People Keep Stealing Real and Fake Artifacts From Old Joshua Tree Gold Mining Sites

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For many years, hikers who made the trek deep into Joshua Tree’s southeastern corner might happen upon the former homestead and mine of a gold prospector long since departed. Often strewn across the floors and shelves of these homesteads were magazines, canned food, tools, and other vintage ephemera of the miner’s era. So few people accessed the sites, though, that park officials never kept track of the artifacts. After a mention in a local paper, however, park officials noted a significant uptick in the amount of visitors to what are known as Carey’s Castle and the El Cid Mine. Around that time, they also noticed many of the artifacts had gone missing.



Inside Carey’s Castle via yikai1 / Creative Commons

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Carey’s bed via Laura Camp / Creative Commons

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Shelves of artifacts inside Carey’s Castle via Eric / Creative Commons

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Artifacts left inside Carey’s Castle via Eric / Creative Commons

Joshua Tree park officials didn’t make any rash decisions at the time of the thefts, and even, according to park Superintendent David Smith, “bought some artifacts to replace the original ones.” Then the replacement artifacts got stolen too. This is why we can’t have nice things. In response to this second round of thefts, park officials are closing the two areas for “at least a month” while they figure out an “enforcement and surveillance strategy.”

The park may need a more comprehensive strategy on monitoring mine sites, as Joshua Tree National Park boasts some 531 “mine features,” according to a 2013 National Park Services report. At the time of that report, the NPS was in the process of trying to eliminate hazards at dozens of abandoned mines in the park (plugging mine shafts, erecting fences, posting warnings). In fact, vandals might get more than they bargain for when excavating former mine sites—in 2000, active dynamite was found underground at the El Cid Mine and had to be removed by professionals.

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Image via National Parks Services report

Unfortunately, this is not the first time the ugliest traits of the modern world have shown themselves in Joshua Tree. A French graffiti artist called “Mr. Andre” caught flak for tagging boulders in the park back in 2013 and portions of Barker Dam and Rattlesnake Canyon have been closed on and off over the past three years in response to an outbreak of graffiti. Fortunately, not everyone who paints in Joshua Tree is so destructive.

· Looting prompts closures at mining sites in Joshua Tree [LA Times]

· Interim Inventory and Assessment of Abandoned Mineral Lands in the National Park System [National Parks Service Report]

· Take a Lovely Video Journey Into Joshua Tree in Darkest Night [Curbed LA]

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