|It may not look like much, but there's a substantial mine within. After a short crawl you can easily stand up.|
County: Los Angeles
Primary Minerals: Silver & Gold Tertiary Minerals: Lead & Cobalt
Years of Operation: 1881-1894, then worked intermittently until 1910 and again in the 1930's
Nearest City or Landmark: West of Morris Dam, Silver Mountain, Approx. 4 miles north of Azusa
Depth: Approx. 654 feet. The main tunnel has two levels. There is also a small annex tunnel about 30 feet to the right of the main tunnel measuring approx. 20 feet in depth.
|This is a nearby exploratory dig. It's only 20 feet deep, but you can slide down a leaf pile and stand up inside.|
Hidden deep a the nameless canyons of Silver Mountain, west of the Morris Dam lies the Kelsey Mine. Also known as the Mint Mine, there were no exact records kept of the total yields of four lesser mining enterprises that operated in this area, but it’s safe to say that at least a quarter million dollars in silver ore was recovered from the Zapata, Winston, Kelsey and Victoria Mines during the last three decades of the 19th century.
|This mine has two levels. The upper level is circular with an incline tunnel leading to two more tunnels below.|
This adventure begins at an old, unmarked dirt road called the Silver Fish Truck Trail, also known as Forest Service Road 2N28. This eroded and overgrown road will only get you part of the way to the Kelsey. After that you will have to navigate through poison oak, thorny gooseberry bushes, tick infested grasses and up a series of dry waterfalls to find this mine. This is an ongoing project, as there's at least one more mine related to the Kelsey somewhere in this area. As of yet I have only found an old pot farm while searching for it.
|The ores extracted from the Kelsey / Mint were mainly silver and gold, but lead and cobalt were also found.|
History of the Kelsey Mine
Off and on from 1881 to 1934 several hard rock silver mining operations were established on the western slopes of San Gabriel Canyon, located approximately four miles above Azusa. Silver was first discovered here by Louis Sharp, An affluent mining investor named Henry C. Kelsey founded the Kelsey Mining Company which commenced operations in 1881. An office, boarding house, stables, corrals and mill were constructed, with an elaborate series of tramways and chutes that transported ore from the mine to a 5 stamp mill. Sadly the mill site now lies below the surface of the Morris Dam.
|Although this mine has no record of copper mining, copper oxide is leeching from the rock walls in some areas.|
Sedley Peck, who was often called the “Mayor of Azusa Canyon” in deference to his popularity among canyon residents, kept a treasure trove of mining notes and memorabilia concerning this area during his lifetime. In 1937 he recounted his boyhood memories of the Kelsey Mill to the Azusa Herald and Pomotropic.
|It's amazing how deep these tree roots can push down through solid rock, searching for water and nutrients.|
“Hundreds of lights illuminated the entire canyon. Across the stream an immense building gave off a fearful clatter of noise from within, while a great waterwheel turned and groaned beside it. It looked like a scene from one of the gift Christmas cards of that era. We stopped beside a blacksmith’s shop where several forges belched flame and smoke, while sparks and clamor flew from drills and picks on a half dozen anvils as sweating smithies strove and swore. Two suspension bridges traversed the canyon high above possible flood waters, and they too, were festooned with lights. It was the Kelsey Silver Mill. Three hundred and fifty men were there employed in two 12-hour shifts, and all about were bunk houses and all of the appurtenances of a big mine camp.”
|The lower right tunnel involves a knee crawl on a bizarre carpet of roots. The nearest tree is 60 feet above.|
At one time Sedley Peck had a small museum in the East Fork recounting the rich saga of the San Gabriel Canyon. It included his notes, clippings and photographs of the historical East Fork mining area. The museam was located inside the Henry C. Roberts store at Follows Camp, which was the oldest building in the San Gabriel Mountains. But sadly it was wiped out by flooding in 2005.
|The lower left tunnel begins with a belly crawl, but opens up into a tall, forked tunnel with 6 inches of water.|
The Kelsey Mine’s initial silver findings were promising, however after a few years it failed to keep up with massive investments. Operations halted in 1894, after which the mine was worked off and on until 1910 and then again in the 1930’s. Now, after nearly a century of landslides and erosion, the Kelsey’s portal is narrowing and I predict it will be completely closed within 50 years. Somewhere in these hills there is another Kelsey related tunnel which I have yet to find. If and when I discover it I will post photos on this site.
|These are old wooden ore cart rail platforms. The actual metal rails were probably salvaged & sold as scrap.|
The route to the Kelsey Mine begins just west of the Morris Dam, at an unmarked gate just over four miles above Azusa. This old, disintegrating dirt road is known as the Silver Fish Truck Trail or Forest Service Road 2N28. Over the years it has been worn away to little more than a single track that stretches all the way to the city of Duarte. To protect these mines I do not give directions to reach them, only general information. Although somewhat remote, this mine has had many visitors, as evidenced by a pit full of trash on the inside. I'll never understand why people do this, but it's my goal is to keep mindless people as far away from these historical relics as possible. If you want to find this mine you'll need to do your own research.
|The lower left tunnel features cave-like attributes. These stalactites only grow about one inch every century.|
About one third of this trip is off trail. This is not a good place to get lost, so don’t try to find this mine unless you know exactly where you’re going. Although it can be quite beautiful in the spring it gets hotter than blazes in the summer, and there's no water to speak of. If you get hurt back in these canyons you are unlikely to be found for a long time (if ever), and cell phone reception is non existent. I mention this because during the three trips I’ve taken here there have been incidents that could have ended badly. The first time my flashlight went out in the lower level and I had to find my way out in the dark. The second time I crawled into the portal and realized there was a bobcat inside. I took a good bash to the head on the rock ceiling while trying to get out. And finally, on my third trip to this area I was scouting a different canyon trying to find the Victoria Mine. I came upon an old hidden trail that was over a mile long and I was sure that I was that I was about to find the mine. Unfortunately it led to an abandoned pot farm. Fortunately the growers and the crop were long gone. Some of these growers would sooner kill you than let you give up the location of their farms.
|The Kelsey Mine is located in a narrow and remote canyon. Without precise directions you will never find it.|
Ancient Water Pipes
If you've done any amount of hiking in the foothills of the San Gabriels, you've undoubtedly noticed old water pipes. Before the Los Angeles Aqueduct was built, virtually all of our drinking water came from springs in the canyons of the San Gabriels or from wells. The aqueduct project began in 1905 and diverted water from the Owens Valley. Unfortunately this eventually devastated the Owen’s Lake ecosystem and eliminated the Owens Valley as a viable farming community. The first aqueduct was completed in November of 1913 and a second aqueduct was built much later, completed in 1970. Before welding machines and flux were invented, water pipes were cold pressed out of steel sheets, and then riveted together. The pipe below is a good example of riveted pipe, and is well over 100 years old. Riveted pipes were generally used from 1860 to 1900.
|Before welding was invented, water pipes were cold formed and riveted. This pipe pre-dates 1900.|
The Upper Tunnel
Although this mine has a tiny opening, it wasn’t always that way. A century’s worth of landfall and flooding has narrowed the tunnel openings on both levels of this mine to a crawl, as well as a nearby annex tunnel. But all of these were probably easy to walk into during active mining days. The upper level is the only mine I’ve ever been in that is circular. Shortly after entering you’ll notice some beautiful ore patterns in the rock and an incline tunnel leading down to a lower level. In most areas you can easily stand. After the ramp you will see (sadly) a pit that is filled with trash from previous visitors. This is one of the main reasons I don’t give directions to these mines. To the left of the pit there is a small exploratory tunnel, but the main one veers to the right. This is quite a long tunnel which eventually leads back to approximately where it began. It appears that miners attempted this circular design on the lower level as well, but ran into problems.
|There is no trail leading to the Kelsey. Getting there involves bushwhacking and climbing a series of dry falls.|
The Lower Right Tunnel
After climbing down a steep incline tunnel to the lower level, there are two small openings. The one to the right requires a knee crawl and never opens up into a walkable area. This tunnel, which I’ve nicknamed the “root tunnel” is truly surreal. It appears (and this is only my theory), that miners hit water and the tunnel was slowly filled with sediment, some of which was pushed into the tunnel on the left. During active mining days the water was probably pumped out, but after this mine was abandoned dirt continued to wash in. Tree roots from 60 feet above found their way down into this pocket of moisture and began to overtake it. Proof of this lies in the fallen support beams, one of which is buried “but still visible” below the root carpet. You can see a photo of this by scrolling up a bit. I believe that this tunnel was originally intended to connect with the left tunnel, but was abandoned after striking water. However there is no way to prove this.
|For several years I stopped seeing these California Newts, but they seem to be making a strong comeback.|
The Lower Left Tunnel
The lower left tunnel is perhaps the most interesting one, but not for the claustrophobic. Entrance to the tunnel requires a tight belly crawl, but after about six feet it opens up into an easily walkable drift. This is a wet tunnel, with about six inches of water on the floor. It goes in straight, veers to the right and then forks to the right again and finally bends to the left. Under the water there are old wooden ore rail supports. At minimum they are 85 years old, and yet they have not deteriorated, probably because of lack of bacteria or minerals in the water that covers them. When I shoot photos of mine interiors I focus my camera on a certain area, then turn off my flashlight, shooting blind. At that point I don’t know exactly what I’ll get until I download the photos onto my computer.
There was a surprise at the end of this tunnel, a long drill bit that I had completely missed seeing until looking at the photos later. I would estimate that it was four feet long. The ventilation in the back of this tunnel is poor, and I started feeling a little light headed, so I rushed to make my way out, but stopped to take one final photo. That’s when I ran into a problem. After turning out my flashlight to take the shot, I couldn’t get it to turn back on. And to make matters worse, I had left my backup light outside the mine. I had to make my way about half way out in the dark, but fortunately was able to get my light back before the belly crawl.
|Stinging lupines are abundant here in the spring. This was taken on the Silver Fish Truck Trail|
The Morris Dam
In 1935 the Morris Dam (east of Kelsey Mine) was completed. This dam rises 245 feet above the San Gabriel River stream bed along California State Route 39. The mill site for Kelsey Mine now rests below its surface. From World War II to the 1990s the reservoir and its surrounding slopes were used as a Naval Weapons Test Site, mainly for the development of submarine-based warfare systems, including torpedoes, bombs and sub launched missiles such as the Polaris rocket, the first ballistic missile ever launched from submerged submarines. Today these operations have been moved to China Lake, near Ridgecrest. The area near the dam is still marked as private property, but the site is being restored to a "natural" state, and may once again be open to the public in the future.
|After years of drought the Morris Dam's water level was very low. Kelsey Mine's mill site lies below the surface.|
Additional Photos - Kelsey / Mint Mine
All watermarked photos are copyrighted and cannot be used without my consent.