Updated: Mar 5, 2021
A Historic Gold Mine with a Dangerous and Spooky Presence
Photo taken by Rebecca Castro from inside one of the mine's multiple rooms.
A Brief History
The original discovery of minerals, gold, and silver, was made in 1870. Over the years, an extensive series of tunnels and adits were made over several mining claims which eventually connected them into one large underground mining system, at an elevation of 4,000 feet, called The Reward Mine. The largest production of ore took place from 1911 until 1952. This place became the largest producer of lode gold in the Union District. In 1948 it was reported by the then mine owner, TL Bright, that Reward produced 10 tons of ore daily.
Over time, a mill site and cable car system were added to the mine. Towards the end of production, the network came to include a large cavern opening for vehicle traffic to collect ore that was sent down a 500-foot chute, from top to bottom. By the end of operations in 1959, the Reward system consisted of 8 levels of underground adits running along an inclined shaft. Most of this system remains intact today, portions of it are still privately owned, though it's very unstable.
Our First Experience at the Mine
Photo by Rebecca Castro
After a grueling hike up steep inclines, loose talus, around the remains of the original mining operations, and in the unrelenting sun of Death Valley we reached the mine entrances. Inside the mine is a great escape from the Death Valley heat. While the valley can reach climbing temperatures of 120 plus degrees the mine remains a steady 50 to 60 degrees, insulated from the heat of the direct sun. If the temperature change isn't enough to give you goosebumps the rich history and leftover artifacts surely will.
Navigating narrow hallways that open into large rooms we found beautiful, rich, blue coloring in the walls. Some hallways were riddled with old coring holes and "Danger leftover explosive material" spray-painted warnings. Others would get more and more narrow before coming to a dead end. After spending some time navigating the intricate labyrinth of hallways, rooms, and multiple levels we stopped to take a break. Sitting in total darkness and silence is a bit unnerving. Sounds of rock movement and creaking of the old wood support beams could be heard from all around. In the light of our headlamps, a thick layer of dust could be seen swirling in front of us - glad we were wearing dust masks. Occasionally, a gust of wind would howl through the many chutes and entrances stirring everything up.
We spent a brief time working the wall, but after a few hits of hammer on chisel a spark set off some leftover powder and a small discharge exploded in front of our face. Not the safest idea to keep working. We collected some small material and packed it up for the day. We had set alarms for sunset since one could easily lose track of time when there's no daylight available. Time to get off the mountain before the entire valley is in total darkness.
Photo by Rebecca Castro
Let's Do That Again
Just the awe of being in a historical mining locality with such an extensive system of tunnels and workings was enough to draw us back. Within the same week as our first visit, we decided to make the unforgiving hike up a second time. This time we explored new areas and found new minerals lining the walls. In one area, metallic swirls of Galena could be seen throughout the rock, though it was too hard to work with hand tools - probably why explosives were so heavily used in the mine's heyday. In another area, the walls were discolored by iron staining, red-brown splotching throughout. This mine is certainly one of a kind.
Photo by Anthony Castro
Pregnancy Can't Stop Me
After spending several months away the call to go back to Reward was too much to resist. At seven months pregnant we made the hike again. This time, we were prepared to stay the night at the entrance knowing that my pregnant body wouldn't be able to take that much exertion. After many stops along the way up, including an extended break to do pregnancy photos at one of the old milling remnants, we finally made it to the entrance. We set up our small backpacking tent on the only flat ledge there, using boulders to hold us down so we didn't roll over in our sleep and roll off the edge of the cliff. My husband, such an amazing man, made the hike twice that day so I didn't have to carry much weight up and so we could camp comfortably - well, comfortably enough for being so pregnant.
Our first morning, waking up on the ridge of the canyon a rainbow stretched across the valley and a beautiful layer of snow blanketed the tops of the Sierras on the other side. It was as if the past miners of the region were welcoming us into their domain. This is one amazing place and we will always return.
Photo by Anthony Castro