Snow Job on the Ivanpah Range (The Legendary Kokoweef)
by Debbie Miller Marschke
To give a trip report about our day at the legendary Kokoweef mine, I would need to start with the pre-run. I had been to the Kokoweef on two other occasions many years before, but with Caltrans closing the freeway exits and the interesting weather we’ve been having, I wanted to make sure I knew what to expect from our planned travel route. Steve and I drove out to Nipton on Friday February 13, confirming that the I-15 onramp at Nipton was closed. We decided to take the weekend to explore parts of the Ivanpah range we had never been as part of this trip. Nevermind all those Friday the 13th bad luck stories. Friday afternoon we ended up exploring some mines on the south side of the Ivanpahs, finding a very interesting mica mine, when suddenly it began to snow!
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When I say suddenly, I mean that it descended upon us without much warning. It grew dark. Within minutes it had changed from delightful to foreboding. It was 4:30 in the afternoon, the temperature had dropped, we were more than an hour travel time from Baker, we were on a 4 wheel drive road in a remote mountain range, the snow was blowing down sideways – and all we had was a tent. Steve said, “This is getting ugly really fast, we need to act now”. In an effort to find a more sheltered spot to pitch our cloth cocoon, we followed an old dirt road that dead ended at an abandoned mine with (what else?!) an abandoned, vandalized trailer. Of course we made a beeline for it, and climbing inside we quickly discovered that it was a packrat house. It was nasty. But when you can’t feel your toes anymore, and you are looking back and forth between the choice of a groady trailer (that is out of the wind), and the driving snow coming down thick sideways outside the door, your standards start to change. We were resourceful. Since the trailer was half gutted, there was enough room to pitch our tent INSIDE the trailer. We covered the floor with a blue plastic tarp, creating what we knew would be an adequate barrier between our stuff and what was left behind by the critters. The tent fit perfectly. Most of the gear I was going to use was now inside the tent, encapsulated from whatever had been in the trailer before us. We had set up our camp chairs, an electrical spool we found for a table and we were able to cook our dinner on the camp stove out of the weather. Instantly, this place was no longer “gross”, it was “rustic”. My toes thawed and I didn’t have to wake up hearing the tent flap all night. Our morning view was absolutely splendid. The snow had decorated everything in delicate and unique ways. Something that seemed like a compromise actually turned out to be a really great idea. And that, my friends, was my “romantic” Valentine’s Day weekend.
Dave Given had found the connections I needed to make the right contacts to the Kokoweef. He and I began communicating with the mine in January. The mine has been owned by Larry Hahn of Las Vegas for years, under different company names. I had called Mr. Hahn and had written confirmation letters that would allow the large DE group to access the mine and property on a Sunday. Mr. Hahn would drive out from Las Vegas to escort us personally. He did require each member of our group to sign a waiver, which I worked on obtaining from each interested attendee in advance. I realized that the Kokoweef trip was the only outbound offered on Sunday, so I expected a large turnout. The only daunting task was how to get a long convoy of vehicles on the I-15 north, just to turn the entire group around at Yates Well Road and put them back on the I-15 south without losing anyone. I thought it would be akin to herding cats. We had excellent cooperation within the group, and all 23 vehicles were lined up and ready after we exited at Mountain Pass on Bailey Road. We were on schedule and on time at the mine!
We had an excellent attendance: myself, Steve Marschke, Ron Ross, Nancy MacClean, Mignon Slentz, Catherine Mayfield, Danny Siler, Norma Siler, Mal Roode, Jean Roode, David Mott, Bob Rodemeyer, Joe DeKehoe, Gary Preston, Charles Halstead, George Gilster, Carol Gilster, Bob Jaussaud, Sue Jaussaud, Toby Jaussaud, Bob Thille, Carol Thille, Willie Kalajian, Faye Kalajian, Mike Mumford, Donna Mumford, Dave Bullock, Penelope Bullock, Bob Jacoby, Richard Brazier, Jim Watson, Leonard Friedman, Rebecca Friedman, Hannah Friedman, Craig Baker, Alan Hodes, Tom Perasso, Glenda Roach, and Larry Briseno (forgive me if I forgot anyone). As our group approached Kokoweef Peak, gauzy clouds began to sink into the mountains and it began to hail. This was a storm that was supposed to arrive at 2pm, but it was many hours early. The only travelers in our group that were inconvenienced by this hail were Steve and I – our Jeep CJ did not have its top on. We have a “bikini” top which is just like driving with an umbrella open over your head. The size of the hail was tiny, but we hoped it would pass.
Larry Hahn was waiting for us, and he escorted the convoy up to “The Big Room”. Luckily for this large group, the mine has a spacious meeting hall, complete with theatre style seats. The ceiling was about 15 feet high, and all four walls are postered with all sorts of geologic maps, diagrams, cut away depictions of the Kokoweef cavern (according to historical account), and other impressive looking illustrations. It looks like a war room. Mr. Hahn waited for the group to settle down after ogling all the diagrams. He started at the beginning, explaining that three Piute brothers made the discovery of an extensive cavern system which contained an underground river that was rich in gold sand. A natural sluice box within the cavern formation. Unfortunately, one of the brothers had a fatal accident and was never recovered from the cavern. The brothers never returned, but they eventually told their story to prospector Earl Dorr. Dorr signed an affidavit in 1934 (which I had provided to our group) that described the subterranean canyon to be 3000 feet deep in places . The affidavit gives a detailed description of this amazing find. By Dorr’s account, he would have been insanely rich if he could have brought the gold out. However, the story has many twists and turns. Dorr was also suspicious of anyone who could lay claim to the find, murder him for his mine, or exact some underhanded means of stealing his claim. His paranoia resulted in Dorr dynamiting the entrance to the cavern. Dorr spent the rest of his healthy days trying to relocate the entrance.
The rest of the history of the Kokoweef is the same: everyone wants to find Earl Dorr’s entrance corridor. Throughout time, the legend had continued, grown, and morphed. In my first two visits to the Kokoweef, the stories, tall tales, speculations, and possible connections with other legends made the Kokoweef Mine stock option pitch quite an exciting experience. It was like watching a Steven Spielberg movie and getting your chance to join other happy stockholders. Mr. Hahn did not make the sales presentation, however. But I am sure he would have sold some stock if we were interested. As Mr. Hahn unfolded the story, I imagined it was one hundred years ago. If I had been sitting in a saloon in Needles in 1910, and a salesman from the Orange Blossom Mine Endeavor was pitching stock for untold riches in gold, it would have been just like this. I would have been wondering “ Is this too good to be true? I’m no scientist, so how do I know if all this data is real or fabricated? Hey, I don’t want to be left out, maybe I should invest! “ I love the Kokoweef legend, and I don’t care if any of the story is fabricated, it’s a grand story! I WANT to believe in it!
After the presentation, Mr. Hahn dismissed the group with his blessings to explore the property at our pleasure. He would allow us to go into any of the open tunnels as long as we carried lights with us. I was very excited because I had never been allowed this kind of freedom on the claim property before. But as the group filed out of The Big Room, it began to snow! It was very cold and miserable outside. The weather chased most of the group off the mountain and our day ended early. A few DEers remained, but Steve and I were anxious about our “topless” five hour drive home in the snow, so we left as well. Mr. Hahn invited us to return when the weather was more conducive to exploring. I know I will be back!