Eagle Cliff / Black Eagle Mine & Cabin

The Eagle Cliff / Black Eagle Mine was a lead mine, discovered in 1895.
Eagle Cliff Mine was originally called the Black Eagle. It's one of the oldest mines in Joshua Tree.

County: San Bernardino

Primary Mineral: Lead

Years of Operation: First mined in 1895, presumably by Robert Muir, who discovered it. The exact duration of mining operations is unknown. Two shafts were worked until at least 1897. The mine was later owned by Bill Keys, who kept up the assessment work from about 1916 into the 1920s and early 1930s, during which time small amounts of ore were extracted and transported to the Wall Street Mill for processing.

Nearest City or Landmark: Near the Desert Queen Mine in northwestern Joshua Tree

Depth: There are two incline shafts; one is 75 feet deep, the other is 40 feet. 

On the way to the Eagle Cliff Mine you'll pass by Power Shopping Rock, near the Desert Queen.
Power Shopping Rock, named by rock climber is near the Desert Queen Mine's upper shafts.

Hidden in the rugged hills near the famous Desert Queen Mine is a lesser known mine, called the Eagle Cliff Mine. You won’t find it on any map, and for good reason. Both tunnels associated with the mine are gated, and therefore inaccessible, The main attraction is not the mine itself, but a stunning rock shelter, probably the best preserved of any within Joshua Tree’s boundaries. Due to the absence of wood, miners often took advantage of large cavities between boulders to provide shelter, closing off the empty spaces with rock walls or whatever was available. Native Americans in this area used these same rock cavities for centuries before the miners came. In fact, ancient pictographs can still be found on the walls of some of these shelters, including Carrie’s Castle located to the far southeast. 

The desert terrain near the Desert Queen and Eagle Cliff Mines is truly spectacular.
Rock spires near Gold Dust Gulch. There are numerous mine openings from the Desert Queen in this area.


Another of these rock shelters is called Oh-Bay-Yo-Yo, probably the hardest of these three to find, and there are many others without any names or fanfare. The Park Service has intentionally removed these places from all their maps, and will not assist you in finding them. Theft and vandalism have been rampant in this park, so much so that some areas have been closed off altogether. 

Of all the rock shelters in Joshua Tree, this one is probably the most well preserved.
This rock shelter is difficult to find, and rangers want to keep it that way. You won't find this on any maps.

The Eagle Cliff rock shelter has had some of its more valuable artifacts removed by the park service and replaced by items that weren’t originally there. Nevertheless, this amazingly well hidden place is worth the search, and seemingly untouched by vandals, at least for now. A log book inside indicates that fewer than 20 people a day visit this location, out of the thousands who visit the park. Joshua Tree has become so popular in recent years that you will sometimes see a mile long backup of cars waiting to enter the park. Yet 3/4 of this massive area (larger than the state of Rhode Island) will never be seen by most.

Looking out from inside the shelter. On the left is the second of two fireplaces.
Looking out from inside the shelter. There was once a roof above the open area.

History of Eagle Cliff / Black Eagle Mine

Eagle Cliff Mine reportedly dates back to 1895, making it one of the oldest mines in Joshua Tree National Park. The rock shelter also dates back to that time period. Due to Eagle Cliff’s remote location, burros were used to pack out the ore and to haul in equipment. On May 27, 1895, a lead ledge known as Eagle Cliff was located by Robert Muir. By December 31, 1897, $200 worth of labor had been performed in the area, with two shafts being sunk into the rock; one to the depth of 75 feet, the other to 40 feet. These tunnels were both lead mines, although secondary ores were probably mined as well.

This would have been the main cooking area within the Eagle Cliff rock shelter.
There are two fireplaces in the shelter, plus a sleeping area, artifacts and a glass pane window.

Bill Keys, owner of the nearby Desert Queen Mine, held possession of this mine for many years, which at the time was known as the Black Eagle. Keys' son Willis said that his father kept up the assessment work from about 1916 through the early 1930s, during which time small amounts of ore were extracted and hauled to the Wall Street Mill (also owned by Keys) for processing.

There are multiple artifact within the Eagle Cliff rock shelter, some dating back to the late 1880s.
The shelter's interior looks as if the miners left it yesterday, and never came back.

Inside The Rock Shelter  

Eagle Cliff was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1993. Cornerstones Community Partnership in collaboration with the National Park Service created a stabilization plan, to secure the stone and mortar mine cabin and to replace a few broken panes in the six pane window. This semi-secret area is used to host training workshops for volunteers, students, and NPS personnel. The site is in a designated wilderness area where no mechanical tools can be used.

A desert bighorn jawbone. There were probably thousands of these roaming the area in the late 1800s.
An old jawbone a desert bighorn. About 300 of these sheep still roam Joshua Tree today.

There are actually two rock shelters in this area. The other one is within 100 feet of the first, but is much smaller and less impressive. The main shelter is roughly 30 feet deep and 10 feet high, with a small under-room, presumably used as a sleeping quarter. Empty gaps between the boulders have be sealed with primitive rock walls. There are two fireplaces, a six pane glass window, a wooden door frame, an old bench, a cabinet full of old rusty cans and what appears to be recently repaired roofing, secured by old branches Some of the more valuable items were removed by the park service and replaced by dummy items from the same time period.

Not all of the Eagle Cliff shelter's parts are original. This roofing appears to be a modern replacement.
Original roofing was replaced with modern metal sheets. Some artifacts have also been removed.

For years, people who knew the park and the desert well were aware of this location and others, but did not disseminate information, except to friends. Unfortunately the internet changed all that, and put all of the priceless relics throughout Joshua Tree in jeopardy. Many of these locations have already been looted or vandalized, but the park service does its best not to disclose their locations. If a log book inside the shelter is any indication, only about 20 people visit this location each day.

There are dozens or species of reptiles within Joshua Tree, including this Zebra-tailed Lizard.
There are over a dozen lizard species within Joshua Tree. This is a Long-Nosed Leopard Lizard.

Side Trip To Pioneertown

Every time I’m out in the Joshua Tree area I try to hit one of the weird desert attractions on the way back to L.A. This day’s destination was Pioneertown, located in the rugged hills above Yucca Valley. This historical town was started up in 1946 by actor Dick Curtis and fell into the hands of San Bernardino County in the late 1960s. It was originally a motion picture set themed after a late 1800s western town. Hundreds of Westerns and early television shows were filmed in Pioneertown, including The Cisco Kid and Edgar Buchanan’s Judge Roy Bean. 

This town includes what was one of the oldest continually running bowling alleys in California, called Pioneer Bowl. Roy Rogers himself rolled out the first ball in 1949. The bowling alley finally closed in 2010. Every episode of Gene Autry’s show was filmed there. Robert Plant of Led Zeppelin fame and other notable musicians frequently played inside a building called Pappy and Harriet’s Pioneertown Palace. Today Pioneertown is an actual small town, with a population of 350 people. It nearly burned down in 2006 during the Sawtooth Complex Fire, but firefighters were able to save it. 

Pioneertown was a movie set started in 1946 by actor Dick Curtis where westerns were filmed.