Ghost Town: The Eagle Mountain Story

Ghost Town: The Eagle Mountain Story


Eagle Mountain, CA

In the 1950s, the Eagle Mountain iron mine laid the foundation for what would become a desert community known as Eagle Mountain.

"When we got to Eagle Mountain they were still building the houses. I lived down Cactus Drive originally and it was so new that the paint was barely dry, there was no yard established," said June Capp, a former Eagle Mountain resident.

At times, the town’s remote location near the southeast corner of Joshua Tree National Park blurred the lines between development and desert. "One evening you could hear this horrendous screaming and all the dogs in town, you could hear the barking all over the place because they could hear this mountain lion screaming at them. And that’s what we started out with." Capp said.

As the mine grew, so did the population. Eagle Mountain would became a quintessential American mining town. "Kids played out in the road and cars would stop for the kids to get out of the road and nobody was fussing about it," said Capp.

In it’s glory days, Eagle mountain was bustling with activity. The town would draw visitors like nearby residents Bob and Margit Chiriaco, whose parents Joe and Ruth founded what is known today as Chiriaco Summit.

"The lights were on. They were usually working 24/7 at the mine. And you could see the lights, you could see machinery. You were never allowed in there, but you could see the backdrop of it. And it was a mining town. Make no mistake it was definitely a mining town," said Margit Chiriaco.

"It was really bustling. In my after college days when I was running around up there, there was a bowling alley, a cafe, a bar, a supermarket, a variety store, a gas station, a bank. They had a little bit of everything at the time and there were a lot of people in town. There was always people going and coming," said Bob Chiriaco.

Today it looks a little different. After environmental concerns from activists and cheap iron processing in other countries, in the late 1970s, Iron production dwindled and so too did the prominence of Eagle Mountain.

"The unions were saying, ‘hey ya’ll, we’ve got to do something because we’re being out-priced.’ and ultimately it came about that the mine starting laying off people," said Capp.

"We have people coming in all the time that were residents up there and they can’t even get in to see where their houses were, and they say ‘oh my god, it looks like a ghost town up there.’ well it is a ghost town," said Bob Chiriaco.

"It bothers me to see an area that was once vital, no longer vital," said Margit Chiriaco.

In 1986, a prison would help revitalize the town temporarily. After a deadly riot in 2003 the prison shut down. In 1988 a landfill was proposed but a slew of environmental lawsuits kept the project from getting off the ground. 

Today Eagle Crest Energy Company is partnering with Next Era Energy to build a hydropower plant near the site of the now dilapidated town. The project was supported by late County Supervisor John Benoit and is currently supported by Assemblyman Eduardo Garcia.

But environmentalists and Joshua Tree Park Officials are concerned about the environmental impact the power plant could have on the surrounding area. Those who once called this modern day ghost town their home are not very optimistic about the next chapter of the Eagle Mountain story.

"Before you had the community support. Right now you may get the support from one person or from this person or from that person. Back then the whole community supported you. All the way. Always. You don’t have it now," said David Capp, former resident of Eagle Mountain.