Exploring Death Valley’s Inyo Ghost Town via Truck Camper

Discovering old ghost towns has made some of our best and most memorable camping experiences—accompanied by an occasional flat tire from the rusty nails and tin cans left buried in the desert. One the best ghost towns can be found at the Inyo Mine in Death Valley National Park in southern California. Unlike many ghost towns found throughout the American West, the ruins of the Inyo Mine are in remarkably good condition, and make for a terrific getaway in a truck camper. For this trip, we took our 2003 Ford F-350 with an Alaskan 10 CO truck camper mounted on top.

Finding the Inyo Mine within Death Valley National Park is fairly easy. The mine is located deep within Echo Canyon and in the Funeral Mountains between Amargosa and Furnace Creek. The Echo Canyon turnoff (a dirt road), is marked on Highway 190, driving a few miles east of the beautiful Furnace Creek Inn. More about the drive to the mine below.

Echo Canyon

Inyo Mine Sights to see

A 4WD truck camper is the best way to get to the mine. When driving in from the west side of Echo Canyon, be on the lookout for the “Eye of the Needle.” This picturesque landmark is a window in the rock with a triangular hole about 10 feet tall, overlooking the scenic gorge. We also got a glimpse of ancient petroglyphs in the upper reaches of the canyon. Continuing up the road, you will see the sign for the Inyo Mine.

Eye of the Needle

Inyo Gold Mine History

Rich, gold-bearing quartz veins were discovered at the Inyo Mine in January 1905. The booming mining camp had its own blacksmith shop, boarding house and store. Due in part to the great financial panic of 1907, the Inyo Gold Mining Company was unable to finance its plans to construct a mill needed to process the ore for shipping. They ran out of funds, forcing it to cease operation in January 1912.

Interest in the mine was renewed around 1935, when the Inyo Consolidated Mining Company leased the claims to rework the old tunnels. The camp was revived with the installation of a 25-ton ball mill and small amalgamation and concentration plant, run by water hauled in from Furnace Creek. In 1939 high-grade ore was struck with 36 tons of ore shipped, valued at $280 per ton. The strike was short lived, however, with the mine closing for good in 1941.

A more complete history of the mines in the Echo Canyon mining district can be read in, Hiking Death Valley by Michel Digonnet. This informative guide also gives details for other interesting hikes in the park.

Cousin Jack Cabin
Inyo Cabin

Today, numerous structures, cabins and mine equipment lie silent, undergoing the slow decay of the desert. We saw the remains of a jaw crusher and ball mill, an arrastra for ore processing, and large diesel engine used to power the ore processing equipment. Another diesel engine and a manual driven cable hoist can be found by hiking further up the steep canyon at the higher elevation mine sites.

Exploring Mine Shafts

The mine has several shafts, both vertical and horizontal, layered up the mountainside. The lower horizontal shaft lies near a wood bunker and mine tailings, which can be explored by a reliable lantern or flashlight. We like to hike with two flashlights, in case one should fail. Headlamps are the most convenient.

Inyo Mine

The cool, eerie darkness of a mine is like nothing else I have experienced. I couldn’t see my hand in front of my face and the only sound I heard was the ringing in my ears. Some mines have water seeping through the rock. Walking back out towards the mouth of the mine gave meaning to the phrase, “seeing the light at the end of the tunnel.” The light was most welcome.

Warning! Enter abandoned mines at your own risk and be on the alert for rattlesnakes and bats that like to make their homes in these dark caverns. MOST mines are NOT stable, and often have poor air supply, making it unwise to enter. Death Valley is working to cover old, caving mines with heavy netting or bars to protect folks from foolish curiosity. Death Valley is deadly enough, especially during the summer, closing the old mines will make it less so.

Dispersed Camping

We found dispersed camping nearby, however, it took quite a bit of blocking to level our Ford-Alaskan Rig. The silent beauty of the sun playing on the deep wrinkles of the mountains and the haunting frames of old houses, gives enjoyment to this reflective spot. We visited in February after a rain storm. The air was free of dust and the old wood siding and rusting metal were freshly washed, providing clarity and contrast to our photographs.

Boondocking at the Inyo Mine, Death Valley

Driving to the Mine

High clearance 4×4 vehicles are a must to reach the mine. Most of the drive is easy along the canyon’s sandy washes. However, there are a couple of more challenging places before reaching the Inyo Mine. A flash flood can change everything, so be sure to know the weather forecast. The most current trail conditions are available at the park ranger stations.

Echo Canyon has one stretch that is impassible over a narrow bedrock cascade that is NOT part of this recommended outing. My adventure loving desert rat drove this rough section—with a spotter to help—in our short wheelbase 4×4 pickup truck years ago. We still have the bent rear bumper as a memento. Only experienced, skillful off-roaders should attempt this dry fall.

Inyo Mine can be reached without going over the cascade section, starting from the junction of Highway 178 and Highway 190, driving 2.1 miles east, past the Furnace Creek Inn on the 190 to Echo Canyon, where the road marker stands on the north side.

Ore Conveyor

Guide Books for Routes

I highly recommend using our go to guide books; The Explorer’s Guide to Death Valley National Park by T. Scott Bryan and Death Valley SUV Trails by Roger Mitchell. These trusty guides offer safety tips and give helpful details for driving and exploring the Death Valley’s back roads.

About Janice Meyers 1 Article
Janice was introduced to "wild camping" in the late 1970's by her husband Pres and she hasn't looked back since. The couple boondocked in Ford F-150 pickup trucks with a camper shell until 2017, when they upgraded to a truck camper – an Alaskan 10 on a Ford F-350 4x4 with a Knapheide utility bed. After a roll-over in their Alaskan camper, the couple repaired the Ford and upsized to a Arctic Fox 990 with a single slide-out.

1 Comment

  1. I loved reading you very well written and photographed piece. I’ve been thinking about making a second truck camper trip to Death Valley and your article encourages me to do it soon!

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