Eagle Mountain, which operated an iron mine for over three decades and has largely been abandoned since the late ’80s, has been sold to a mysterious company for unknown future use.

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Eagle Mountain, one of the largest ghost towns in California, has sold for $22.6 million, the Los Angeles Times reported on Tuesday.

The land’s future use, however, remains unknown.

The 10,000-acre town, located near the southeast corner of Joshua Tree National Park in Riverside County, has been abandoned since 1983, following more than three decades of iron mining via Kaiser Steel, which launched in the area after World War II. The company town’s population hit a peak of about 4,000 people spread across about 400 homes, according to DesertUSA.

After Kaiser closed the mine and the town’s economic hub was gone, most of the town’s population left. For those few that remained, the Department of Corrections converted a shopping center into a private prison for low-risk inmates in 1986, which became a new source of jobs and income. However, that venture was short-lived and the prison closed in 2003.

Kaiser Steel ruins at Eagle Mountain, California | el-toro / Wikicommons

In the late ’80s, another attempt was made to revive the town into a landfill and recycling center, but following L.A. County ultimately going into escrow to purchase the property for $41 million in 2000, and after a series of legal battles that ensued over the course of decades (in objection to having a landfill next to the national park), the deal was never completed.

“It’s been a sordid history,” Mark Butler, a former Joshua Tree superintendent, told the L.A. Times in 2017.

Attempts to repurpose the land didn’t stop there. In 2015, Eagle Crest Energy Co. purchased the land and acquired a license to construct a $2.5 billion hydropower plant where the mine was, which drew criticism from conservation groups because of its potential to deplete the area’s groundwater.

Then in October 2022, Eagle Crest Energy Co. submitted an amended hydroelectric application to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission changing the boundaries of the project.

An SEC filing from April 17, 2023, shows Eagle Mountain Acquisitions sold “Kaiser Eagle Mountain” to an entity called Ecology Mountain Holdings for $22.58 million. However, the land’s future use is unknown.

Since the town’s abandonment decades ago, the site has been used occasionally as a film set, including in Christopher Nolan’s 2020 science fiction film Tenet and Rob Reiner’s 1986 movie Stand By Me.

Levi Vincent, president of the Greater Palm Springs Film Office which arranges movie and television shoots at the site, said that he has been in touch with the buyers and that the status quo will remain.

“We’re going to continue to operate as normal,” Vincent said.

The Cerritos-based limited liability company that represented Ecology Mountain Holdings in the deal did not immediately respond to the LA Times’ request for comment.

Prior to 1950, when Congress opened up the area for mineral exploration, Eagle Mountain was actually part of the lands that became Joshua Tree National Park, according to the National Parks Conservation Association. Because of this fact, conservationists have argued that the land should have been incorporated into the park following the shuttering of the mine.

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Email Lillian Dickerson

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