Eagle Mountain and Ryan Ranch

After exploring the awesome abandoned places of Desert Center, I headed down the highway in search of the ghost town of Eagle Mountain. I'd heard the town was fenced off and closely guarded, making it impossible to enter and explore the abandoned buildings up close. Still, I wanted to at least see what I could of it thorough the fence.

Ryan Ranch in Joshua Tree National Park

Founded in 1948 by Henry J. Kaiser (who also founded the Kaiser Shipyards, Kaiser Steel, Kaiser Aluminum, and Kaiser Permanente), the town was built to house those who worked at the Eagle Mountain Iron Mine. The mine and mill closed in 1983 and most of the residents left.

Then in 1988, Eagle Mountain's shopping center was converted into a private prison for low-risk inmates. The prison closed in December 2003 after a riot in which two prisoners were killed and many others were injured. The neighborhood, school, and mining facility now stand empty in a remote mountain location just south of an expanse of land badly scarred by the mining operation.

Scenes from quite a few movies were filmed in Eagle Mountain, including Constantine, The Island, and Battle of Los Angeles.

On the way up, I passed a crew of guys who appeared to be filming a motorcycle commercial or a scene for a movie. I stopped and asked if they'd been up to Eagle Mountain and they said they'd never heard of it.

I continued up the quiet winding road, crossed occasionally by a lonely railroad track. When I was out of view of the camera crew I pulled over to relax and have a snack and reflect on the beautiful view of the desert mountain landscape.

The Road to Eagle Mountain ghost town

Eagle Mountain CA

The road ended at a reservoir and pumping station south of the ghost town, gated off and still in use.  Only 2 vehicles passed me in the whole 40 or so minutes I was on the road – one on the way up, and one on the way back. The drivers of each gave a friendly wave, probably assuming I worked up at the water facility.

Eagle Mountain California

Eagle Mountain CA

I was tempted to try the second of two possible routes into the ghost town, but it was only a couple hours before sundown, so I hauled ass to my next destination: Joshua Tree National Park.

I intended to hike to Wall Street Mine, but the sky had already begun to darken, so I ended up taking a shorter trail to the ruins of an old ranch instead. Ryan Ranch was built in 1896 by the Ryan family, who worked the nearby Lost Horse Mine. Not much of the structure remains – chunks of adobe wall rising from the foundation, a stone fireplace, and several concrete stoops.

Ryan Ranch in Joshua Tree National Park

Ryan Ranch in Joshua Tree National Park and Eagle Mountain

Exploring the surrounding area, I found a pump house,

Ryan Ranch in Joshua Tree National Park

Ryan Ranch in Joshua Tree National Park

Ryan Ranch in Joshua Tree National Park

Ryan Ranch in Joshua Tree National Park

a fallen windmill,

Ryan Ranch in Joshua Tree National Park

Ryan Ranch in Joshua Tree National Park

some rusty old equipment,

Ryan Ranch in Joshua Tree National Park

Ryan Ranch in Joshua Tree National Park

Ryan Ranch in Joshua Tree National Park

and a cistern. I climbed up onto it and got a picture of the inside.

Ryan Ranch in Joshua Tree National Park

Ryan Ranch in Joshua Tree National Park

Ryan Ranch in Joshua Tree National Park

Ryan Ranch in Joshua Tree National Park

Ryan Ranch in Joshua Tree National Park
Inside the cistern.

Night fell as I explored the surrounding area. The sunset was beautiful.

Ryan Ranch in Joshua Tree National Park

Ryan Ranch in Joshua Tree National Park

Ryan Ranch in Joshua Tree National Park

Ryan Ranch in Joshua Tree National Park

Before long, it became pitch dark.

Ryan Ranch in Joshua Tree National Park

The stars in the sky were gorgeous without any light pollution to obscure them. Thank goodness for my new flashlight, and an app on my phone that tracked my movement in a squiggly line overlaid on a map. Originally intended it as an additional means of recording my travels, it helped me find my way back to the trail.

The excited voices of a group of young hikers in the distance carried through the thin desert air and I felt a stab of loneliness and longing for the company of friends and loved ones. Such moments were infrequent during the road trip. Most of the time I enjoyed being by myself, free to reflect on life and follow my passion after having spent so much time completely immersed in my job.

I drove to the Wall Street Mine trailhead and parked, planning to wake at sunup the next day to hike the trail. Just after I’d settled in for a good night’s sleep, a park ranger knocked on my window and told me I couldn’t sleep there. He said they’d had problems with vandalism recently, and I needed to either have a camp site or park in a “backcountry” area, then find a place to sleep least 1000 feet from the lot. Or I had to leave the park and find another place to sleep.

I was pretty irked, but kept my cool and remained polite and respectful because I knew arguing would have been futile. Still he displayed no compassion. I hate being treated like a criminal, when I have no intention of wrongdoing and just want to be left in peace. It helps me understand why people move to places like Slab City to live off the grid. They endure plenty of hardships, but being hassled by the authorities is not one of them.

I considered forgoing the Wall Street Mine hike and heading instead to my next destination. But I was too exhausted and didn't want to let the park ranger compromise my plans, so I drove to the backcountry lot. I wasn't about to spend the night outside, where I'd surely freeze my ass off, so I broke the rules by sleeping in my car. I figured it was unlikely anyone would inspect all the cars to be sure no one was sleeping inside, and fortunately I was right.

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12 comments :

  1. Love the sunset pictures Jim. Just beautiful!

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  2. I wish you had had time to go to Eagle Mountain. I don't think it's that we'll protected, but it's definitely not safe. lol And I heard recently (within the past few years) that they still use the school, although it only had a few students.

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    Replies
    1. I might have to make another trip out there. I would love to explore Eagle Mountain. I've read that it's well patrolled by security, but that might not be true anymore. I've explored many places that were supposedly well-guarded, yet didn't run into any trouble.

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  3. My Grandfather's worked those mines - my parents grew up there is Eagle Mtn. -

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    Replies
    1. Did they leave when the mine closed, or did they leave earlier? Must have been an interesting time.

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    2. I lived there. Graduated high school there in 1981. Much of my family was born and raised there. I was born there. It is so sad. It is hard enough dealing with the melancholy of not being able to go back to your youth. Harder still when your youth closed down and looks like a ghost town now.

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    3. That is really sad. Must be frustrating not to be able to go back. Hopefully one day they will open it up again and you'll be able to visit.

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  4. If you drove up eagle Mt road you could not even see the mine. Next time drive up kaiser Rd it will take you right up to the tailings pile at eagle mt.

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    Replies
    1. Thank you! I will be sure to take Kaiser Rd next time.

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  5. Why is it so closely guarded?
    -Darol

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    Replies
    1. I'm not entirely sure, but I have a few theories. I think it is still owned by Kaiser Ventures, and they are attempting to redevelop the land. They probably don't want vandals and scrappers going in and making a mess of things. Also there have been talks about reopening Eagle Mountain Community Correctional Facility, so they are probably keeping it guarded in case those plans go through. It also might be to protect Kaiser from lawsuits and liabilities if people trespass and are injured, especially in the mine.

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