December 2, 2015 – Borax Visitor Center, Boron, CA

(We visited the Borax Visitor Center on November 10, 2015.)

One of the games we play in the car is “How many towns can you name that are (fill in the blank.) In this case our game is, how many towns can you name that are elements. Boron is one. Situated in the Mojave desert between the towns of Mojave and Barstow, it is kind of a bleak place. We’ve stopped in Boron before to see their museum but we’ve never been to the Borax Visitor Center which is situated just north of CA 58. After twelve years of plying this route back and forth between Pleasanton and St.George, it is high time that we pay a visit.

The Borax works include a giant pit, refinery, and visitor’s center. The visitor’s center is open daily. Down a long road you approach the refinery, then turn right past the pit, and finally ascend a hill of tailings to the visitor’s center which is buried at the top like a bunker.  There are plenty of things to see outside and at the overlook first.

The Visitor's Center is two quonset huts mashed together.
The Visitor’s Center is two quonset huts mashed together.
Here's the 20-mule team logo.
Here’s the 20-mule team logo.
Better yet, there's also a life-sized 20-mule team!
Better yet, there’s also a life-sized 20-mule team!

We wander around the yard in front of the museum and look at a big tire and also walk up to the platform with a great view of the works and giant pit.

So you think I look tire-d?
So you think I look tire-d?
Giant pit! (2 miles long, 1 3/4 miles wide and 755 feet deep)
Giant pit! (2 miles long, 1 3/4 miles wide and 755 feet deep)
Trucks entering and leaving the pit with ore
Trucks entering and leaving the pit with ore

 

A really large truck filled with ore
A really large truck filled with ore
The mine produces about three million tons of ore per year which is refined down to around one million tons of products in the on-site refinery
The mine produces about three million tons of ore per year which is refined down to around one million tons of products in the on-site refinery

Now it is time to go into the museum. We are met by an earnest young employee who shows us a movie and answers our questions to the best of his ability. (This guy who is probably in his mid-20’s has lived in Boron his whole life. It is a town of 4000 people in the middle of the desert. When we told him we were from the Bay Area he opined that he’d like to visit San Francisco some day. It’s hard for us to imagine why he would stay in Boron.)

As we walk around the museum we see displays of ore, a giant crystalline piece of boron ore and information about Ronald Reagan and the supporting cast from Death Valley Days. There are displays of all the things that boron is used for including,

  1. Agricultural products (boron is a micronutrient essential to the proper growth of vegetables and fruits such as corn, alfalfa, coffee, fruite trees, peanuts, grapes and strawberries.
  2. Ceramics
  3. Detergent (Borax)
  4. Fiberglass
  5. Glass
  6. Flame retardants
  7. Wood treatments (Borates are effective against fungus, termites, and ants.)
  8. Flat screen TVs and computers (Borates are a key ingredient in Liquid Crystal Displays.)
Unrefined ore from large rocks to fine granules
Unrefined ore from large rocks to fine granules
John doing a thorough job of totally understanding boron
John doing a thorough job of totally understanding boron
Some television and movie notables who started out on Death Valley Days
Some television and movie notables who started out on Death Valley Days

Rio Tinto Minerals operates this mine. They have a long history dating back to 1872 when the company founders began mining borates in Nevada. The operation is now global.

Another interesting Rio Tinto open pit mine that we have visited is the Bingham Canyon Mine located 28 miles southwest of Salt Lake City. Originally a copper mine, it now extracts a variety of minerals in a pit that is 3/4 of a mile deep. It is immense and definitely worth of visit.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.