Day Trippin' to the borax mine in Boron
Day Trippin’ with Mel
March 19, 2022
Gas prices have soared these past couple of weeks so last Saturday I opted for an outing not too far from home. I took a drive out to Boron, only 45-ish miles from Tehachapi, and treated myself to a visit to the Rio Tinto Borax Mine just north of that town.
As a kid I loved watching "Death Valley Days" on television in the 50s, and I remember well that the program was sponsored by "20-Mule Team Borax." But at the time I had no idea what borax was and, to be honest, at the time I was too young to care. I just loved the pictures of all the mules pulling those wagons, and I loved the stories of the Old West the show told.
And as a fan of “Death Valley Days,” I visited the Boron mining area almost 20 years ago shortly after I moved to Tehachapi, where I was shocked and surprised to find out how important borax is to our everyday lives (i.e., how many of the things we use all the time that are made with some component of borax), mined right here in the Mojave Desert. It was fascinating.
I wasn’t disappointed in my recent visit last week. The plant has grown, the pit for the mining is bigger than ever, new (amazingly larger) equipment is being used, the Visitor Center itself has a few added touches and there is a brand new outside observation deck for viewing the pit.
I was met at the entrance this time by a docent who was very friendly and knowledgeable about the plant and the minerals. He offered to run a 15-minute video for me, which I accepted, and which I recommend watching if you go. After the video I spent time on my own looking around the Center and learning more about borax and the mine itself. The docent was available to answer all of my questions.
Outside the center, I checked out the new observation deck, which overlooks the quite impressive mining pit. Mining in Boron began over 100 years ago in 1913, after borax was discovered in the area in 1881 and used to be all underground. It switched over to open pit mining around 1957. The Rio Tinto mine has the largest open pit mine in California, and also boasts being one of the largest borat deposits in the world.
Also, outside the building, I enjoyed seeing the truck that stands over two stories tall, and the life-sized bronze statues of the old 20-mule team and wagons.
There is so much to learn about borax and its various components and additives, but you’ll have to go visit the mine to find out more of that sort of stuff for yourself. If you or any of your kids are interested in rock and minerals – and finding out what other sorts of natural elements are in the area – this daytrip will be well worth the effort.
If you go, just take the 58 East to Boron, from the highway you’ll see the giant plant off to the north as you get near it, and the exit is marked for the Visitor Center. Follow the signs into the plant and up to the Center – the actual Visitor Center is located up a hill, at the end of a gravel road, with a great view of the whole operation from the old viewing area on top of the building.
Admission to the visitor grounds and center is free, and there is a gift shop if you want souvenirs. I was handed a free sample of rocks found in the area upon arrival.
If you’re there long enough for a meal, covered picnic benches are available at the Center, but keep in mind that it does get downright hot in the desert. I opted to go into the town of Boron for lunch, and while I had my choice of restaurants (three of them), in the spirit of the day I chose the Twenty Mule Café, where I had a fine club sandwich and French fries (they also serve Mexican food).
The cafe is located on Twenty Mule Team Road, which is in Boron (three miles up the 58 from the Visitor Center), and right across the street from the Twenty Mule Museum and the Aerospace Museum. Both of those museums can be visited while you’re there – both of which are also free and small, but chock full of memorabilia – or can be worth another trip in that direction on another day.
© 2022 Marilda Mel White. Mel White, local writer/photographer and avid day-tripper, welcomes your comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.