Lost Horse Mine hike, Joshua Tree National Park, California, USA
Many years before Joshua Tree National Park became a protected area because of its rich natural offerings, it was seen by some as offering a way to become rich from nature.
I’m talking about the Gold Rush – the bonanza in the middle of the 1800s when fortunes were made (and lost) in the deserts of California. And Joshua Tree was not exempt.
It’s estimated that there were about 300 mines developed in the area that is now Joshua Tree National Park.
It wasn’t the easiest place to start a mine – it was hot, there was very little water, it was a long way from a town, and it was more expensive than many other places.
But gold fever makes people do crazy things and so people tried their luck here anyway.
Most failed. Or, at least didn’t do well enough to be considered successful. There just wasn’t enough gold in most of the park, although prospectors did also find silver, copper and other minerals.
Probably the one main exception was the Lost Horse Mine which produced about 280 kilograms of gold and 450 kilograms of silver during its operation. That would be worth about US$5 million in today’s terms.
Rather than go into all the history of the mine today, I want to tell you about the hike that takes you up to it. It’s called the Lost Horse Mine hike and it’s one of my favourite walks in the Joshua Tree National Park.
The reason I like the Lost Horse Mine hike so much is that it combines three really interesting elements into one. Views across the park from above, the mining heritage, and some of the best Joshua trees you’ll see!
It is a circular trail of about 6.4 kilometres (4 miles) that has a fair amount of uphill (and downhill) along the way. It will take about 2 hours for a fast hiker.
You can see the route you’ll take on the map I’ve made for you here.
I think the best way to go is clockwise from the car park, beginning with a long uphill stretch along ridges that lead to views out across the plains beneath.
When I did the walk most recently, fire had come through this area and most of the trees were burnt. It would have been quite barren regardless because many of them were cut down during the mining days and haven’t come back.
Eventually at the top, you hit the old mining site called Lost Horse Mine. The ruins are rusty and motionless but there’s something about them that makes it so easy to imagine the days when the mine was in operation.
It was in use from 1894 to 1931 and had all the drama and intrigue you would expect from the Wild West.
The mine got its name because cattle rustlers stole horses from the original founders; one of those founders was chased off the land because he was stealing from his partner; and gun-slingers were a constant threat for the owners!
From the mine, you can turn around and go back down to the car park. But if you want to continue (and I recommend you do), you’ll find that the trail takes you along the crests of the mountain range with spectacular views across the desert.
There isn’t much uphill or downhill along here, you’re just going with the natural slopes of the ridges. You’ll also come across some different plant species that only grow at the slightly higher elevation.
After you come down from the mountains, the last stretch of the hike is one of my favourite bits as you go along a sandy valley filled with Joshua trees.
Most of them are much larger than the other ones you’ll see in the park (presumably because there’s more water in this area) and so it’s quite impressive to walk amongst them, especially when they are silhouetted against the sky and the sun.
This stretch went for longer than I expected and I kept thinking the end should be around the next corner. However, I’m glad that it didn’t come sooner – the trees in this peaceful setting were so pleasant.
The trail loops around and brings you back to the carpark. Although it isn’t the longest walk in the park, you’re not near too much and this isn’t the most popular walk so you’ll be alone for long stretches.
For this reason, make sure you’re well prepared for the walk. You should take a fair amount of water with you and have appropriate sun protection in the hotter months.
This may not be one of the hikes at the top of the lists of things to do in Joshua Tree National Park but don’t let that dissuade you. It’s a great trail and you won’t regret giving it a go!
I would suggest having a look at the Motel 6.
Or another decent option is the Holiday Inn.
And for something a little less like a chain motel, you could go for the Best Western Gardens Hotel.