Hike three high points and view the historic Lost Horse Mine along this western Joshua Tree NP trail.
Starting in Quail Wash.
Overview: Make the Lost Horse Loop hike even more interesting by bagging a few peaks along its route to get a feeling of the vastness of Joshua Tree NP and wilderness, with views of San Jacinto Peak in Palm Springs. Check out the plaque that commemorates Lost Horse Mine stamp mill, one of the best-preserved of its kind in our national park system.
Coordinates: Lost Horse Mountain = 33°.56'13.74" N 116°.08'10.01" W.
Navigational aids: Trails Illustrated Joshua Tree National Park #226 map.
Date Hiked: 4/10/22
Geology: The Lost Horse Loop trail and mine is located in granitic quartz biotite gneiss (metamorphic) related to Pinto gneiss age 1.7 billion years ago - some of the oldest rocks in California. Biotite is dark mica mineral. The Lost Horse Mountains are one of only three occurrences of basalt in Joshua Tree NP.
Cattle rustlers and Gold Mining in Lost Horse Valley
If you were a cattle rustler in the 1870's southwest, you would look for a remote and hidden area with enough water and good stands of trees and plenty of native grasses and other vegetation to feed your "stock". A place where the nearest law enforcement officials were at least 50 miles away. For the McHaney brothers, this place turned out to be the higher, western side of what is now Joshua Tree National Park, in Lost Horse Valley and Hidden Valley. Bill McHaney's gang took cattle from Mexico and Arizona to hide them in other Joshua Tree valleys as well, then returned stolen horses.
Johnny Lang also drove cattle into Lost Horse Valley after his brother was gunned down in New Mexico. He woke up one morning to find his horse gone. He tracked it to the McHaney's place but was told to leave the area. Luckily, Lang met "Dutch" Frank who had discovered a mining claim, but was afraid to set up mining operations because he was also being hassled by the McHaney gang. Lang bought the rights to the mine and called it "Lost Horse", after enlisting three partners to protect the claim against claim jumpers in 1893. The Lost Horse Mine ultimately produced 10,500 ounces of gold and 16,000 ounces of silver. Today, the Lost Horse Mine stamp mill is considered one of the best preserved in a National Park service unit.
We hiked three high points along this loop. The most interesting summit was Peak 5196 because of the columnar basalt at the top. In a land dominated by granite, this is one of only three occurrences of basalt. From its summit, just northeast of the trailhead, are extensive views of Queen Valley to the east and Lost Horse Valley to the west. A few days before, we had hiked Mt. Minerva Hoyt, named after the woman instrumental in President Franklin Roosevelt's proclamation to designate Joshua Tree National Monument.
Sign at trailhead. We hiked the trail counter-clockwise.
Our Hike in the Mojave
As the road to Lost Horse Trail climbs to around 4,000 feet elevation in the western, Mojave desert section of Joshua Tree NP, the amount of Joshua trees, junipers and yuccas is more prevalent compared to lower, dryer Sonoran desert Pinto Basin to the east at 1,700 feet. Although it's a moderately-used trail, you get the feeling of remoteness surrounded by mountain ranges. The trail circles Lost Horse Mountain, trekking through Quail Wash and over juniper and shrub-covered hills darkly punctuated by scattered gneiss boulders.
By the time we got back to the trailhead parking lot, it was full. Another fun day in Joshua Tree's Mojave desert. The three extra summits were the "icing on the cake" - worth the effort.
Time and Space in the Desert
Joshua Tree is an awe-inspiring land shaped by Earth's events spanning the Proterozoic alteration of pre-existing rocks into gneiss, to the five Proterozoic through Cretaceous intrusions of plutons that produced gold and silver and its famous sculpted rocks, to the relatively recent faulting that uplifted mountains and blocked canyons. A landscape that has a tumultuous origin, but a relaxing presence. Dark and rubbly mountains spring out of flat, buff - colored valleys. A slight haze of dust still hangs in the air after last night's wind storm. I stand looking over it all - breathing space. Back straightens, chest raises, diaphragm brings in creosote and sand-scented air. To some, this expanse and space feels intimidating; to me it feels comfortable. To some it looks formidable with its hot, dry stillness and sharp- spined cacti; but I admire their motivation to survive under the hot, penetrating sun. To walk in browns and buffs for awhile and then suddenly come upon magenta and bright yellow cactus blooms is cause for celebration. I remember liking these ragged and gangly Joshua trees and contrasting smooth, rounded boulders the first time I saw them 38 years ago. I revel in the sublime space and quiet that calms my mind. Grateful for the feeling of being connected to this land.
"Time and space. In the desert there is space. Space is the twin sister of time. If we have open space then we have open time to breathe, to dream, to dare, to play, to pray to move freely, so freely, in a world our minds have forgotten but our bodies remember. We remember why we love the desert; it is our tactile response to light, to silence, and to stillness."
- Terry Tempest Williams
Never Stop Exploring!
From summit of Point 4959, looking at Malapai Hill.
Beautiful 1.7 billion-year old gneiss - and hedgehog (?) cactus.
Circling around Lost Horse Mountain (on far horizon) to hike up its northeast ridge.
Remains of a very sturdy fire place and bed frame.
Our first summit - Point 4959.
Three types of rock: great example of gneissic banding - a textural lineation of minerals in metamorphic rock created by pressure and intense heat (foreground). Malapai Hill in middle of valley created by magma. Valley rock is monzogranite.
Looking at Lost Horse Mountain from the slopes of Point 4959. You can see Lost Horse Trail as it climbs to the saddle on its northeast ridge. Hike that ridge to the summit.
Some cool stuff on the trail.
Summit of Lost Horse Mountain
From Lost Horse Mountain's ridge: a view of Lost Horse Mine.
Lost Horse Mine stamp mill through chain-link fence.
Walking up to Point 5196.
Beavertail cactus just before the blooms.
Columnar basalt on Point 5196.
California Geology. 1998. Department of Conservation, Division of Mines and Geology.
Dilsaver, L.M. 2015. Joshua Tree National Park: A History of Preserving the Desert. Prepared for National Park Service, Joshua Tree National Park, Twentynine Palms.
Joshua Tree Geology Tour Road.
Joshua Tree National Park Geology - Rock Types. Digital-Desert: Mojave Desert.
Trent, D.D. Geology and History of MInes, Joshua Tree National Park.
About this blog
Exploration documentaries – "explorumentaries" list trip stats and highlights of each hike or bike ride, often with some interesting history or geology. Years ago, I wrote these for friends and family to let them know what my husband, Fred and I were up to on weekends, and also to showcase the incredible land of the west. I hope to hear about your adventures!
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