Border Exploration Trip September 2007
On a mild September morning in 1865 a dust trail rose behind a rushing stage coach headed for Aurora Nevada. Traveling along the East Walker River, the team came to an abrupt stop in front of the Elbow Station. Horses were exchanged and passengers dusted off their garments. Moments later the coach pushed on out of the canyon and in to the open desert towards its destination.
142 years later, we arrived at the Elbow of the East Walker River that once witnessed the travels of many headed to area mining camps in search of a better life. We had hoped to meet some new friends and explore those historic sites that litter the vast desert and surrounding mountains. Joining us were a group of hard core explorers from places like Reno, Sparks, Fernley, and Stage Coach Nevada. And others from Vallejo, Antioch, Tracy, San Jose and Santa Barbara California.
As we arrived later than expected, the majority of our colleagues had already set up their camps and begun preparing for the days explorations. They decided to head out to the trails near Masonic. Perhaps growing impatient with our own attempt to prepare our campsites and ATV’s. Sometime later our group of four slowly rode out and made our way in the mountains towards Dome Hill. Although scenic, it immediately became obvious that the trail was rarely traveled being extremely rocky and washed out in many places. These conditions excited us, as most explorers will attest that places less traveled hide the best kept secrets. It was about 5 miles and 45 minutes from camp that we came upon our first discovery; a prospect consisting of a single and very deep vertical shaft framed by native timbers. Judging by the materials used and items discarded nearby, the mine appeared to be developed by an unorganized group sometime near the early 1900’s. We documented our findings and proceeded up the trail towards the backside of Masonic. Shortly after we came upon the remains of the Perrini Mines. There we found three standing structures and various mine remnants and tailings. We explored the area in more detail on foot before continuing on to Masonic which I had visited countless times on previous trips. There we took a quick bathroom break and rest before proceeding on to the Chemung Mine Site which I had also visited prior. We returned to our camp at the Elbow by way of Masonic Road, another scenic trail that progresses in and out of the Masonic Mountains towards the north. Although we were unable to get a full days exploring in as planned, the day’s adventure was quite fulfilling.
Not long after we had sat down to relax and discuss our day’s discoveries at our camp site, My Uncle and Aunt, the last of our parties participants had arrived. As night fell most of the others had turned in, leaving the desert night almost silent. Only the sound of crickets, and the flowing river filled the air. Our plan was to wake by 7am, cook breakfast, prepare for our days travels and depart our camps by 9:30am. So we hit the sack, leaving two propane lanterns on to discourage coyotes from molesting our belongings and food storage. By 4am the temperature had dropped near freezing. I’m sure all of our explorers scrambled for extra covers as I did during those early morning hours. 7am came very early, especially for those who had drove throughout the early morning hours the day before.
One by one we lined up our eager machines at camp and before long had departed for Aurora Canyon. The first few miles were easily traversed along the now graded Sweetwater road which was once the main route of all travel north of Aurora. As we arrived at the intersection of Aurora Canyon Road I took a quick count, and our 10 machines roared on west in to Aurora Canyon. Eventually we came across a spring that flowed on to the trail flooding it. One by one we slowly crossed the shallow murky water. It was then, while pushing along side our convoy towards the front position that I heard a loud clatter emerge from the front suspension of my ATV. I dismounted for inspection and discovered a nest of barbed wire wrapped around my upper and lower control arms. My first reaction was that of doom, but my fellow explorers came to my rescue and together we cut off the rusted wire and freed my machine. Luckily neither my cv boot nor tire had been damaged by the force of the barbed wire which quickly wrapped around by suspension. Back on the trail we continued on in to the China Camp area where we came upon another active spring that had flooded the trail. The source of water had created a heavy growth of brush and swampy mushy grass which enclosed the trail. With just enough room to gather together, we inspected our path and requested the opinions of the two Rhino owners, as they would probably sustain the most damage due to the size of their machines. Both decided to press on, so I rode in to the brush lying down over the gas tank of my Grizzly to protect myself from the sharp branches, and about 40 yards later I had successfully exited out the other end. Following me were the two Rhinos scraping and rocking through the trees followed by the remaining 7 quads.
On the trail above China Camp we passed a large pile of rusted cans and a fallen wood cabin that had once housed Chinese wood gatherers. A hundred yards along the trail we came across the lone grave site of a Chinese immigrant who had probably worked in the camp that supplied Aurora and Bodie with its increasing need of wood fuel. After a break we headed on towards the Homestead Mines where the trail became a bit rougher. Rocks of all sizes became our terrain as well as deep rutted wash outs and cuts. Climbing in to the neighboring canyon proved dangerous for one of our riders. While accelerating up the rocky trail her rear ATV tires turned some loose rocks which inadvertently changed her direction towards the gorge below. Her atv peaked over the side of the rocky trail, and I’m sure her eyes grew as large as those of the Chihuahua she had brought along with her. Fortunately she was able to regain control of her machine before plummeting down the side. All ten of our vehicles pulled up to the Homestead Mines in one piece, where we parked and took to exploring on foot. There were tons of remains and artifacts left behind by the previous inhabitants. Although research indicates organized mining here in the early 1900’s, we had discovered quite a bit of debris from more recent years which may have been the result of squatters. We at lunch here before heading back past the China Camp area and in to Aurora Canyon. A couple of us splintered off of the main group to scout out possible access to Chinese Camp which has yet to be explored by any Ghost Towner or historic explorer.
Our main group proceeded on past the state line in to California and off the main trail to Halfway Camp. This camp was located half way between the main route via Aurora Canyon Road and a arastra located in Rough Creek where ore from Bodie’s earlier prospects was processed. Through more recent repairs the cabin remains in relatively good shape and has become somewhat of a community shelter. Other remains consist of a falling shed, and outhouse. Tired from the long day’s ride we headed back to camp through Masonic where we were able to pick up the pace and make some time. Back in camp meant food, drink and rest. Some of us stayed up a bit later than the night before, but the cold early morning did not escape us.
Sunlight arrived early and the cold dark hours had passed us once again. After discovering we had no syrup for our homemade pancakes we said our good-bye’s to a few members who planned on an early departure. Those of us who remained decided on one last exploration ride and proceeded to prepare our ATV’s. Aurora Nevada via The Del Monte Mill site was our poison, and before long we were back on the trail. After several miles of high speed riding we gathered at the Fletcher Stage Station which once served travelers to and from Aurora and Bodie. There some of us washed the accumulating dust from our faces and bodies with water from the natural springs. Back on the trail we rode on in to the Bodie Canyon where the walls raised high on either side of us. Slowly we made our way to the Del Monte Mill Site where we found rock walls and a single wood structure resembling a two room home. After several minutes of exploring on foot we continued up the back road towards Aurora. As we climbed the cliff sides on switchbacks we came to an area where one of our explorers had previously found rocks containing a sort of crystal called Geodes. We all parked our machines and began rock hounding the area. Several Geodes were found and packed up for the long ride back. Our next stop was the former town site of Aurora, where 8 to 10,000 people had made a home for themselves over a hundred years ago. Most of the town site has been over run with weeds and brush, but for the hardy explorer this is an excellent place to look around. Several mines and tons of artifacts litter the gulch and canyons. unfortunately most of the town was built with brick which was stripped by brick thieves sometime after the town had been abandoned. We ended our trip to the Elbow at 7pm that Sunday when we drove away from our oasis in the desert. We hope to return again soon, to explore the many areas we had missed, and to share some time with our new friends.
This place holds something special to me… something I can’t explain, every year drawing me back and showing me just a little bit more. It was good to be home again, sleeping in my warm comfortable bed. I felt a renewed spirit, ready to take on the world and meet the challenges of life, but I know the time will again come when I will crave my special place in the desert, and then soon my return.