Sunlit cactus at Saddle Rock Mine, Death Valley National Park, California

Saddle Rock Mine (Death Valley NP) 25-Jan-2020

After two hikes in the Funeral Mountains in Death Valley National Park, we went across the valley into the more happily-named Panamint Range. Between 1908 and 1917, the mines around the town of Skidoo, located high in this range, became Death Valley’s second largest gold producers. Skidoo’s first gold strike was made, not at the abandoned townsite you can reach today by road, but at the Saddle Rock Mine about a mile to the southwest. This mine was active between 1906 and 1910, a road was built to it in 1929, and miners grubbed at it until the 1960s. That 1929 road, although now reduced to just a good trail in places, can still be used to reach the old mine site. This road was built along a ridge and a hike on it afforded us some of the biggest views to be had of northern Death Valley.

The only tricky part of this hike comes right at its start. The 1929 mine road used to reach today’s Emigrant Canyon Road. But the first half-mile of the mine road, which its builders put in a wash to save money, was, of course, washed away years ago. We found the wash 4.2 miles up Emigrant Canyon Road from its junction with Highway 190 and, a half-mile up that wash, the very evident remains of the 1929 road. Once we’d done that, the walking was remarkably easy and view-filled the whole way.

The wash where it meets Emigrant Canyon Road
A half-mile up the wash we came to the obvious old road (L)
The big view looking north
The road climbs steadily but easily
A view to the north (note rusted pickup truck frame on lower right)
Pinto Peak to the southwest

After 2.5 miles of easy climbing, we reached the Pima and K. K. claims, marked by a collapsed cabin, two adits with narrow-gauge tracks, and assorted effluvia (including what looked like a lot of whiskey bottles).

The collapsed cabin
Pinto Peak from the cabin
Debris from life at the mine

The road got a bit less distinct as it continued on up the ridge past the original Saddle Rock claim, an inclined shaft with a rotting wooden ladder.

Continuing on up
View southwest from the Saddle Rock shaft (pile of rocks on lower right)

The road continued past the Saddle Rock claim to its end on a saddle at the base of a much steeper part of the ridge. This is shown as USLM 127 on the map. A USLM (U.S. Location Monument) was a timely way to survey mineral claims in advance of the slower moving public land surveys.

USLM 127 (arrow) at the end of the road

Although the 1929 road ends here, it is possible to continue on, for a mile cross-country, to Skidoo. We imagined that the miners at Saddle Rock, anxious to sample the earthly pleasures awaiting them in Skidoo, had no problem going this extra mile. The presence of whiskey bottles at Saddle Rock suggests they even made it back. o_O From the end of the road, we turned back to briefly explore the old adits.

Going back to explore one of the adits (arrow)
Old ore car rails stick out of the hill
The rails run under a cave-in into the mine
Not exactly rails to trails
The LovedOne is apparently the same height as those old miners

Since our earthly pleasures were awaiting us at Furnace Creek, we had a snack at the mine and headed down, enjoying the expansive views the whole way.

Heading back

Considering the views and bit of history it gave us, this 6 mile (round-trip), 1,600 feet of gain hike was well worth the moderate effort it required. Once you find the wash and the end of the 1929 road, it’s an easy walk up to the mine. Continuing cross-country to Skidoo would add two miles to the hike or you could arrange a shuttle since there’s a road to Skidoo. But don’t get your hopes up – the earthly pleasures of Skidoo have now been replaced by Park Service information signs. 😉

Our route to the Saddle Rock Mine (1 is the old cabin, 2 is the adit)
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