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Holidays Hunting For The Kopper King Mine

kopperking 0508 We were glad to see several major retailers agree to stay closed on Black Friday this year and encourage everyone to head outside over the holidays. Shortly after moving to Southern California, we realized that many people here spend the holidays in the desert. Now, it has become one of our favorite traditions (not that we ever need an excuse to pack up the Jeep and head out on the trails). Holidays are about spending time with friends and family, and appreciating the important things in life. But, who says you have to be indoors to do just that?

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We set out to explore the trails in Panamint Valley, situated between the Panamint Range and the Argus Range in Southern California. We decided to base camp on this trip and set up at the Whittaker Iron Mine near the southern end of the Nadeau Trail. The trail to the mine was rough enough to keep casual travelers away, but after four days, we started to regret that decision. Especially the night we returned to camp after dark.

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The weather was cold and windy, and the firewood we had purchased on the way out was damp and wouldn’t burn. We retreated to our cozy tent after dinner so we could get an early start in the morning. It was so cold the next morning that we didn’t want to climb out of the sleeping bag. The sun wasn’t up yet, but the full moon was shining brightly. A little coffee and time spent by the fire helped get our day going.

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After breakfast, we headed out in search of the Kopper King cabin and mine in the Argus Range. The trailhead was just a few miles away from camp. It began as a flat and easy trail through the valley.

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Before we reached the base of the mountains, we spotted a vehicle at the top of a hill and decided to go see what was up there. At the top we met Bill and Marilyn, along with their son and granddaughter.

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Although many rock hounds and prospectors aren’t eager to share their finds, the family was very welcoming of our intrusion. We had a great time talking with them. Bill told us that this mine contains a special kind of opal known as Death Valley Opal, and that years ago it had been used to make kitchen countertops. He was working a nice vein and we watched as he removed a sizable chunk of beautiful rock.

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There was a gorgeous view of snow falling on Telescope Peak and the Panamint Range in Death Valley from up here.

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We thanked the family for their hospitality and the granddaughter gifted us with a piece of opal.

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The trail to the cabin and mine ascends 2,000 feet up into the mountains and the views are spectacular.

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When we were halfway there, we saw a new sign placed on the side of the trail that said occupied and realized that someone was staying in the cabin. We continued anyway, intending to just take a look without disturbing their privacy.

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When we reached the top and spotted a truck parked outside the cabin, we stopped a respectful distance away. The occupants spotted us anyway and waved us up to the cabin. Father and son, Ken and Ken, said it would be crazy to drive all the way up there and not see the cabin. They explained that the sign was only intended to let anyone who was hoping to stay at the cabin know that it was already occupied before making the trip, and not to keep anyone away. They graciously invited us inside, and we spent quite a while visiting with them and sharing information about other favorite locations.

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We decided to skip exploring the mine because we didn’t want to overstay our welcome. Now, we have a good reason to return and maybe next time stay in the cabin.

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When we reached the valley, we spotted a group of wild burros running across the desert.

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We made it back to camp while we still had some daylight to start dinner. We cheated this year and bought a prepared meal. We were thankful to have all of that good because we had worked up quite an appetite. It’s easy to heat food in camp by putting it in a freezer bag and popping the bag into a pot of boiling water.

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Another cold night chased us to our tent early again. We fired up the tent heater and settled in to watch a video we had downloaded before we left home. We don’t usually like to rely on much technology when we are out in the wilderness, but winter nights in the desert can be brutal and this was so cozy that I just might be tempted to do it again. Bonus points if you recognize what show we are watching!


Our holiday was everything we could have wanted and more! Whatever road you take, I hope your journey brings you great memories too. Happy Holidays from all of us Driving Line.

Check out more of Lori's trail adventures below.

- Surviving The Nadeau Trail

- Grapevine Canyon Trail 

- Last Chance Canyon Trail

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