Searles Lake;

 photo taken by an astronaut on the International Space Station in 2005 and courtesy of Johnson Space Center

  While researching the Trona Pinnacles, I came across some information concerning Searles Lake so I decided to write a story about it. The following information is what I found according to Wikipedia, California Historical Landmarks: San Bernardino County, Searles Lake Borax Discovery and John and Dennis Searles Wagon Route: 1875 to 1895.

  Searles Lake is a dry lake bed in the Searles Valley of the Mojave Desert in northwestern San Bernardino County California; the lake was also known as Slate Range Lake and Borax Lake and was named after John Wemple Searles (more in a later story) who discovered Borax on the surface of the dry lake. The stratigraphic record at Searles Lake shows that it once held brackish water as deep as 660 feet; fluctuations in lake levels correspond to the advances and retreats of glaciers in the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range and 30 major lake levels occurred during the last 150,000 years represented by a sequence of salt and mud beds. The precipitation of minerals occurred during long periods of lake evaporation. The mining community of Trona is on the western shore of Searles Lake; Searles Lake is home to the Trona Pinnacles (story printed in July 7th issue of the Mojave Desert News) which is a spectacular geographic tufa formation and a National Natural Landmark.

  Borax was first produced from the dry lake surface in 1873 by John W. Searles under the name of the San Bernardino Borax Mining Company; Mr. Searles was the first person to haul Borax using the famous 20 mule team wagons from the dry lakebed Before there ever was built in Mojave, refined borax was hauled 170 miles by 20 mule teams from Slate Range Playa (now known as Searles Lake) to the harbor ports at San Pedro, Calif. The Epsom Salts Monorail (more in a later story) crossed Searles Lake on a wooden trestle from 1922 to 1928.

  The evaporite basin of Searles Lake is approximately 12 miles long and 8.1 miles at its widest point yielding 1.7 million tons annually of industrial materials within the basin to the Searles Valley Mining Operations. Searles Lake is a huge resource of sodium and potassium minerals of the carbonate, sulfate, borate and halide classes of mineralogy. The manufacturing of industrial minerals involves a complex solution mining operation in which naturally occurring brines are pumped from wells completed in several salt beds. The brine wells range in depth from near surface to over 330 feet below the salt pan; a network of production wells, injection wells, solar ponds and piping are used in the production and treatment of the brines. Industrial minerals are extracted from the brines at the Argus, Trona and Westend plants; there, the minerals are crystallized from the brines, screened, washed and dried. The crystals are then baked in rotary kilns to drive off water molecules locked in the crystalline structure however, some recrystallization may be required to achieve a desired composition and granular density. This complex extraction process at the three plants is generally referred to as fractional crystallization and includes the treatment of brines through carbonation extraction, refrigeration extraction and/or solvent extraction; salt is also harvested from the lake surface and solar ponds. Mineral commodities produced by Searles Valley Minerals from the Searles Lake operations include borax, v-bor (borax with five moles of water), borax, boric acid, soda ash, salt cake and salt; the mineral reserves are believed to exceed approximately 4 billion tons.

  Searles Lake is classified as a California Historical Landmark; the landmark reads:

  NO.774 SEARLES LAKE BORAX DISCOVERY – John Searles discovered borax on the nearby surface of Searles Lake in 1862; with his brother Dennis, he formed the San Bernardino Borax Mining Company in 1873 and operated it until 1897. The chemicals in Searles Lake - borax, potash, soda ash, salt cake and lithium were deposited here by the runoff waters from melting ice age glaciers John Searles’ discovery has proved to be the world’s richest chemical storehouse, containing half the natural elements.

  A E. Clampus Vitus monument was placed to remember the Searles brothers and reads:

    This monument commemorates 2 wagon routes used by the Searles brothers to haul borax from their plant on Borax Lake (Searles Lake) to the railhead at Mojave. The southern route traveled west of the Trona Pinnacles to Searles freight station at Garden City. This is the present route of the Trona Railway which connects with the Union Pacific at Searle Station. Garden City was a virtual oasis providing food and shelter for the teamsters and a barn accommodating 100 mules. The western route went through Salt Wells Canyon (Poison Canyon) to a dry station one mile from the head of the canyon and onto Garden City where both routes joined; it then continued through Garlock and connected with the railroad to Mojave. Erected 2000 by Billy Holcomb Chapter #1069 E Clampus Vitus in cooperation with Searles Valley Historical Society.