After four nights in Twenty-nine Palms exploring Joshua Tree National Park, we were ready to find new places to explore. We had Boron, California, in our sights, on October 23, 2017. Not to stay overnight, just to check out the Borax Visitor Center, a place we had driven by for the past thirty or forty years going between northern and southern California. It was time to visit the company that once sponsored the Death Valley Days program on television.
The Borax Mine is located on State Route 58 about 12 miles west of Kramer Junction—where US Route 395 and State Route 58 intersect. We weren’t sure we were headed in the right direction. All we could see as we drove down the road were tall towers, steam rising in columns, and hills, nothing that looked like a visitor center.
When we came to the end of the road, signs directed us toward an unmanned booth along a dirt road. We trusted the billboard that advertised plenty of RV parking at the top of a hill and kept on driving. When we reached the top, the road turned left and sure enough, there was plenty of space to accommodate multiple fifth wheels and buses.
An original 20-Mule Team Wagon set complete with hitched up mule statues welcomed us at the visitor center. The teams carried borax out of Death Valley 165 miles to the nearest railroad junction in Mojave. The round trip took 20 days to deliver 20 tons of borax between 1883 and 1888.
Today the operation mines colemanite, ulexite, kernite, and borax, from a borate deposit, which has been mined since 1927. These minerals are used in agriculture, ceramics, detergents and personal care products, fiberglass and glass, and as a wood treatment to prevent fungal decay and damage from termites, ants, and roaches.
The visitor center is open 7 days a week from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., except holidays or during bad weather. Admission is free. Inside the building is a theater where a short movie and talks by docents provide information about the Rio Tinto Mining Company and the history of the pit. Displays show how borax is mined and processed, what products the minerals are used in, and the different types of minerals mined. Outside a ramp takes visitors to a platform where they can watch the giant dump trucks, which look like ants where we stood, maneuver atop the tiers.
The pit is almost like looking into the Grand Canyon. At 1 mile wide, 1½ miles long, and 650 feet deep, the heavy equipment is dwarfed by the vast landscape. A few pieces of equipment are barely identifiable in the mid-right gray area.
Back in Boron is the Twenty Mule Team Museum. Unfortunately, we ran out of time and had to get back on the road so we could arrive before dark in Tehachapi where we planned to spend the night.
We found a quiet spot away from the trains and freeway at Mountain Valley RV Park where they offer water, electricity, restrooms, showers, and laundry. There is a dump station but no sewer hookups. A short walk away is the Mountain Valley Airport that serves small aircraft and gliders and operates a café.
Coyotes woke us around 4:00 a.m. and as the sun rose, the wind grew stronger. Time to hit the road.