Desert Fever
An Overview of Mining History of the California Desert Conservation Area

Kern County



This district, located some 30 miles east of Mojave, contains the most important source of borax and borate related products the world has ever known. It's discovery led to the closure of every other major borax mine on the West Coast. Together with the Searles Lake deposits, the Kramer District supplies the world with 95 percent of it's boron compounds. This amazing deposit is 1 1/2 miles long, half a mile wide, 200 feet thick, and outcrops nowhere. It was discovered by someone looking for water!

Dr. J. K. Suckow was drilling a well for water 4 1/2 miles northwest of Boron when he discovered colemanite, a borax ore, in October, 1913. After his discovery, mining claims, mostly placer, were located in the area. The Pacific Coast Borax Company, upon recommendation of its field engineer, Clarence Rasor, acquired many of these claims, including the discovery well. The company then started explorations to determine the extent of the orebody. Suckow continued to have an interest in the area, working prospects east of his discovery well.

In 1924, anxious to repeat his good fortune, Suckow sunk a shaft one-half mile away from his first, and he struck basalt at 180 feet . The Pacific Coast Borax Company did their own prospecting in the same area, with almost the same results: basalt at 190 feet. However, persistence paid off. That same year Suckow sunk another shaft just a little south of his last one and found a 70 foot thick bed of colemanite at 210 feet. In 1925 the Suckow Chemical Company produced a few hundred tons of colemanite from this shaft. 64

In the Spring of 1925, William M. Dowsing and J. L. Hannan discovered a huge deposit 120 feet thick just 1 1/2 miles west of Suckow's shaft, which they kept a secret until its extent was proven. Sold to the Pacific Coast Borax Company in early 1926, it became known as the Baker Mine. Beginning production in 1927, it yielded a substantial percentage of the borates produced in the Kramer District until 1935.65

Production began in December, 1929, at the Suckow Mine, located near the Baker Mine. Suckow Borax Mines Consolidated, Ltd. shared half-interest as tenant in common of the Suckow Mine with Borax Consolidated, Ltd. The two companies became involved in litigation which resulted in the closure of the mine in 1932. It was reopened in 1935 as the West Baker Mine with the Borax Consolidated, Ltd. as owners.

The Western Mine, southwest of the Baker Mine, was found in July, 1927, by W. M. Baling who transferred ownership to the Western Borax Company. He remained on as the mine superintendent. Between 1927 and 1933, the Western produced about 160,000 tons of ore before being sold to the Borax Consolidated, Ltd. in mid-1933. These underground borax mines became obsolete when the large open-pit Boron Mine was formally opened in November 1957. The deposit is expected to last several generations. 66

KERN COUNTY-Looking towards the future

Kern is Southern California's “Golden County.” If a gold rush in the California Desert is eminent, it will manifest itself first in Kern County. Gold mines near Randsburg and Mojave contain large reserves of gold ore considered low grade 40 years ago (when gold was worth $35 an ounce and silver, less than $1 an ounce). They are certainly not low grade any longer-and it is quite possible that gold mining will be revived in Kern County on a large scale within years, even months, if present economic conditions persist.

Placer gold is abundant in Kern County but a lack of water presents recovery problems that will make mining this gold on large scale difficult, but not impossible. High-grade gold veins and gold placer pockets yet to be discovered in supposedly worked out mines and districts will provide many small miners and mining companies with modest profits over the next ten years. A few lucky individuals could make fortunes in Kern County during the next gold rush.

Part of the Yellow Aster's glory hole was tested and estimated to contain millions of tons of ore averaging .02 ounce of gold per ton. When screened it ran as high as .06 ounce. The Golden Queen (Kern's second largest gold mine) like the Yellow Aster, was forced to shut down by L-208 in 1942 when it was producing 300 tons of ore a day. Production at the Golden Queen since then has only been 8,000 tons of ore worth $20 to $25 per ton (at $35 an ounce gold). Ore still remaining in the Golden Queen is estimated at $350 to $430 per ton. The Tropico Mine, inactive since 1952, has a tailings dump from its custom mill that contains an estimated 3.75 million dollars in gold at 1975 prices.

Just across the Kern—San Bernardino County line; the Kelly, or California Rand Silver Mine produced over 16 million dollars before production dropped off in 1929. High grade gold ore was discovered on the 19th level of the Williams vein but being too far from the main shaft, the state mine inspector halted work for safety reasons. Silver prices having dropped to 28 cents an ounce, the owners did not wish to sink a new shaft, and sold the mine. Lessees had extracted less than $750,000 in ore from 1933-1937 and no real production has since occurred.

Due south of the Kelly lies the Atolia District. Except for a brief activity during the Korean conflict in the 1950s, and in 1973 when Mines Exploration Inc., was reprocessing old mill tailings, no real production has occurred in this tungsten area since World War II. In 1940, the U.S. Geological Survey reported that, “The Atolia District is not exhausted , but the easily, discovered and richest ore bodies have probably been mined. Future production can be expected from the extension of present ore bodies in depth, new ore shoots in known veins and ore shoots in veins to be discovered... The Flatiron, Papoose, Paradox, and Amity mines have the best chance for future production and will probably provide the bulk of the output.”

Low grade uranium ore is found at several locations around Kern County. Kern will become a modest supplier of this commodity as demand for it increases in order to meet the growing energy needs of our nation. Kern will continue to supply borax, borates and petroleum products for many years to come.

Mines such as the Yellow Aster, Golden Queen, Tropico, Kelly, Atolia and many more are by no means mined out. Today's prices for precious metals are making these mines much more profitable now than they were during their boom days.

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© Larry M. Vredenburgh, Gary L. Shumway, Russell D. Hartill