2020- Trip Report - Castle Mountains
By Dave Burdick
On December 1907 Christmas came early for James Hart and brothers Hitt when they discovered a rich vein of gold. Claims were filed, a town laid out and by mid February the boom town boosted 700 people. The town had one first class hotel – Norton House, four boardinghouses and six saloons. The larger mines were the Oro Belle, Jumbo, and Big Chief. After the first year the population started to decline, however mining continued through 1917. In the 1920’s fine clay was mined near the Big Chief until the 1950’s.
The next gold rush did not take place until the price of gold deregulated in the 1980s. It was then when Canadian Viceroy Gold came in and spent nine years in exploration, raising money, mine design, and getting permits. They completed EIS/ESR and BLM permits in 1990. The mine was constructed, and the first gold poured in 1992. The mine ran until about 2000 when the gold value dropped below production cost.
When I first saw the legendary town, cemetery and mine, it looked about as it does today. The processing mill and electrical lines had been removed. The only signs of mining were two large pits, the Oro Belle, and Jumbo, and the scars on the mountain. The pits were blocked off and four wheelers had the run of the area. There was a BLM road which went from Lanfair Valley through the center of the mine to the Piute Mountains which was the first thing to be blocked off.
In the late 20-teens gold prices set a new record high and there signs of new activity, first one drill rig, then ten. In October 2019 the new mine operator started Phase 1 of new mining activity, expecting gold to be poured by the end of the year. Last Fall a chainlink fence about five miles long went up with big gates and a guard. It was bound to happen.
This Spring I decided to take a ride over to the Hart site to have a look and the road was blocked. I made a couple of inquiries, and learned that the mine and town site is not in the Mojave Preserve, not their jurisdiction. It is in the Castle Mountain National Monument (BLM jurisdiction). Also, most of the mine and town is on patented or private land. There are four different jurisdictions in this area.
Phase 2 of the mine plan will cover the town site, the Clampus Vitus Monument, and the fireplace (which may have been from the Norton House Hotel) with a mountain of “overburden” dirt. I returned and took photos while I could.
The BLM archaeologist informed me that the cemetery is not allowed to be disturbed, with a 300 foot buffer around it.
I believe that this area is one of the most beautiful around. This is my Disneyland and my favorite attraction is Castle Mountain Adventure. ~ Dave