Yesterday our friend Lynn Goodfellow, who owns the Pine Creek Mill property, invited us to come up and explore the mines and backcountry above his house.
For those that don’t know, Pine Creek is the valley between Mt. Tom and Wheeler Ridge, just north of Bishop.
There is a locked gate to get there, and much of the land is inaccessible without his permission, so we took him up on the offer. Boy, are we glad we did.
Most of the mines are way up above Pine Creek, on the southwestern side of Wheeler Ridge. They were opened in 1916 by Union Carbide, and became some of the most productive tungsten mines in the world. Because of its durability and hardness, tungsten is used for heavy-duty machinery, bullets, armor, and light-bulb filaments. During World War II, much of the world’s tungsten came from Pine Creek and, according to Lynn, the US would not have won the war without the tungsten from those mines.
We took his Razor, which is Polaris’ version of the Rhino, up the old road from his place. It was a well-maintained road when the mine was in use but Lynn has had to do lots of work with an excavator to keep it usable.
The road immediately above the mill was steep, bumpy, and dangerous with a huge drop on one side, and loose scree on the other. Lynn, who has been involved in several death-defying accidents in his time (check here and here), didn’t seem too worried, so we trusted him. This part of the road looked just like The White Mountains. The trees even looked like Bristlecones.
After the switchbacks above the mill, we got out onto an alpine plateau where the wildflowers were in bloom along Morgan Creek. We continued up and along the back side of Wheeler Ridge from there, toward the mines. Goodfellow has 188 acres up there that look out onto the Bear Claw Spire, Mt. Morgan, and beyond. We stopped at a plateau above Lower Morgan Lake and Goodfellow showed us where the old bunkhouse was for the miners–much of which has been taken down and covered in dirt as part of a reclamation project.
I won’t get too deep into the history of the mines. I am not very familiar with the history of it but there is a book that is. Goodfellow is going to get a copy for us which I look forward to reading. It has old photos of the mine when it was in use which will be interesting to compare with our photos.
This story and photos are too long for just one post, so I’ll stop there for now. Check back in later in the week for the rest, which may be better than the beginning!
Here is a waterfall that runs next to the mill. There is a series of pools that were used as a generators and for splitting tungsten from the ore.
This is one of the towers for the tram that carried the ore from the mine to the mill. It’s made of wood and it’s a real engineering feat, especially given the era in which it was erected.
This is the road with Mt. Tom in the background. Goodfellow made this part of the road passable with his excavator. He could make a smooth road to the top, but he wants to keep it rough so that it’s tougher to get up.
Here is the mill from the edge of one of the switchbacks. See how steep it was?