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.
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 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.
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 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 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 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.
An inclined shaft met up with the one we were exploring…
…but we weren’t about to risk climbing up or down the heavily damaged ladder. We may be crazy but we’re not stupid.
Looking down the very unstable ladder of the inclined shaft.
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!
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.