Following in "Shorty" Harris' Footsteps

(Photo courtesy Jim Fagan. (c) Jim Fagan, 2013)

As most of you know, "Shorty" Harris was probably the best-known of a very rare breed...the single blanket jackass prospector. During his day "Shorty" made some of the most significant precious metal discoveries in California's southeastern deserts and nearby Nevada, as well as in the area now known as Death Valley National Monument. It would definitely take a pair of over-sized feet to fill "Shorty's" boots as a prospector, but desert explorer, history buff, and photographer Jim Fagan is doing an admirable job following in "Shorty" Harris' footsteps.

I wanted to share some of Jim's photos and descriptions of "Shorty's" old stomping grounds, so here goes:

"Looking up Mosaic Canyon in the late afternoon, about a quarter mile from the canyon mouth. A bit of a tourist hot spot due to its convenient location just outside Stovepipe Wells but very pretty nonetheless."

"About a half hour later, still looking south up the main canyon."

"Corkscrew Peak on the right, looking northeast from Daylight Pass Road shortly after sunrise. I'm heading back out there in February to climb that one. I think those are the Death Valley Buttes, but I'm not sure. This is on the way to the Bullfrog Mine area further west into Nevada."

(Note: The Bullfrog was one of "Shorty" Harris' richest finds. J.R.)

"A small mine or test shaft just southeast of the old Leadfield Mine. I stumbled across this site by accident on my way to Leadfield. It's sealed off (you can see the steel grate if you look closely) so I'm sure of its exact purpose. Leadfield has a somewhat checkered past and there's lots of information available on the Web or in Michael Digonnet's book, 'Hiking Death Valley,' my main Death Valley guide."

"Leadfield proper, looking southwest from Titus Canyon Road. You can see the old store (one of the buildings on the lower right). A building from the Western Lead Mines Company is above that as well as large tailings from the main mine shaft."

"The entrance to the main shaft at Leadfield, taken from the top of the tailings mentioned in the previous shot."

"As far as photos of my own choosing that I'd like to show the readers, I'd take anything from my Inyo Mine album. It's one of the best preserved old mining camps I've seen and completely accessible (if you call 9 miles of 4-wheel drive road up Echo Canyon 'accessible'). But this does keep the tourists out and there are several buildings still standing and lots of equipment in place. The old mine shafts are still open...if you feel brave enough to venture in. I got a few hundred feet into the main shaft before the heebie-jeebies (or common sense) set in."

Respect and Admiration

Jim has many more photos of the areas that "Shorty" Harris and other old-time desert prospectors lived, worked, and died in. I think it'd be worthwhile for all of you to see his Inyo Mine album as well his photographs and descriptions of other desert mining areas in southeastern California and western Nevada. What Jim is doing here is, in essence, documenting mining history and a period of that history that will never return, just fade into memory. 

As small-scale gold prospectors and miners ourselves, I think we owe "Shorty" and the other old timers our respect and admiration. One way to show that respect and admiration to is to keep their memories and what they did alive for future generations. Jim Fagan is helping make that happen.

I want to thank Jim for his willingness to share his photos and observations with the rest of us. Stay tuned for more.

All photographs (c) Jim Fagan, 2013

Bedrock Dreams (c) Jim Rocha (J.R.) 2013

Questions? E-mail me at


  1. To BOTH Jim's, Thanks for showing these. I love finding old cabins and mines. Sometimes you really have to wonder why did they build it here, other times it is easy to figure out. A lot of the things they did back then, without the help of motorized machinery is truly amazing! Most folks today would look at it and say "it can't be done", but back then they found a way. With horses and mules yet! It seems like folks were smarter back then, or maybe just less lazy....maybe just more crazy! Gary

  2. These places and locations are time capsules of a sort. I'm glad that Jim Fagan is researching and documenting them. Thanks for commenting, as always Gary. J.R.

  3. Gary: I too am amazed at what those old-timers did with nothing more than they could carry on a burro. The vast expanses and rugged terrain out there have to be seen up close to be truly appreciated. Many's the time I've sat back on a hike deep in the back country, surrounded by a whole lot of nothing, and marveled at their vision and courage. I'm heading back out in late February to get some shots at the Saddle Rock and Skidoo mines up in the Panamints. Wanted to do it on the last trip but Emigrant Road was washed out and only opened about two weeks after I got back home. JR, I'm gonna try to caption some of the Inyo Mine shots later this week, if you want to publish them down the road.

  4. OK Jim, I'll be looking for those and then we'll get more of your comments and photos out there. Thanks! J.R.


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