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Great Escapes: Gold Mining History in Death Valley National Park

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Did you know that Death Valley has more abandoned mines than any other national park? Thousands of abandoned mines are scattered across the park’s 5,200+ square miles.  It’s not surprising when you consider that gold, silver, lead, zinc, antimony, flourspar, cinnabar, epsom salts, mercury, tungsten, copper, borax, talc, sodium chloride, and manganese all have been mined here over the years. Most mines are closed to the public and in need of safety improvements, but the Eureka Mine has been stabilized, making it easy to follow in the path of the early gold prospectors. Take two flashlights when you enter the tunnels, one for use and one for backup.

All gold prospectors got started the same way— they looked for veins of quartz or seams of red or yellow iron-stained rock. Miners followed these veins, drilling and blasting to break the ore loose, they then sent the ore to mills to extract the gold. A profitable mine would yield about an ounce of gold per ton of ore.

Of all the prospectors and miners who toiled here, only one— Pete Aguereberry— persisted. Born in France in 1874, at an early age he read about the wonderful gold discoveries in California and couldn’t wait to become a prospector. He realized his dream at age 16 when he set sail for America and made his way to California.

Beginning in 1907, Pete worked his claim for 40 years, mostly by himself. Historians estimate that he extracted about $175,000 worth of gold (then valued at $20 per ounce) during his lifetime (he died in 1945). Aguereberry camp still stands in a state of decay, so stop and take a look around when you explore the Eureka Mine. Pete’s original two-room house, including an antique gas stove and refrigerator, are still in their places. Outbuildings and two other “guest” cabins are next to it.

Not far from the Eureka Mine is Mr. Aguereberry’s Cashier Mill. Powered by gasoline engines, the mill pulverized the ore, then chemical processes using mercury and cyanide extracted the gold.

To explore a small part of Death Valley National Park's gold mining history, take Hwy. 190 past Stovepipe Wells and up to Emigrant Campground. Turn left following the signs to Wildrose. In about 10 miles there will be a turn off for Aguereberry Point. Turn here and you’ll arrive at Aguereberry camp a mile down the road. Eureka Mine is within walking distance; Cashier Mill is a very short drive. The park’s interpretive signs and maps point the way.

The Eureka Mine is closed by a bat gate in the winter due to hibernating Townsend's long eared bats. The mine reopens again in spring.

For more information:  www.nps.gov/deva

Campground reservations 1-877-444-6777 • Entrance fee $20 per vehicle, good for 7 days

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In addition to writing about her travels, Denise Seith helps businesses get found on the Internet in multiple ways. She is also a treasure hunter, and loves a good latté.

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