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Devil Dogs of Dale & a Baby Buzzworm



Rattlesnake Gary

(Gary Speck)





IT began at 6 A.M. on one of those “Hey-Mable-let's-pack-up-the-old- Edsel-and-move-to-Californy-and-all-that-sunshine” type day way back in April 1995 – nearly 20 years ago.  With temperatures heading for the low-80s, glittering snow frosting the local mountains, and the desert looking like the ever-blooming stock of a commercial nursery, Ghost Town USA was heading towards the Dale Mining District, in the “back-forty” of California’s Mojave Desert. 


In all the years of exploring the desert, as of the date of this trip, I had never visited the Dale Mining District, which is located in the northeast corner of Joshua Tree National Park, about 20 miles southeast of Twentynine Palms. 


Past Twentynine Palms, the state highway heads east into an infinity of Joshua Trees, past occupied and abandoned, crumbling "jackrabbit homesteads".  At mile 14.3 east of the National Park Visitor Center turnoff, a well graded dirt road angles to the southeast.  On the north side of the intersection, a downed water tank and a concrete foundation are all that remains of Old Dale, which dates to the 1880s when it was the base for placer mining prospectors.  Bottle collectors and treasure hunters have dug here for years, many times with mixed results. 


I grabbed my camera, plopped my hat on my head and stepped out of the van twenty feet in front of an onrushing, churning dog tsunami coming from an occupied cabin across the street.




The ferocious, four-legged furballs could have at least wagged their tails in greeting to let me know they wanted my company!  But nooo! 


I nimbly jumped back in the van and smiled inanely to three of the ugliest, snarlingist canines I've ever had the displeasure to meet.  They skidded to a stop, not caring whether I smiled or not.  They took up their macho “I dare you to come out” stance.   With the van window rolled up, my three friends realized they weren't going to have Speck for breakfast, so they stopped barking and started sniffing the van's rims.  Probably smelling markings by local cats, they each took turns hoisting a leg, washing off the desert dust and the smell of the previous liquid marker.


Since getting non-window masked photos was out of the question, I started the engine, flipped on the air-conditioning, and crossed the road, heading southeast on the Gold Crown Mine Road with my ugly, snarling canine escort.  Putting the pedal to the metal, the Devil Dogs disappeared in a plume of white dust and flying gravel.


In 1995, the first 3.7 miles were easily traveled in a passenger vehicle with reasonable road clearance, but a truck or 4X4 would have been better.  At that point the road swings slightly east, and there is a small pullout is on the left.  I parked there, and hoofed it a couple hundred yards up the wash to the remains of the Virginia Dale Mine.  At the time of my visit, all that was left were five large rusted cyanide vats, three battered tanks, a ball mill drum, concrete foundations, rock retaining walls and scattered rubble decorating the sides of a steep-walled draw flowing from the black rocks of a sunburned hill.


The Virginia Dale Mine dates to the early 1900s and was home for 50-60 people.  The gold was rich, but it played out.


Don't go beyond this point unless you have a properly equipped vehicle and off-road driving skill.  In 1995, the road rapidly deteriorated, becoming a four-wheel drive trail until it slipped over a small pass and descended down the east side.  There it was fairly smooth, but within a half mile, sand was encountered.  Since it had rained recently, the sand had been compacted by a vehicle with wider tires than mine, and it was easy running for me in my minivan.


At a point 1.8 miles from the Virginia Dale Mine, the road deteriorated into a pair of sandy wheel tracks as it made an acute turn to the right.  Just a half-mile down that road (which continues straight ahead), faint tracks lead to the east along the south face of the big black hill.  Driving SLOWLY, it took nearly 15 minutes to traverse the 0.9 miles of rough rocky trail to the site of New Dale. Here in the early 1900s a town of 1000 supposedly squatted here.  There is room, and different sources claim different things.  If there was anything, it’s long gone.  Absolutely nothing remains of the old town, except rusty cans, scattered broken glass and a couple square holes surrounded by scrub-covered rock piles that look like they may have been cabins.  After metal detecting for all of 30 minutes and finding nothing but junk, I packed up my trusty old White's Coinmaster 5000, popped off a couple pictures of the site, and hoisted myself aboard the Ghost Town Express. 


I returned to the state highway and the site of Old Dale and didn’t spot my flea-bitten friends.  I quickly drove across the street, grabbed my camera and swung the van around.  I opened my window and shot several pictures just as the Devil Dogs caught sight of me, and the canine tsunami rolled towards me for round two.


To heck with them.  I dropped the tranny into drive, punched the accelerator and gave my furry, four-legged friends their second gravel shower of the day!




Three weeks earlier my family and I camped at Joshua Tree for our annual Spring Break camping trip.  As always we explored a number of mining camps and old ranch sites, both remote and close to campgrounds and roads.  Each year we search out different locations in the park, and over the years have found many sites unknown to most of the Park's casual visitors. 


On that camping trip, it was at a remote site that my "24 exposure" roll of film slipped past 30 exposures.  At number 36 I swallowed hard and opened the camera...NO FILM!  Guess I was trying to go digital in the pre-digital days!  Thankfully I had an extra roll in my pocket, so I loaded it.


Well, that really made my day.  Of course by that time we were clear down at Cottonwood Canyon, in the southeast end of the park.  All the sites I had previously shot were behind us, BUT, I knew I'd return a few weeks later.  Oh well!



So on this fine April afternoon with high cirrus clouds drifting over the sun, muting its brightness, but highlighting the brilliant colors, the doggie-highlighted Ghost Town Express wheels rolled into the Park to reshoot photos at the old Ryan Ranch site.  Since the ranch is only a couple hundred yards from a campground, I figured I’d run in, shoot a roll of film and leave, all in a thirty-minute time frame.  Then I could head home. 


Ah yes!  Easy plans.  No problem….


So here I was alone, in a hurry, wearing tennis shoes and not watching where I was walking.  Actually all I was interested in was camera angles.  I spotted a perfect spot to record a “Kodak Moment” on a flat rock, across a small wash.  I jumped over the wash, landing on top of the rock.  It faced the adobe-walled ruin of the old ranch house.  The sun peeked through the clouds highlighting the weathered adobe brick.  It was the "ultimate shot," so I pressed the button and quickly sidestepped to the right to get a slightly different angle.  As my foot landed, it slipped a bit, and I felt a light thump and a stabbing pain on the inside of my right foot.  I jumped, then limped over to a large, round rock a dozen feet to the right and sat down.  Looking to where I just came from, the nasty spines of one of the area's plentiful small barrel cacti “smiled” back at me.  I figured I'd probably kicked that unmoving pincushion.  Once I peeled my shoe and sock off, a swollen spot looking for all the world like a big mosquito bite with a little hole in the center marked the side of my foot.  Looks like a cactus prick.  I shrugged my shoulders, squeezed the mini-volcano-looking wound to make sure the spine tip didn’t break off inside.  I wiped the oozing blood off with my handkerchief, slipped my sock back on, then my shoe.  It really began to throb, and as I tried to take more pictures, my foot started burning like a bee or wasp sting does. 


Time to head home, so I gimped my way back to the van and we rolled off to the west.


An hour and a half later I got home.  After unloading the van, I sat down to eat the fresh pizza and a cold beer my wife set out for dinner.  I told her about my day and decided to free my sweaty feet from sneaker-jail. I kicked off the left shoe first, peeled off the sock, then untied the right shoe.  As soon as that shoe's pressure was released, pain raced through my foot, up my leg and smacked me between the ears.  Quickly removing the sock, I knew instantly that this wound was NOT caused by kicking a cactus.  My entire instep had become a huge, swollen, angry red and purple mess.


Four hours later, the emergency room doctor checked out my foot and told me it was a rattlesnake bite, but I "was lucky because it didn't inject any venom".  Even so, my foot was swollen and badly bruised.  I missed three days of work, and my foot hurt to walk on for about two weeks.  I'm glad it only “one-fanged” me, and that it was a wimpy one at that! 


If it would only have rattled!


Needless to say, everybody at work called me Rattlesnake Gary for a long time!


Rattlesnake bites can be very serious.  For all my life I've always been careful when in the field, but this time I was in a hurry, not paying attention, yet was VERY LUCKY! Be careful when you are in the field.  WATCH WHERE YOU WALK!



BROOKLYN MINE (San Bernardino Co.)

Rubble remains but is only accessible via FOUR-WHEEL-DRIVE vehicle roads. This early 1900s era gold-mining camp sits just a few feet north of the county line east of the site of New Dale.

·        SW¼ Sec 36, T1S, R12E, San Bernardino Meridian

·        Latitude: 34.0350056 / 34° 02’ 06” N

·        Longitude: -115.6786014 / 115° 40’ 43” W


OLD DALE (San Bernardino Co.)

Concrete rubble remains alongside SH 62, 14.3 miles east of the Twentynine Palms junction of SH 62 with the road to the north entrance of Joshua Tree National Park.

·        SE¼ Sec 35, T1N, R11E, San Bernardino Meridian

·        Latitude: 34.1225027 / 34° 07’ 21” N

·        Longitude: -115.7952722 / 115° 47 43” W


NEW DALE (San Bernardino Co.)

About 4.5 miles southeast of Virginia Dale, on a FOUR-WHEEL-DRIVE ROAD. Nothing remains except scattered rusty cans and some foundation depressions.

·        SW¼ Sec 27, T1S, R12E, San Bernardino Meridian

·        Latitude: 34.0500047 / 34° 03’ 00” N

·        Longitude: -115.7188804 / 115° 43’ 08” W


VIRGINIA DALE (San Bernardino Co.)

3.7 miles southeast of Old Dale, on the Gold Crown Mine Road (graded dirt). Remains include rusty cyanide vats, tanks and mill equipment, concrete foundations, rock walls, and scattered rubble.

·        SW¼ Sec 20, T1S, R12E, San Bernardino Meridian

·        Latitude: 34.0647262 / 34° 03’ 53” N

·        Longitude: -115.75447371 / 115° 45’ 16” W


RYAN RANCH (Riverside Co.)

·        SE¼ Sec 21, T2S, R8E, San Bernardino Meridian

·        Latitude: 33.984730

·        Longitude: -116.151671



This was our GHOST TOWN OF THE MONTH for April 1999.

It was rewritten and reposted for our GHOST TOWN OF THE MONTH for April 2014.




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FIRST POSTED:  April 01, 1999

LAST UPDATED: May 06, 2014




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