Skip to content

Visiting the Haunted Lost Horse Mine in Joshua Tree National Park

Joshua Tree National Park in all its glory is situated within the boundary of two deserts in California: the higher Mojave Desert and the lower Colorado Desert. It protects crucial habitat for endemic species and hundreds of archaeological and historic sites. For decades it has held the imagination of all who visit for decades, but the real question tends to be, is Joshua Tree National Park haunted? And when you ask the locals the answers tend to be “absolutely” and without hesitation. Virtually everyone I know in Joshua Tree has a story.  It’s not so unusual to find reports of hauntings, UFO sightings, paranormal activity, owl-men creatures, the Hexi-Hum, and people that go missing in the desert for no apparent reason.

However, trying to cut through the urban legends and myths and pinpoint actual credible evidence, is an entirely different story. As a Los Angeles native, I’ve been going out to Joshua Tree since 2007 but trying to uncover its mysteries has always felt elusive in some way and the line between myth and fact is blurred. But fear not, I have one source who wrote a book using an alias and claims to have been a JTNP Ranger inside the Park for over 20 years.  The mysterious man published the book and I read it cover to cover then – yep, you guessed it – he and his book vanished into thin air without a trace. Thankfully, I still have a copy and I’ll go more into that later. 

So, the purpose of this article is to share my experience exploring the historic and maybe haunted, Lost Horse Mine trail in Joshua Tree National Park. I will go over, the history, how to get here, where to go and what to pack, and what I saw.  I wanted to check out this trail because of the ghost stories associated with it, but first, let’s dig into the history. I also included a walking map and directions for my favorite places to eat and shop right before entering the Park as well as the Park details. 

A Brief History of Lost Horse Mine

#johnnylang #losthorsemine #hauntedlosthorsemine #jtnp #joshatree  

The history behind the mine is a fascinating one, filled with suspicious characters and nefarious deeds. Johnny Lang, pictured above, originally developed the mine in the 1890s and set up a two-stamp mill to process gold. A wealthy rancher  from Montana named J.D. Ryan purchased the mine from Johnny Lang in 1895 and kept him on as an employee. Ryan erected a steam-powered, ten-stamp mill and ran a water pipeline for 3.5 miles to power the operation.  But wait, how could anyone out in the middle of nowhere run a pipeline 3.5 miles in 1895?  But, now that I think of it, the Romans ran pipelines for aqueducts more than 60 miles across vast landscapes over two thousand years ago so I guess, it’s possible. 

The mine continued producing gold until 1905, when the miners hit a fault line and forever lost the ore-bearing vein.  As the story goes, Ryan became suspicious that the mill wasn’t producing as it should. He eventually discovered that Lang was keeping half the gold for himself during the refining process. Lang was fired but came back years later to find the gold that he had hidden away in a secret stash. 

The aging prospector moved on to a deserted cabin in an area near Hidden Valley, later named Johnny Lang Canyon, where he worked a smaller claim. He moved into Keys’ Desert Queen Ranch for a time, but the arrangement was never comfortable because of Johnny’s reputation as a thief. When the Lost Horse Mine was finally abandoned, Lang returned to his former haunt, taking up residence in an old shack that had served as a kitchen.

Lang began selling large amounts of gold to Keys, too great a quantity to have come from his small mine in Johnny Lang Canyon. Keys and others believed that the miner was secretly refining the amalgams he had skimmed and buried in earlier years.

To sustain himself during this time, Lang shot and ate livestock belonging to a local cattleman named C.O. Barker. When his health declined and his eyesight weakened, Lang turned to shooting and eating his burros.

According to the stories, in the winter of 1925, he set out to walk to town for supplies, but being sickly he died of exposure along Keys View Road. Bill Keys found his body two months later and buried him where he lay.

  #johnnylanggrave #johnnylange

Johnny Lang’s grave site, the Desert Queen Ranch, and the remnants of the Lost Horse Mine can be seen at Joshua Tree National Park. For more information, stop in at the Twentynine Palms Visitors Center.

Source: For a full account of the story is available on the National Park Service’s Lost Horse Mine web page.

Our Hike | Mid-March 2024 

    

The Lost Horse Mine was one of the over 300 mining claims which were staked in what is now Joshua Tree National Park”  Or at least that’s the official story but according to my source inside the Park, there were more like a 1,000 abandoned mines in the Park dating back to Native American and Spanish.  Nowadays, most of those mines have been sealed off and the locations are not told to the public and you want to know why? Because of reported hauntings and other paranormal activity, seriously.  People used to call 911 and report people screaming down in abandoned mines so the Park sealed them up, according to my source which we will get to shortly. 

How to Get There

#joshuatreemap #mapofjoshuatree #mapofjtnp

The Lost Horse Mine is located on a peak of the San Bernardino Mountains of the Mojave Desert between Lost Horse Valley to the west and Pleasant Valley to the east.  After entering the Park off the West entrance (off Highway 62) you will need to drive in about 15 miles into the Park. Once you get to Keys View Road, take a right and drive for 2.5 miles until reaching Lost Horse Mine Road. Take a left and follow the dirt road for 1 mile to the small parking lot that also has a restroom. Note: if you see a sign that says “Lot Full” just go in and take a look. When I saw that sign, I went in to find the lot mostly empty. For more directions and advice on where to go, eat, and check out, more info is at the bottom. 

The Lost Horse Mine Trail begins with a short historical information station and the trail is over two miles each way. If it’s really hot, I would seriously bring an umbrella and a lot of water to stay cool. My friend and I went in mid-March so it was about 70 degrees in the day (and 45 at night) so it was perfect hiking weather.  We walked for over a mile until the majestic Joshua trees and giant rock formations gave way to a vast and endless landscape of scrub brush and rolling hills, all the time never seeing another person. I should note that Joshua Tree National Park is not a desert per se, but rather a desert with a rocky mountain range and rock formations everywhere, and that is what makes it beautiful and dangerous. Dangerous because it’s so easy to get lost or lose sight of a parking lot easily.  If you think this desert is flat, it’s t not.  The Lost Horse Mine lies at an elevation of 5,003 feet above sea level and that’s why deserts in this elevation are called the “high deserts” while other deserts in places like Palm Springs for example are called the “low deserts.” Also, every time I’m out in that desert, I get the feeling that I am being watched, and with rocky outcroppings everywhere, perhaps I am!  

Along the way, it was a little surreal to discover that the ground was covered with what looked like gold dust, and I’d never seen that before. You can see my friend Kurt with a piece of that gold rock above, crazy! 

Eventually, we passed the two-mile mark and we saw the Lost Horse Mine way up and perched up on a hill in the distance. We followed the winding road which led to the base of its hill. Once there at the base, my friend decided to wait on the trail as I trekked. 

The mine out in the distance

When I got way up there, I climbed up the last part and as I got closer, the area was still strewn with remnants of mine debris as I made the final ascent to the mining complex itself.  The Park Service has recently stabilized several collapsing mine shafts which threatened to take the remaining parts of the ten stamp mill.  The ten-stamp mill lies beyond a fence line but appears to have weathered more than a century fairly well.  It baffling to consider the engineering that dates back to 1895 not to mention how remote it must have been to get that stuff up there in the 1800s. 

So is it Haunted? 

The story says the mine is haunted by the ghost of the miner, Johnny Lang, who maybe stole a bunch of gold, but for sure died out there. Legend has it that his spirit still roams the area, looking for his lost gold.  For me, I think it haunted, or at least it feels that way.  I believe that Joshua Tree is a mysterious place and sometimes in a dark way, and for a lifelong resident of California, that says a lot. There is a silence in the air that I have never felt anywhere else in the world.  I used to own land out in Joshua Tree and the silence was so deafening, I didn’t feel safe being out there by myself.  The stillness is so bizarre, again, I never felt anything like it before. 

The Evidence is Out There

As I researched this topic, I found two sources that spoke directly of hauntings in this location.  The second source is the WKNDR website which warns: 

image from WKNDR website

“The mine is said to be haunted by the ghost of a miner who was killed in a tragic accident. Legend has it that his spirit still roams the area, looking for his lost gold.

As you hike the trail, keep an eye out for strange noises and unexplained movements. Some hikers have reported feeling a cold breeze, despite the hot desert temperatures. Others claim to have heard the sound of pickaxes hitting rock, even though there’s no one around. The Lost Horse Mine Trail is a spooky adventure that’s not for the faint of heart.”  source: WKNDR website 

I read that article before I went hiking and the whole time I was out there I was listening for the sound of pickaxes hitting rock or a cold breeze hitting me but that didn’t work either. But that sounds so freakin cool!!! I love stories like that!!

#paranormaljoshuatree #rangerx

However, I did manage to find a direct and reliable source that speaks to ghost stories in the area and that was none other than the illusive and mysterious, Ranger X and his book that disappeared without a trace, Paranormal Joshua Tree. The book was written by a JTNP Ranger who had allegedly worked in the Park for over 20 years.  He responded to one story that sent chills down my spine.  According to him, there is a mine, right around the Lost Horse Mine area, where people kept reporting hearing a woman screaming down in the mine, can you imagine?  Each time the unsuspecting hikers would call the Police and the Fire Dept. and Park Rangers would investigate to once again, find nothing and no one down there.  After a decade or so, it became predictable that the report, along with others like it, became a reality of working in JTNP.  The mine with the screaming female ghost has been since shut its whereabouts hidden from the public but I wonder if you are out there at night, could you still hear the ghost screaming down in the mine? And if you think that is crazy, Ranger X and his book unearthed even wilder stories of paranormal activity, UFO sightings, owl-men, Hexi Hums, ghosts, hauntings, and missing persons.  Thank you, Ranger X, and I aim to pick up the torch and continue to bring light to the mystery and magic that is Joshua Tree.

 

Directions and Places to Visit Along the Way

When you are on your way to visit Joshua Tree National Park you may want to build in some time in the morning or on your way back to visit a few places on the intersection of Highway 62 and Park Blvd. Most likely you will be heading to the Park eastbound on Highway 62 (see map) and when you get to Park Blvd., park your car.

First stop, visit The Joshua Tree Visitor Center located at 6554 Park Blvd.  It’s a great place to stop and get a map or additional information from the experienced staff that works there. The center also has restrooms and gifts including the best picture postcard selection. Check out their website in advance to help you plan your visit here. 

Next, visit Coyote Corner Gift Shop located just across the street at 6535 Park Blvd. This funky gift shop sells not only Joshua Tree-themed gifts and souvenirs but also locally made art and camping supplies.  Check out their website here.

Next, I will recommend three places to eat.  First, my favorite place to eat is the Joshua Tree Saloon on the corner, at 61835 29 Palms Hwy. This place is perfect for when you are on the way out of the Park and is best suited for lunch or dinner. Note: you will have a 40-minute wait for a table but don’t let that deter you, just plan, grab a drink, and know it’s well worth the wait.  Regarding the menu, my friend swears by the Grilled Flat Iron Steak while I love their Famous Fish Tacos. Check out their website here.  Other places to eat, which are better suited for breakfast, are the JT Country Kitchen at 61768 29 Palms Hwy., website here, or visit the Crossroads Cafe located at 61715 29 Palms Hwy., website here. 

Joshua Tree National Park Fee Information

Now it is time to head into the Park.  Before heading in, check your gas tank and turn around if you have less than 1/4 of a tank of gas. There is a 76 Station just a block away on Highway 62.  For more tips on what to bring with you, see the list at the bottom of this page. 

The fee to enter Joshua Tree National Park is $30 per vehicle which is good for seven days. I recommend buying the America the Beautiful Interagency Pass, however, which costs $80. This allows entry to all National Parks for an entire year, as well as most federal lands (including National Forests, Bureau of Land Management, and more).

Lost Horse Mine Trail Information

The Lost Horse Mine is located on a peak of the San Bernardino Mountains of the Mojave Desert between Lost Horse Valley to the west and Pleasant Valley to the east.  After entering the Park off the West entrance (off Highway 62) you will need to drive in about 15 miles into the Park. Once you get to Keys View Road, take a right and drive for 2.5 miles until reaching Lost Horse Mine Road. Take a left and follow the dirt road for 1 mile to the small parking lot that also has a restroom. Note: if you see a sign that says “Lot Full” just go in and take a look. When I saw that sign, I went in to find the lot mostly empty. 

The trail is about a 4-mile round trip and climbs to 515 feet elevation.  It’s not difficult but I wouldn’t do it in the heat of the summer, or at least try to leave before 11 am if possible.  Check out Alltrails.com here or click the map below. 

Note: there’s also another trail to Lost Horse Mine called the Lost Horse Mine Loop Trail which is a total of 6.8 miles with 882 feet of elevation.

  • Starting Elevation – 4603 feet
  • Highest Elevation Point – 5063 feet

Preparing for a Hike in Joshua Tree

When planning your hike, remember that you are entering a desert environment and pack accordingly. There are no stores or restaurants once you enter the park, so you should come prepared with everything you need for your visit.  The only thing in the park is convenient parking lots and bathrooms, but that’s it.  If you have to charge your phone, note, there is no electricity in the Park. Also note that daytime temperatures can get hot, especially in the summer months, so be prepared with adequate sun protection and plenty of water.  Today, on July 5th, 2024 it was reported to be 109F in JT.  That would make walking 4 miles in direct sunlight pretty much a 7 am hike. 

Hiking Gear

This list includes some of my favorite gear for day hiking.

  • Hiking Shoes – Sturdy hiking or walking shoes are a must.  Remember, the desert has scorpions and snakes so leave the flip-flops at home. Your feet and ankles should be protected at all times.  
  • Daypack – In my day pack or backpack, I always carry with me the following: one large bottle of water, a map, sunscreen, a hat, a power bank, and a light jacket – even in the summer because at night (if you get lost) the temperature drops.  
  • Electronics – if you are using your phone for navigation, bring a portable battery backup for sure.  I recommend the Anker Power Bank or this smaller Anker Power Bank travel size here. For longer hikes or backpacking trips, consider bringing a Garmin inReach Mini 2, Satellite Communicator. This is a Personal Locator Device (PLB) that enables you to trigger a SOS call to search and rescue and 2-way texting over satellite. These links above are associate links on Amazon.  However and that said, if my kids went out there or any State Park, I’d gladly pay for the satellite communicator without hesitation. 

Thanks for reading and next up, I am heading back to England in July 2024 to explore Stonehenge, the Rollright Circle, and many other cool places! If you have any questions or comments, always connect with me HERE or scan my QR code below. 

Explore with me the past, the present, and beyond.

Sharon M. Fitzgerald, MA                                                                                                            U.S. History/Gov teacher. Frm. adjunct art history professor.

en_USEnglish