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 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.
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.
Exploring the surrounding area, I found a pump house,
a fallen windmill,
some rusty old equipment,
and a cistern. I climbed up onto it and got a picture of the inside.
|Inside the cistern.|
Night fell as I explored the surrounding area. The sunset was beautiful.
Before long, it became pitch dark.
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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