Quail Mountain, Ryan Mountain, Lost Horse Mountain

26 October 1996

By: Penelope May


This was a week-end in Joshua Tree billed in the Big Schedule as "relax, camp under a full moon and bag a few listed peaks" so ... it sounded idyllic.. especially considering the probability of warm, but not hot, high desert October weather. It came as a bit of a surprise, therefore, that some participants aborted due to gale force winds trying to blow their cars off the freeway. The undeterred early birds on Friday night selected the most sheltered spot in our group campsite at Sheep Pass and managed to stake down tents firmly enough to ensure temporary permanence! Dinner and a roaring fire in the same location were further offensives against the ever increasing (bitter) wind.

On Saturday morning, two hiking groups set off. Lena Hayashi and Wiley Wohlff lead the "easy" hike up Ryan Mountain, 3 miles round trip on trail, with 1,100 feet of gain pitched against the wind - their afternoon was spent in various (indoor) museums sheltering from the weather! Tom Hill, assisted by Penelope May, led a stout hearted group of 6, 12 miles round-trip, with 3,100 feet of gain, cross country to the summit of Quail Mountain. The wind, relentless and bone-chilling, was an added attraction to the already vigorous hike. At times, we had to pause and hold onto rocks as the powerful wind tried to lift us off the mountain. Thank you Goretex! Tom, in addition to accurately weaving his way up (and down) a potentially confusing series of bumps, gullies and rock piles to the peak, enthused enough to keep our spirits up. As we returned to camp, the temperature (mellow October) was dropping into the 30s: fortunately we had plenty of wood and a cozy fire welcomed us back to camp, thoughtfully created by the less intrepid! By this time, those who were concerned about freezing to death on this so-called relaxing week-end had gone home.

The following day was even crisper. But, clothed with everything available, the remaining group set off, lead by Lena Hayashi, assisted by Penelope May, to Lost Horse Mountain, via a cross country route which included the Lost Horse Mine. Lena regaled us with the historic background to our hike, which enormously enriched the experience. According to her research, the Lost Horse Mine was the most successful operation of its kind in Joshua Tree. It was named by Johnny Lang, a man of questionable character, who said he was searching for his lost horse in the area. He had stumbled upon and befriended Frank Diebold who sold him the rights to a rich gold prospect which Diebold was unable to claim due to the lawlessness during that time. In 1895, Lang became partners with the Ryan brothers who erected a 10-stamp mill and installed a water line from the mine to their ranch at Witch Spring which was renamed the Lost Horse Well. The mine was a boom and produced 9,000 troy ounces of gold in the first 10 years. Lang was eventually discovered stealing from the Ryans and was forced to sell out his partnership or go to jail. Soon afterwards, the gold vein was lost and the mine abandoned.

Lang drifted about for years staying in abandoned cabins, shooting other ranchers' cattle for food, and selling the gold embezzled from the Ryans when needed. When his eyesight and health began to fail, he tied his four burros near his cabin and shot and ate them one by one. On Jan. 10, 1925, Bill Keys found a note tacked on Lang's shack stating that he was going to town for supplies. He never returned and his mummified body was found 3 months later by workers on the construction of the Keys View Road. He was buried on the spot and his grave may be seen today just west of the Keys View Road, a hundred feet north of the junction with the Lost Horse Mine road.

As we returned to the camp at about 3 in the afternoon, enriched by knowledge and invigorated by exercise, snowflakes were falling! It seemed a good time to call it quits on all this fun and strike camp. We did so with the great glee of those who had survived a gale and snow storm in the high desert in the tranquil days of fall!


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