Lost Horse Mine

If you are a fan of mining history and scenic desert hikes (and I think you are since you're probably reading this), you should stop by the Lost Horse Mine.

The mine is well known, but its history isn't, and fewer people still hike the whole loop trail, which is too bad as they are missing out on a scenic trail with a couple of other small interesting prospects: the Optimist and the Gold Standard. Besides the ten-stamp mill at the Lost Horse, the Optimist has an interesting chimney, and the Gold Standard has what appears to be the remains of a cabin made from Joshua trees.


Lost Horse Mine

Several versions of the Lost Horse Mine's origin exist. Here's the most likely tale I've pieced together from various sources:

In the early 1890s, cattleman Johnny Lang and his father George ventured west from Arizona, grazing cattle in what would become Lost Horse Valley.

At Witch Springs (now Lost Horse Well at Ryan Ranch), Johnny met "Dutch" Frank Diebold. Diebold had found some gold float a few miles south but faced intimidation from the notorious McHaney Gang (see the Desert Queen Mine) and didn't want to develop a mine. Lang saw potential in the claim and offered Diebold $1,000 if the ore proved valuable. To protect against the McHaneys, Lang brought in his father, George, along with prospectors Ed Holland and James Fife, as partners. On December 29, 1893, they officially filed a claim.

Development began in 1894, with rich ore samples discovered. A notable find by Fife was a gold quartz nugget the size of a fist, with ore estimated at a staggering 4,000 ounces per ton! Pieces of this nugget remain in the Fife family.

Early processing from the mine was done at the two-stamp mill at Pinyon Well, but that was a bit too far, so Lang and Fife erected their own two-stamp mill at Lost Horse Spring. Soon after, Jep Ryan bought out his partners' shares, leaving only him and Johnny Lang as partners.

The Lost Horse thrived in the 1890s, and Ryan oversaw much of the mine's development. He expanded operations and built a substantial ten-stamp mill. He also constructed a five-mile pipeline from Lost Horse Spring (at Ryan Ranch). The mine included an 80-foot tunnel and a 500-foot (later reported as 570-foot) shaft with drifts across four levels, yielding an estimated $300,000 or more in gold.

Lang oversaw and ran the mill at night, and Ryan managed the mine and mill during the day. However, the amount of gold produced during the night was consistently less than what the day shift yielded. Suspicious, Ryan had someone secretly watch Lang and discovered he was high-grading the ore. Ryan confronted Lang and offered to buy his share of the mine or go to prison. Lang accepted an offer for $12,000.

After being forced to sell out, Johnny Lang lived in a shack in Lang Canyon, occasionally prospecting in the surrounding hills. In 1925, at the age of 73, John went on his final trip. After putting a sign on the door of his shack stating that he had gone to town for supplies, he started across the valley. Several months later, while grading the road to Salton View (now Keys View), Bill Keys found John's mummified body on the valley floor. His provisions numbered only a square inch of bacon and a little flour. His body was wrapped in canvas and buried on the spot. His lonely grave may be seen today along the road to Keys View.

By 1908, the mine had closed. A low-angle thrust fault cut off the vein system. Ryan leased the mine with intermittent success, but its most lucrative days were over. In the 1930s, further work was done to extract ore, but this yielded limited gold.

As a curious side note, the mine has also produced twenty tons of bismuth, a silver-gray metal with industrial uses rarely mined in California.

The National Park Service acquired the Lost Horse Mine in 1966. They've stabilized the ten-stamp mill, but unfortunately, the site is fenced off today.

Optimist Mine

On the opposite side of the hill from the Lost Horse lies the enigmatic Optimist Mine. Its history is as obscure as its remains are today. No known information exists about its discovery or early ownership. Kaiser Steel Corporation owned the mine in the 1970s, but its earlier story remains a mystery. A 1957 report documents a vertical shaft, an adit, and shallow pits and trenches.

Gold Standard Mine

The Gold Standard Mine, claimed in 1896 by the Burns brothers, saw a brief period of activity in the early 1900s. Joe Reynolds took over the mine and worked it between 1900 and sometime around 1914. Later, Bill Keys (of Desert Queen Mine and Keys Ranch fame) acquired the property, although the exact date remains unclear.

He dug trenches and extended drifts from a 30-foot shaft, reportedly investing $2,000 (a significant sum at the time) in building a mill, water reservoir, and tent camp. You can still spot evidence of a Joshua tree tent cabin site, a unique feature of the area. The mine also used a windlass for hoisting materials up out of the shaft. Despite these efforts, the Gold Standard Mine remained small and unprofitable.