Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Wall Street Mill, Joshua Tree National Park

The Wall Street Mill in Joshua Tree National Park is a neatly hidden slice of local desert history. Though no secret, it can be difficult to find, especially for those who get turned around easily. Located on the eastern border of an area of the park called Wonderland of Rocks, this site was an operating gold ore crushing facility during the 1930's and '40's. The trailhead is reached by taking the first left after the Barker Dam parking lot. This trail winds around rock formations (and some great bouldering) headed roughly northeast and brings one to the mill in about a mile, if you don't get lost first.  shortly into the hike, those with open eyes might spy a concrete slab, pinkish, that is poured just under a large boulder. This was the floor of a bunkhouse used by the men who worked the mill. Shortly after that, you see the remains of an old, old truck. This is one of three vehicles from that era in the vicinity of the mill. It was likely used for everything from the transportation of ore to the mill to the drive down to San Bernadino where the gold could be exchanged for cash.

This truck had a straight-6.

Wall Street Mill is built onto the side of a low hill, taking advantage of gravity in the milling process. The ore would be brought up a track to the top of the mill, it would then travel down a chute, drop into a hopper, and then get crushed by a gasoline engine powered, two stamp Baker Iron Works crusher. From there, the crushed ore was processed through a device called a Myer Concentrating Table. It is likely that cast off ore (talings) were then further leached of gold using an arsenic and mercury reduction process. All in all, this would have been a hellish place to work. Hades in the summer, bitter cold in the winter, loud, and considering all the machinery and chemicals, rather dangerous employment.

The mill was built by a bull-headed, hard drinking desert rat named Bill Keys. He basically claimed what is now JTNP as his own in the 1930's. He did not get along well with other prospectors in the neighborhood. In 1943, Keys got into a dispute with another prospector named Worth Bagley. Apparently, Bagley wanted access to the Wall Street for the purpose of processing some of his own ore. It is unclear what all was involved in that gentlemanly discussion, but it culminated in Keys killing Bagley in a gun fight. Bill Keys made a headstone for the recently deceased and, asshole that he was, he wrote this on the marker:
"Here is where Worth Bagley bit the dust at the hand of W. F. Keys, May 11, 1943"

Hard to imagine, but all the following photos were shot inside the lower levels of this 30 foot tall "structure".
These 40 pound slugs are the actual "stamps" used in the 2 stamp mill.
This is a small side room, added to the overall structure, where the gas powered engine that ran the mill was stored.

These were likely used for arsenic and mercury gold ore reduction (leeching). Above the hill that the mill is built into lies the remains of a large water tank, fed by water pumped from a nearby well.

You've got to love the craftsmanship behing these wooden wheels. 
Some of the original belts remain intact.
The Baker Iron Works 2 Stamp Mill.

Above and Below: what was probably a pretty sweet 1936 Dodge back in the day.
P.S.: If you go on this walk, and have very keen eyes (or damn good luck)you can spot some ancient petroglyphs.


  1. No idea what the vehicle is but it's not a Dodge truck. If anyone does know can they please post?

  2. How did you ascertain that Bill Keys was a hard drinker? I'm not so sure. He was a family man and very industrious. Maybe not a fair assertion.

    Looks like you moved past the barricades to get those interior shots! ;)

  3. @ Eric - It's a 1929 Lincoln, that Willis Keys converted into a truck after he got out of the army.