Skookum Mine contains the ruins of a 1927 mining camp and is located in one of the most isolated areas of Death Valley in a spur of the Last Chance Range called Chuckawalla Hill. Difficulties encountered on the hike include route finding to access the mining camp near the base of Marble BM, carrying out a long hike of 14.6 miles round-trip, and staying safely out of the old mining tunnels. Topographical maps of the hiking route can be found by clicking on the buttons above. GPS coordinates for the parking area are 37.098790, -117.487615. GPS coordinates for the turn into Chuckawalla Canyon are 37.082814, -117.532329. GPS coordinates for Skookum are 37.039558, -117.575401.
Skookum Mine is one of the most seldom-visited mining camps in Death Valley. This is mainly due to the isolated location but also because there are only a handful of mining relics left to check out. The word "skookum" is from the Chinook Jargon language, being coined by Native Americans living in the Pacific Northwest and means "strong, brave, or impressive". The founders of Skookum Mine no doubt wanted to present an appearance of an impressive gold strike. According to what little information I could find, Skookum was likely only active during the years 1926 and 1927, with 1927 being the boom year when gold was heavily mined. This resulted in new machinery being brought in, four houses being built, people living in tents and vehicles at the mining camp, and a saloon being operated out of the back of a truck to provide alcohol for the miners after a long day of work. But it seems that the miners ended up finding a lot more quartz than gold, and thus the mining camp was quickly abandoned around the end of 1927. Our group decided to pay a visit on the 90th anniversary of the camp's peak year of activity. We did this as part of an overnight backpacking trip that would visit Skookum on Day 1 and the summit of Peak 6980 on Day 2. Peak 6980 appealed to us because it looked to have one of the most incredible views of the Eureka Sand Dunes found anywhere in the park. As of the time of this writing, no other photographs of Skookum can be found online and no complete hiking reports are in existence anywhere. Thus, it is our privilege to share this first-ever documented report of a hike to Skookum Mining Camp. Joining me on this trip were my brother Jim, brother Lowell (on his first trip to Death Valley in 10 years), and friend Josh.
To reach Skookum, we parked our high-clearance truck on Big Pine Road adjacent to the closed Skookum Road, which is now just a hiking trail. Having arrived late in the evening, we set up our tents and got through a chilly December night with a few hours of sleep. Waking up the next morning, we emerged from our tents to a spectacular scene with the northern Last Chance Range visible to the west with three major peaks that clearly stood out. The peaks were Marble BM, Peak 6980, and Sandy BM. We had previously driven the Big Pine Road many times, but never stopped at this particular area, which was quite impressive to behold. After loading up our backpacks with the necessary supplies and water (there is no water along this route so everything must be carried with you), we set out into the Last Chance Range. We ended up being a little bit north of the old road as we hiked, and thus the terrain was slightly more challenging to deal with. If anyone follows in our footsteps on this hike, I highly recommend that you try to stay on the old Skookum Road as much as possible. It will make your hiking a lot easier. We eventually joined up with the old road and followed it around a bend as we turned to the southwest and began hiking up Chuckawalla Canyon. (This Chuckawalla Canyon is different from Chuckwalla Canyon in the Panamint Mountains. Notice that the spelling is slightly different as the Last Chance canyon includes the letter "a" in the middle of Chuck-walla. The two canyons are also located on opposite ends of the park.) The hike up Chuckawalla Canyon started out with a very wide canyon to walk through. There proved to be several interesting rock formations as we continued. There were also the remains of what must have been an amazing bloom of Prince's Plume wildflowers. The flowering stalks were as tall as us and plentiful in supply. It would have been nice to see the yellow flowers when they had been in bloom earlier in the year. After 5.4 miles of total hiking, we reached another major junction. One wash turned sharply to the right and headed up toward the mountain summits. A second wash (along with many other drainages) continued straight and headed toward Chuckawalla Hill and Skookum Mine. We dropped our heavy backpacks at this junction and continued up toward Skookum with day packs. We began passing Joshua trees in heavy concentration and the wash became more difficult to deal with. While earlier in the day the wash had been mostly smooth and clear, it was now rough and full of small and large boulders. A couple of miles later, we finally arrived at Skookum and began exploring the ruins of the mining camp scattered around the base of Chuckawalla Hill. There was more to see there than what some sources had claimed, with the highlight being a vintage 1904 stove. You can see pictures of the stove as well as some of the other relics we came across in the included full set of photographs below. Along with being at the mining camp and imagining the flurry of activity which had taken place there 90 years earlier, it was also neat to be at the bottom of Marble BM. The face of Marble BM was fairly colorful and looked so close, although it was actually still some 2,000 feet higher than where we were standing. When we finished checking out Skookum, we hiked back down to the major junction where we had dropped our backpacks, put them back on, and continued hiking up into the mountains. Shortly after it got dark, we set up camp for the night. To continue along with us on our journey, check out the follow-up report covering Peak 6980. Our hike took place on December 8, 2017.
Please do not enter the mining tunnels of the Skookum mining camp 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!
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