.P. Tony Friel 1967-2012. Mine Explorer, Stagehand, Father, Rider. Alcohol and cars don’t mix.” RIP Tony.

The end of the tape measure 66 feet down the shaft.

The tape measure ran out after 66 feet, we still had another 84 feet or so to go before we reached the bottom.

There were no ladders towards the bottom of the shaft, so we had to just use the rope for the last 10-15 feet.

There were no ladders towards the bottom of the shaft, so we had to use the rope to rappel down the remaining 10-15 feet. The bottom was full of miscellaneous debris that had been thrown into the shaft over the years, so we had to make sure we touched down lightly in order to avoid injuring ourselves in the tangled mess.

Time to explore.

Time to explore.

Another inclined shaft meets up with the one we were exploring...

An inclined shaft met up with the one we were exploring…

...but we weren't about to

…but we weren’t about to risk climbing up or down the heavily damaged ladder. We may be crazy but we’re not stupid.

No Go

Looking down the very unstable ladder of the inclined shaft.

Here kitty, kitty

Here kitty, kitty. A blue box of Purina Cat Chow was just one of the strange items we found 150 feet below the surface. Meow!

Tunnel Love

Tunnel Love


Cash Money

After exploring the shaft we made our way back up into the light in order to explore more of the mines in the area and take in the incredible scenery that surrounded us. 


Protecting and preserving historic, sacred, and sensitive sites should be practiced by all. Locations, directions, and names to some of the places found on this site are not listed, please don’t ask for them. Tread lightly, leave no trace and always respect the wonder that surrounds you.