Cyty's Mill, Death Valley National Park, California

Big Bell Extension Mine (Death Valley NP) 23-Jan-2020

After we finished our “make-up” hikes near Las Vegas, we headed north to do some new (to us) hikes in Death Valley National Park. In 2018, we had paid a long awaited revisit to the Keane Wonder Mine. Access to the mine (one of the few in the valley that actually returned a profit) had been closed for several years for safety reasons but had reopened in 2017. Our hike of it in September was HOT but nonetheless very enjoyable. While perusing Michel Digonnet’s excellent Hiking Death Valley guide, we found a hike that started at the Keane Wonder’s trailhead but swung north, past Keane Wonder Springs and Cyty’s Mill, then climbed to the site of the Big Bell Extension Mine.

We started at the Keane Wonder Mine’s parking area and traversed north along the toe of the Funeral Mountains on a well-used use trail to Keane Wonder Springs. These springs had served as a water source for the mine and pieces of riveted 6-inch pipe are still scattered between the springs and the mine.

Hiking north from the Keane Wonder Mine, Death Valley National Park, California
Starting north from the Keane Wonder Mine
Hiking north from the Keane Wonder Mine, Death Valley National Park, California
Looking north; the brown lines to the left are pieces of pipe
Detail of a riveted water pipe
100-year old riveted pipe

After a mile of contouring, we came to the huge salty expanse of Keane Wonder Springs.

Keane Wonder Spring, Death Valley National Park, California
Keane Wonder Springs
Keane Wonder Spring, Death Valley National Park, California
Telescope Peak from Keane Wonder Springs
Keane Wonder Spring, Death Valley National Park, California
Cattails at Keane Wonder Springs

About a mile and a quarter from the parking area, we came to Cyty’s Mill. Johnnie Cyty bought the mill used in 1911 and moved it here to process ore from his Big Bell Extension Mine some 1,800 feet above in the Funeral Mountains. He also built a really nice trail from the mill to the mine so pack mules could bring down the ore. But, as was often the case with so many of these mining hopes, the Extension went bust less than a year after the mill was in place.

Cyty's cabin and mill, Death Valley National Park, California
Cyty’s cabin (L) and mill (R)
Old miner's cabin, Death Valley National Park, California
Cyty’s cabin
Interior of a old miner's cabin, Death Valley National Park, California
Interior of Cyty’s cabin
Cyty's mill, Death Valley National Park, California
Cyty’s mill with water storage tank on left

The obvious use trail seems to end at the mill. But if you go east uphill from the mill, you’ll come to the still very obvious trail that Cyty built to his mine. Finding the mine trail at this point is the only tricky part of this hike. Once found, we had no problem following it all the way up to the old mine. Even after 100 years, it’s still a remarkably good trail. We are always amazed by the amount of work (move the mill, run water pipes, build a trail, mine the ore, haul it down a mountain, etc.) these old miners did in the vague (and usually unrequited) hope of striking it rich.

Looking down on Cyty's mill from the mine trail, Death Valley National Park, California
Looking down on Cyty’s mill from the mine trail
The mine trail is an obvious line snaking-up from the mill site (arrow)

Once we were on the mine trail, we simply followed it as it switch-backed its way higher and higher into the Funerals.

View of the Funeral Mountains, Death Valley National Park, California
Climbing into the Funerals
View of Telescope Peak, Death Valley National Park, California
On the trail, with Telescope Peak in the distance
On the Bell Mine Extension Trail, Death Valley National Park, California
The trail was cut out of real rocky terrain

About 3 miles from the parking area, after some steady climbing, the old mine trail crosses a saddle and starts contouring into the valley that holds the Big Bell Extension Mine and its prospects.

Corkscrew Peak (arrow) from the saddle
On the Bell Mine Extension Trail, Death Valley National Park, California
The Big Bell Extension Mine is at the head of this valley

There never was much to this mine and there’s very little left of it now – old cabin floors, parts of an ore car, some rails, and other mining junk. One of the most poignant sights is two old spring mattresses in a shallow tunnel littered with old dynamite boxes and pack rat nests. It looks like the miners subsisted on oatmeal and canned sardines. 😦

Old mining stuff at the Bell Mine Extension Trail, Death Valley National Park, California
Not exactly a home away from home

After appreciating the view from the saddle, and a snack, we headed back. At one place we had to admire how Cyty incorporated a natural ledge into his trail.

On the Bell Mine Extension Trail, Death Valley National Park, California
A natural ledge became part of the trail
Crossing the salt flats at Keane Wonder Spring, Death Valley National Park, California
Crossing the salt flats at Keane Wonder Springs
Old pipes along the Bell Mine Extension Trail, Death Valley National Park, California
Old pipes and clouds
On the Bell Mine Extension Trail, Death Valley National Park, California
Almost back to the parking area
Keane Wonder Mine, Death Valley National Park, California
Back at the lower remains of the Keane Wonder Mine

All told, we did 6.4 miles round-trip, with 1,800 feet of gain (with almost all of that in the last 1.5 miles). Although there’s not much left of the mine itself, Keane Wonder Springs, Cyty’s Mill, a still good old trail, big views, and wonderfully cool hiking weather conspired to make this an excellent hike. 🙂

Our route to the Big Bell Extension Mine (1 is Cyty’s Mill, 2 is the Big Bell Extension)
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