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Echo Canyon and Inyo Mine, Death Valley, California


It’s now 2011 and only 106 years since the inception of the Inyo Mine in Echo Canyon of Death Valley National Park, California. In January 1905, two prospectors named Maroni Hicks and Chet Leavitt made the mine discovery in Echo Canyon. By March the two men returned loaded with provisions and took out more claims in the area. In May the men had twenty claims and began to dig a tunnel in June on one of them. By summer the Hick and Leavitt property was the most prominent and talked about in the Echo-Lee District.

Hicks and Leavitt were able to convince investors to go in on their purchase of the Inyo Mine. The capitalists were interested and by August nine of their 20 claims were bonded to Mr. Tasker L. Oddie for $150,000 and Mr. Charles Schwab for the remainder for $100,000. The arrangement was for Mr. Schwab to pay the prospectors $5,000 on September 1st, if he was to move forward with the purchase of the gold mine. Mr. Oddie was to pay $5,000 on December 1st with the remainder paid in one year.

Schwab never did pay his portion and never tried to develop any plans. Mr. Oddie did move forward and his men began working the Inyo Mine. The men soon developed a deep shaft that went 50 feet down. The farther down the miners went in the mine the more ambitious their plans grew. Talk began of the development of a mill with a tramway and electrical power plant to cut off the presently used 35 mile drive to Rhyolite, Nevada. The present road was so winding, Mr. Oddie highly considered constructing the new wagon road to Rhyolite even at a cost of $1,500. The road never materialized when Mr. Oddie let his option expire in November due to a misunderstanding of the terms.

The Inyo Mine claims were then bonded to two Colorado capitalists for a payment of $10,000 to be paid upfront with the balance of $140,000 due later that year. The deal was never sealed when the Colorado men were unable to raise the cash or refused to move forward in their option.

The Inyo Gold Mining Company was sold in December to Utah promoters L. Holbrook and associates. The company sold stock for $1 each, with a capitalization of $1,000,000. By March the mine was 100 feet deep and employed nine men. Chet Leavitt retained his interests in the mine and served as VP of the company, and directed the mining operations.

By June, the Rhyolite Herald newspaper hailed a big gold strike at the Inyo Mine. When the blistering heat of the summer months set in, virtually all mining work ceased at the mine when temps could rise as high as 120 degrees. By 1906 no shipments were made when work progressed slowly although a new 73 foot shaft was completed.

When the mine reopened in 1907 three new shafts at depths of 100, 73 and 30 feet had been tunneled out. Chet Leavitt was still working the mine directing all operations as superintendent. By February 20 men were working the mine. A commissary store was in the works. Water was now hauled 8 miles away from Furnace Creek. The town kept growing to support the growing number of miners working the Inyo Gold Mine. A new boarding house and commissary for groceries was built. The local newspapers wrote about the boom in the new gold fields along the Nevada-California border. The town continued to grow until the Panic of 1907 set in and forced the Inyo Gold Mine into bankruptcy.

We were just at the Inyo Gold Mine in late 2009. It is interesting to see that a little over one hundred years later, we as a nation, are in another financial crisis. Guess it’s true that history does repeat itself. Regardless of whether you know the history of Inyo Mine or not, it’s still worth a visit. But be forewarned, the road is bumpy and requires a four-wheel drive vehicle.

Let’s go!

Lisa's book on our early adventures and her tact to balance work life and cave exploration