The Keane Wonder Mine area contains widespread mining ruins and remnants, historical structures, interesting natural features, and outstanding views along the loop route discussed in this report. Difficulties encountered on the hike include route finding to carry out the loop (especially when connecting Cyty's Mill to Big Bell Mine), staying safely out of old mining tunnels, avoiding climbing on mining structures, and limiting exposure to milling contaminants by staying on trails. Topographical maps of the hiking route can be found by clicking on the buttons above. GPS coordinates for Cyty's Mill are 36.676313, -116.926757. GPS coordinates for Big Bell Extension Mine are 36.691638, -116.911154. GPS coordinates for Big Bell Mine are 36.692554, -116.895397.
The Keane Wonder Mine area is perhaps the place in Death Valley where I have hiked the most during my lifetime visits to the park. During my early years in the park (1997-2005), I would spend time hiking with family and friends in this area on nearly every trip. One time we hiked all the way from the parking area located at 1,300 feet in elevation to Chloride City high above at around 5,000 feet in elevation and back in one day. I've also been dropped off at Chloride City and enjoyed the fun of going downhill and carrying out a one-way hike. But as most people are aware, the Keane Wonder Mine and surrounding area was closed from September 11, 2008 to November 7, 2017 in an effort to make the area safer for visitors. That's a period of 9 years, 1 month, and 22 days (or 3,344 days in total). Having visited before and after, I can see that a lot of work was done and the area has been greatly improved. On their official site, the NPS mentions that over 50 mine openings were covered, soil samples from tailings were tested, and wood members were replaced at tramway towers and tram terminals. During the period of the closure, my friend Mel and I were perhaps the only hikers granted official permission to enter the Keane Wonder Mine area on November 14, 2013. The reason we were allowed to visit Keane Wonder despite the closure was to document Keane Wonder Bridge, the most stunning natural feature in the northern Funeral Mountains. Keane Wonder Bridge is 1 of 17 confirmed major natural bridges within Death Valley (as of 2018). The bridge crosses a small canyon wash and has a rectangular shape with shades of red, pink, and purple. Because I was working hard to put together a semi-official database of Death Valley's Natural Bridges with input from the park service, I was granted entry in order to include Keane Wonder Bridge. While we were there, we came across a herd of 13 Bighorn sheep. We found the herd to be less skittish than most sheep, perhaps because no hikers had been allowed into the area for so long. This allowed us to take some great photographs of the Bighorn sheep, some of which you can see on our Wildlife Page here on the site. As far as hikes that can be done in the area, there are probably two main hiking routes. The first starts at the parking area and heads northwest to Keane Wonder Springs and Cyty's Mill. The second starts at the same spot but heads north up the mountain past Keane Wonder Mill to Keane Wonder Mine. There are additional hikes, alternate routes, and other places to visit. But these seem to be the two routes most often hiked by park visitors.
For my 2018 hike of the Keane Wonder Mine area (for which I was joined by NPS staff member Matt), we carried out what I call the "Master Loop". The Master Loop starts at the parking area and visits the following places in a clockwise direction: Keane Wonder Springs, Keane Wonder Bridge, Cyty's Mill, canyon overlook, Big Bell Extension Mine, Big Bell Mine, upper Keane Wonder Mine, lower Keane Wonder Mine, tramway towers, Keane Wonder Mill, and back to the parking lot. Because the Master Loop does involve some route finding and cross country hiking, it is not recommended for the general public or for tourists. But I will describe the route here for advanced Death Valley hikers or those who would like to read more details about what can be found along the way. According to my tracking information, the Master Loop was about 10 miles in length with 3,400 feet of cumulative elevation gain. The hike starts out from the parking lot by heading northwest to Keane Wonder Springs. The springs are a pretty area that contains streams of water, green grass and brush, several small waterfalls, an impressive rock arch, and an area with poisonous fumes. The key to this area is to spend some time walking around and exploring upstream and downstream, rather than just rushing right past it and moving on. Located in between Keane Wonder Springs and Cyty's Mill is the fantastic formation known as Keane Wonder Natural Bridge. Keane Wonder Bridge is hidden away in one of the small canyons nearby. It is quite a sight to behold in person and it is very colorful. Nearby, there are a number of other interesting formations that are also neat to see. Next up is Johnnie Cyty's 3-stamp Mill and Cabin. Cyty's Mill contains a large mill and equipment (including an ore bin and water tank) which was relocated here to be used when other mining operations failed. This is a very interesting place to check out. It's neat to stand inside the cabin and look out the windows and doorway at the view which Johnnie Cyty would have enjoyed from inside. After this, the steep climbing begins to the north. Almost 1,500 feet of elevation is gained as the old mining trail is picked up just above Cyty's Mill and works its way uphill to the canyon overlook point. The canyon overlook is one of the most special stops on the entire loop and a great place to take a break and enjoy the views. From this vantage point (marked as "trail turns" on Topo Map 2 above), you can look at the cliffs trail ahead, the mountain peaks high above, the spectacular canyon below, and central Death Valley behind you. As the cliffs trail continues on to the northeast, caution is in order. There are some sheer drops down into the canyon and the trail gets fairly narrow at times. Several times, mining remnants are passed, with each one providing a window into the past. Big Bell Extension Mine is reached and the trail turns abruptly to the east and climbs up and around a headwall. About 750 feet in elevation is gained during the 1.3 mile connection between Big Bell Extension Mine and Big Bell Mine. Hiking this portion of the loop requires route finding and it can be easy to get lost. Big Bell Mine is by far the main highlight of the entire loop. There is much more to see here than I could possibly describe or ever show to you with photos. In fact, I took 112 photos just at Big Bell. I only have enough space within the full set of pictures to show you 28 of those. The Big Bell area contains cyanidation tanks, an ore bin, a ball mill, several wagons and vehicles, collapsed living quarters, a repair shack, mining tunnels, an aerial tramway, as well as much more. The Death Valley Historic Resource Study mentions that "the Big Bell mill site is extremely interesting, for it presents a vivid picture of a small-time mining operation of the late 1930s." Backtracking slightly on the trail, it is another 1.3 miles downhill to reach the upper part of Keane Wonder Mine. Both the upper and lower portions of Keane Wonder Mine are neat to check out. There is so much to see packed into a small area. My favorite has to be the upper tramway terminal, where you can still visualize the empty ore buckets arriving from below, circling around to be loaded back up, and being sent downhill to the mill some 1,200 feet below in elevation. The hike concludes by heading farther down the trail toward the lower tramway terminal and observing the tramway towers that helped connect the terminals. Spending some time at Keane Wonder Mill near the parking lot is a great way to wrap up the hike. Before visiting, I highly suggest that you read up on the Keane Wonder area and learn more about what you will be seeing and experiencing. I've also visited nearby King Midas Mine and canyon, which proved to be very interesting and challenging to reach. In conclusion, I would like to thank DVNP Superintendent Mike Reynolds for putting forth great effort to reopen the Keane Wonder Mine area and also all the NPS workers and contractors who successfully made the area safer for park visitors. Our hike of the Master Loop as documented here took place on March 16, 2018.
Please do not enter the mining tunnels of the Keane Wonder area. Potential dangers inside abandoned mines include unseen vertical mine openings, deadly gases, oxygen deficiency, cave-ins, unsafe structures, unstable explosives, and other assorted risks. As the NPS recommends -- Stay Out and Stay Alive! Also, do not climb on mining structures and limit exposure to milling contaminants by staying on trails.
Many more photographs taken during our visit are available for viewing for this destination. To see all of them, choose one of the two options presented below. The two options are Slideshow viewing and Trip Report viewing. The Slideshow option allows for viewing larger images with an autoplay option and a full screen option (available on most browsers). This option works very well for large computer screens and tablets. The Trip Report option allows for viewing smaller pictures in a standard scroll-down format and enlarging of any panoramic photos taken during our visit. Click on the option of your choice to view all of our photos from this destination. The Slideshow format opens in a new browser window and the Trip Report format uses the same browser window for viewing.
TRIP REPORT FORMAT