The most complete guide to Southern Nevada's mining history.
Our plan was for Excelsior Mine Road to be a route and destination for a group event. Although many will find this route enjoyable for the scenery, the core of this group is more interested in the mining history and getting underground. Unfortunately for us, most of this area is now part of the expanded Kingston Range Wilderness Area. With very few exceptions, your only driving option is the main trail with all access to the dozens of historic mines being closed. After millions of years, the area has remained mostly untouched without help, but now it needed protection.
You can reach the trail head from the west near Tecopa, California or south of Las Vegas near Sandy Valley, Nevada. We made the approach from the west and made our way east toward Sandy Valley. Either way, the drive time to that section of the trail is just under an hour. If you wanted an extended day, you can begin the trail at or follow through to the Barstow Freeway / I-15 just west of Mountain Pass, CA. 35°26'44.48"N 115°40'33.04"W
Most people enjoy a scenic trail, but I mostly see the trail as something I have to endure to get to the main attraction which is the mine. If you're one of those people, you'll still have a great time, but I had about a dozen mines on my list to see. After arriving at each and finding the trail blocked or mine sealed, my disappointment grew.
Imagine being a kid and going to Disney World only to find Thunder Mountain closed. You'd be upset, but you'll soon forget about Thunder Mountain when you get to Space Mountain. When you find Space Mountain is closed, you feel your day was ruined. After half of my list was crossed off, I was ready for full-on tantrum mode. Sure, the scenery is nice, but even Disney World would suck if all you got was spinning teacups.
Excelsior Mine Road
San Bernardino County, CA
West: 35°48'0.48"N 116° 4'28.53"W
East: 35°45'44.27"N 115°49'50.92"W
Crystal Spring (35°47'41.16"N 115°57'42.93"W) was the location of the best scenery of the day. Just above the spring is Crystal Mine. From the upper mine, you'll observe some of the best views of the trail and valley. While you're up there, have a look at the quartz, pyrite, and chlorite. If you found this site, you'll probably already know what those indicator minerals suggest. I don't know the legalities of prospecting in a Wilderness Area, so research before you break out your tools and detector.
When we first approached the spring, we were excited to see a large concrete water trough. Seeing natural water in the desert is a big deal to us. When we reached it, disappointment again. With the exception of a little garbage and leaves, it was empty. Then we noticed the hoof prints in black mud and were encouraged to follow the tracks up the valley.
Most local springs are unmapped, but spotting a potential water source in our desert isn't very difficult. We've always felt it was smart to know and map natural water sources ahead of a trip. We currently have over 200 natural springs and perennial creeks marked in and around Clark County. In an emergency situation or extended disaster, you'll want to know your water sources.
Desert water sources may not be obvious, but all one need do is look for out of place plant cover. Look for patches of plants that are healthier and more lush than surrounding plots. Specifically, bladed grasses and reeds. Even up close, the water source may not be visible. Some water sources are just below the surface. If there's water there, the local wildlife will let you know. Look for signs of digging and animal wallows like below.
The mud became a puddle and further up, turned into a slow creek. Just as the lower valley ended, we saw the open portal to what we thought was a mine and even better, a flooded mine. We've been in quite a few flooded mines and some so flooded, scuba gear was required. It's not something I would recommend others do without proper equipment and training. Doing otherwise is stupid on another level.
There was once a door covering the portal that has since been removed. Still, safety was not a concern at this spring location. It's difficult to see in the pictures, but the adit only went back less than five feet and the water had a depth of less than two. Unless you dove head first into the water, your biggest concern should be all the bees collecting water. They mostly ignored us and didn't behave aggressively at all. Unlike the bees about 20 miles away in Ivanpah. Best to avoid them anyway. Especially those with known allergies.
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Just as we were about to leave the area, we spot that poor guy caught in the barb wire. We walked past him several times before he saw him. His head was pointing up in a most unnatural position and other than his shallow breathing and eye following us, he wasn't moving at all. He was so exhausted, it took a while to notice he was still alive. Luckily, we found him before the local predators.
Upon closer inspection, it looked like the top wire was wrapped only around the hard wall of the hoof. Otherwise, there was no bleeding and the leg appeared to be uninjured. Still, we had no idea how long he was there and because of his lack of movement, feared he was beyond any meaningful recovery. We wondered how long his herd stayed with him until they couldn't. What a sad way to die.
I went back to our vehicle for tools to release him. My intention was to free his leg and if he was injured beyond our observation, quickly and humanely euthanize him. I know we were in California in a Wilderness Area and were likely breaking many laws, but it would have been the right thing to do.
When I returned with tools and got closer, he had a sudden burst of energy. Fearing that he would further injure himself, I quickly released his foot. He briefly stood on tired legs before heading up and over the mountain, only stopping to look back at us. He was just fine when we left him. After a little rest, I'm sure he'll make a full recovery.
Had any of the mines remained accessible, it's very likely that we would have passed that spring as we intended to pass all. The sheep would have died by predator or elements. What a wonderful turn of events.
We named him "Stuckey". Because he was stuck.
As you can see above, most of the mining along Excelsior Mine Road was for Talc and Soapstone. What I found most interesting of the few accessible mines was the rock stratum (layers of sedimentary rock) that is only visible in the rock walls when surface and pit mining. All of these layers were once perfectly horizontal when this area was under a shallow sea and distorted under tremendous heat and pressure over millions of years. It's interesting to think about what's just underground.
The most recognized uses for the talc and soapstone you see are in beauty and health products for its absorbent properties, but the majority of it is used in the production of paper, rubber, ceramics, plastics, and paints and pigments .
Had it not been for all the natural springs, the day would have been mostly forgettable for me. Because our plan was to safety check the mines in anticipation of a group event, we bypassed the springs, saving the time which would be needed underground. As we found ourselves with an excess of time and nothing to do, we started to search out the springs, which were often easy to find.
The mapped springs all had stacked columns of rocks which could be seen from a distance. The older and more established springs had concrete well collars or simple stacked rocks to hold back mud and allow ground water to seep and collect.