We met our Saturday Leader, Nelson Miller, at the I-40/Hector junction for the first official Desert Explorer trip of 2016 on Saturday, January 23. The plan was to traverse the Cady Mountains through Hidden Valley on a little used desert road and visit the Desert Megaphone, discovered by Bill Mann, near Mesquite Spring. After a frustrating detour caused by a BNSF road closure (as if the BLM and NPS road closures are not enough), we finally began our journey. The Hidden Valley Road led us up a gentle pass to an old well, then down a beautiful smoke tree wash to the historic Tonopah and Tidewater Railroad alignment. It was a beautiful Spring-like day that Sue and I were lucky to be enjoying with Nelson and other Explorers: Peter and Janet Austin, Ron and Barbara Midlikoski, Mignon Slentz, Ron Lipari, Mal Roode, Vartan Petrossihn and Maria Marvosh. Neal and Marian Johns were also present for the start of the trip, but had to return home immediately when they realized they had forgotten they had a house guest. Sigh… guess we are all getting a little forgetful, but a house guest?
Along the way, Nelson related some of the T&T history to us. It seems the T&T was built between 1905 and 1907 by Francis Marion Smith, the “Borax King”, to haul borax. It never made it to Tonopah or the tidewater, but ran between Ludlow and Gold Center, Nevada. Gold Center is gone now, but was famed as having the first brewery in the area and as the location of Bikini’s Gentlemens’ Club. Besides borax, the T&T relied on income from mines in the area and had spurs that reached such places as Beatty, Goldfield, Rhyolite and Ryan. After the mining boom ended and the borax mine moved to Boron, California, the T&T struggled to survive. The floods of 1933 and 1938 finished it off. The line was scrapped in 1942 for the war effort.
We followed the old T&T roadbed to the Megaphone. Most of us scrambled up the hill to see it close up and marvel at the engineering required to place it where it is. One can’t help but wonder who and why? After stumbling our way carefully down from the Megaphone, Nelson led us to a nearby miner’s camp, then on to a rustic “dream” cabin in the middle of nowhere. By this time it was late afternoon and the short days of January are just not long enough to linger, so we turned toward home. We were rapidly losing daylight by the time we reached the official end of Nelson’s trip at Ludlow.
A few of us turned east to start another unofficial Desert Explorer adventure. Sue and I, Nelson, Mignon and Ron were scheduled to meet Vicki Hill and Dave McFarland at the “bunkhouse” on the Colorado River for a late happy hour, wine and dinner. From Ludlow, we followed Old Route 66, enjoying a leisurely sunset drive to the Colorado River. Our plans were to meet Cheryl Mangin and Rich Dotson the next morning in Needles. They had arranged an invitation for our small group to visit the Blair 7IL Ranch and see the John Domingo Mill site on the eastern side of the Providence Mountains. Former Harvey Girl and friend, Corrine More, joined us with her friends Caroline and Dinah. Kate Blair was a wonderful hostess and took time out of her full schedule to lead us on a tour of the ranch and around the adjacent mill site. Later, while enjoying some “cowboy coffee” on the ranch house deck, Rob Blair explained the history of the area.
The original horse ranch was started by John Domingo in the 1880’s. He built a kitchen and one room for himself, which are still part of the present ranch house. In the 1800’s, there was a lot of mining activity in the area. The Bonanza King Mine was discovered and the town of Providence followed. Soon, there would be upwards of 3000 people living in the area. John Domingo worked as a freighter for the mine and there is mention of an orchard and a vineyard. He remained in the area until he sold the ranch to Sanders and Gibson in 1918, when it was renamed the 7IL. The ranch was sold again several times until the brothers Jerry and Howard Blair acquired it in 1960. Rob Blair bought out his uncle and now he and his father, Howard Blair, co- own the ranch. Today, the 7IL is the last working cattle ranch inside the Mojave National Preserve.
Reluctantly taking our leave of the Blairs, we figured there was enough time left to explore the site of Providence and the Bonanza King Mine. It was a rocky road, but well worth the effort. The mine was discovered in 1880 and the town followed shortly. They existed side by side for several years, but the Providence Post Office was finally closed in 1892 and the mine closed for good after a 1915-1920 revival. These days, the main shaft has sluffed in and appears very dangerous to approach. We did find one remaining structure that was still standing and had been converted into a sort of camp ramada. We all agreed to return and spend more time there. It had been a wonderful weekend. Thanks Nelson, Cheryl and Rich.