Death Valley became a place of legend for people traveling westward, for its extremes and its potential as a place to strike it rich.The modern history of the park is still visible when you visit today due to its status as a protected landscape. There are over 18,000 mining features, including structures such as the aerial tramway towers and terminals at the Keane Wonder Mine. These impressive pieces of our past inspire us to imagine one of many similar stories that took place across not only Death Valley, but much of the west.
Claims were staked in December of 1903, and by 1907 the Keane Wonder Mine was in full operation. The ore buckets you can still observe along the mile-long aerial tramway would have transported 70 tons of gold ore a day during peak production. The extreme environmental conditions that are present in the park today were a factor in the lives of the workers at the mine. Summer temperatures that limit our daytime activities caused equipment to overheat. Reduced spring output made water less abundant and limited production.
By 1912, the value of the Keane Wonder Mine ebbed with a lack of raw material to continue mining profitably, and by 1942 the last attempt to continue operations came to a close. The preserved structures at Keane Wonder inspire us to imagine the miners who walked these same trails in search of a different value in the landscape.
Visiting the park today, we can treasure the unique and varied ecosystems, a rich and diverse human cultural history, and the extremes that continue to push all of us towards different types of exploration and wonder. Though the structures now sit in silence, we can hike up the steep mile-long trail, climbing 1,500 feet in the Funeral Mountains. In this silence, we can imagine the engineering and ingenuity of those involved with the mine, and reflect on a legacy of Death Valley’s past.
Keane Wonder Mine Restoration
From 2008 to 2017, the area was closed for structural stabilization, mine mitigation and soil sampling.
Restoration Work Completed
Stabilization work was done on several aerial tramway towers, and the upper and lower tram terminals. This work included replacing key structural pieces that were rotting, cracked, or otherwise failing, while preserving the integrity of the original designs as much as possible. Please do not climb on the buildings, equipment, or tramway.
Over 50 mine openings were covered. If you happen upon an open mine, stay out for safety reasons.
Soil & Tailings
Multiple rounds of soil sampling were done over a two year period to determine the contents of the tailings and the extent of the tailings spread.
The Keane Wonder Mill and Tramway Area:
Located near the parking area, this site is very accessible. Take a stroll through the area where the mine camp and the mill were located. A short walk up the trail at the end of the road will provide views of the lower tram terminal and the first few tram towers.
The Mining Road and Aerial Tramway:
Walk along the mining road for views of the aerial tramway. The steep trail climbs 1,500 feet in 1.4 miles to the upper tramway terminal and just beyond it, the Keane Wonder Mine.
How to Get There:
Drive the Beatty Cutoff Road 5.7 miles north from Highway 190 to the marked dirt road for Keane Wonder Mine. Continue 2.8 miles to the parking area. The road is typically in rough condition and may require a high clearance vehicle with thick tires.