Driving out from Los Angeles, I met my friend Ray who had driven up from San Diego, at a "whistle stop" named Danby, just off U.S.Route 66. Oddly it had a nice paved road leading to what was once a railroad crossing. Now however, we were met with a barbed wire fence. There would be no crossing the tracks here. Ten more miles up the hiway, we came to civilization, in the form of Essex , California. Elevation, 2000 feet. A nice little oasis, with shade trees, store, gas station, and housing for railroad maintenance workers. This was April 1971 and the new freeway, I-40, bypassing Essex, did not exist.
Our two trucks and a motorcycle trailer crossed the tracks at Essex and headed South East on what now became the Sunflower Springs Road which would take us to our destination; the Old Woman Mountains for several days of exploration.
The mountains derived itís name from a rock formation, when seen from a certain angle, looked like an old woman bending over a wash tub. On the topographic map it is called Old Woman Statue, and marks the 5090í elevation of this very rugged range.
After eight miles of terrible washboard dirt road climbing the long slope of Fenner Valley, we settled-in just East of Weavers Well and set up a large dinning fly to provide us with shade. Tomorrow, we would explore the North West side of the mountain. Little did we dream we would encounter a "haunted house".
After breakfast the next morning we prepared the motorcycles and our day packs, along with canteens, and headed down Willow Spring Wash to meet with the Four Corners Gas Line service road. In a few miles, a connecting road led North West and down to connect with yet another set of pipelines angling off to pass under US 66 and through the Marble Mountains. We stayed on this road about two miles, met another service road connector and climbed back up to the Four Corners Gas Line road where we again were close to the rugged mountain flanks of the Old Woman range.
From our vantage point high on the side of Fenner Valley, we could see for miles. The color contrasts were strong redish blacks and tan dirt with a mixture of native plants.
Fun time now as the next four miles of the service road climbed and dropped like a roller coaster as it paralleled the buried pipe line. Some of these drops were about thirty to forty feet! To add spice, a few rocks and mini-washes cut the dirt of the road. The wild dips ended at another junction that led again to the lower set of pipelines, but we didnít take it for now.
We also looked at an interesting motor-generator surrounded by chain link fence and with large cables going into a pipe that disappeared into the ground. It was set up for unattended service, chugging merrily away, having its fuel & oil, set to feed on demand. Later we figured it was feeding an electric currant to the buried pipe line to counteract the electric currant created in the interaction of the metal pipe and the corrosive mineral elements in the earth.
Other pipelines we saw years later had a "sacrifice field" of many pipes laying side by side like teeth in a hair comb and connected across one end. Periodically, the pipline companies would dig up these sacrifice fields and relay them with fresh pipe. You wouldnít believe the number of and size of the holes in the pipe this interaction created. These sacrifice fields and electric generators kept leaks from being created in the pipelines.
Now it was time to discover the haunted cabin at the end of the road. As we continued riding on the pipeline road, we passed the Skeleton Pass road, and within 3 miles a road abruptly shifted up a wide draw and ended at the Vulcan Mine, in the Ship Mountains. We parked our motorcycles and walked around the mine.
There was a fair amount of machinery left around the Vulcan Mine, although most of it built of wood. It was located in 1898, primarily as a gold mine though a second shaft on the property mined copper. The Ship Mountain mine in the same area, was primarily an iron mine. Most of the activity of these mines were in the period 1932-1943. I suspect that much, or even all the major equipment succumbed to the scrap metal market after World War II, though we occasionally see remnants here and there. Interesting side note; most of the early iron deposits were used as ship ballast or in the manufacture of high-iron cement.
Now for the "haunted house". Unfortunately, I was using slow film that day and was unable to copy the spooky warnings scrawled on the walls. It looked like someone had shot a hole in the bed mattress, though no blood. Several broken small wooden crosses were placed on the mattress, and all the glass in the windows had been broken. Someone had gone to a lot of trouble to build it. Whether it is of the era when the mine was active, or a caretakerís house, I donít know.
Time to return to our camp for lunch. On the way back we saw several roads leaving ours and heading into more mines. Scanlon Gulch and Carbonate Gulch penetrate far up into the Old Woman Mountains and are still "open" as far as the wilderness closures go. We returned via Willow Springs Wash (now closed), a pleasant place for a campsite, and a road heading East to our camp, near Weavers Well.
In the afternoon, we got back on the Sunflower Spring road and followed it through the Old Women Mountains, to check out itís Eastern flanks. Even more rugged beauty. We could see into Ward Valley, truly stunning in the afternoon sunshine. Most of this part of the journey, we were crossing a wide outwash plain. There had been mining activity on this Eastern flank as well, but now inactivity (in 1971), and several abandoned shacks and sometimes larger buildings such as shown in the picture.
Leaving that area, we rode directly down to Sunflower Spring. From the road junction just before the spring we had a perfect view of the "Old Woman Statue" in silhouette. Small yucca plants as well as cholla (pronounced choy-ya) were in profusion. Returning to our camp we had a good view of the Little Piute Mountains, just North East of our camp. This whole area drew me back for several more visits in 1977 and 1980. But those are on other pages of Jeromeís Notebook. I hope you enjoyed this trip. Jerome W. Anderson