October 26, 2011
Amongst a wonderland of wind-carved sandstone formations lay the remains of an old mining effort brought on by World War II. Visiting the Calcite Mine offers a variety of things to see and do.
For one, the road that leads all the way to the mine is quite challenging for 4WD enthusiasts. So much so, that some not-so-confident drivers may wish to park halfway up and walk the rest of the distance so that they don’t damage their rig or drive past a couple of fairly steep drop-offs.
Two, the landscape in this part of Anza-Borrego is quite bizarre. The views from the mine are spectacular. If you choose to walk up the old mining road, you will certainly enjoy the landscape and scenery much more as compared to the occupants of any vehicle that are most likely gripping anything they can hold on to while negotiating this challenging trail.
Three, a calcite mines is somewhat rare. Everybody that travels out into the desert has probably seen gold or silver mines. But when was the last time you’ve seen a calcite mine? Scattered around this mine site are shattered pieces of crystalline-calcite. Narrow trenches can be seen in different spots around the site which is where the mining took place.
When you plan on visiting the Calcite Mine area, be aware that there is another great place to visit nearby, which is the Calcite Mine Slot Canyon. One can easily spend a whole day exploring this small area.
To start your trip up to the Calcite Mine, start at the center of Borrego Springs at Christmas Circle. Reset your odometer and drive east on Palm Canyon Drive (Hwy S-22).
You’ll pass the airport and the road to Fonts Point. After driving about 19 miles from Christmas Circle, turn left onto a dirt road and turnout. Make sure to stop at the small turnout before descending into the canyon below and read the sign about the Calcite Mine.
If you visit this area on a day where there will most likely be thunderstorm activity, do not proceed down this road.
From the sign, do not proceed unless you have a high-clearance 4WD vehicle. If you don’t, it is a 2 mile one-way hike to the mine with about a 500 foot elevation gain. The hike is well worth the effort.
Getting There Map
The Drive, The Hike, The Mine
After leaving the pavement of S-22, the rough dirt road descends into the south fork of Palm Wash. At the bottom, a road to the left leads to the Calcite Mine Slot Canyon hike, which is another chapter in this Travel Blog. Continue straight and up the road across the canyon.
After the road climbs out of the canyon, it continues on a wide ridge for about a half mile. Another road leads off to the right, which goes down into the main fork of Palm Wash. Continue going straight.
The road then begins to go around mountain face on the right and the road becomes very rough and with deep ruts. Just before this section, there is a small parking area where you can park your rig and walk the remaining distance. From here, the distance to the mine is about 1.2 miles.
Just after the beginning of the difficult section of road, you will pass by a steep and deep drop off on the right side of the road. Below, you will see a narrow slot canyon. This is the main fork of Palm Wash.
The road twists and turns as it climbs into the Truckhaven Rocks and ends at the mine site. At the end, there is a park area and ample space to turn your vehicle around. There’s also a great view of the surrounding area.
The actual mining was done in narrow trenches, which can be spotted around the site. No machinery or buildings are left from the mining operation, only the trenches remain. One of the trenches can be found by walking about 300 feet north-northwest of the parking area.
If you walk down into these trenches, look for the numerous veins of calcite inside the soil. When walking around the flat and open areas, be sure to look down to find thousands of shattered calcite crystals laying all around.
Just after the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, the U.S. Government sent out specialists looking for calcite deposits that would be used for manufacturing optics to be used in bombing and gun sights. The task was given to the Polaroid Corporation and their mining operations created the trenches that you see today. A few years later, a synthetic material was discovered which was used instead of calcite in manufacturing the optics and mining at the site ceased.