20 Mule Team Borax, part of the Rio Tinto Group, operates the largest open pit mine in California — just down the road in Boron. In operation for more than 145 years (55 years in Death Valley and 90 in Boron), the mine holds one of the richest borate deposits in the world and supplies more than 30 percent of the world’s demands for refined borates.
While boron is present everywhere in the environment, large deposits of borates are relatively rare. These minerals are essential to life and modern living. In fact, boron is an essential ingredient in an array of everyday products:
• Insulation, wood preservatives and ceramics to make homes safer and more energy efficient;
• Heat-resistant glass used in flat screen TVs, laptop computers and smart phones;
• Fiberglass used in sporting equipment and wind energy systems;
• Fertilizers to help farmers increase crop quality and yield;
• California wine, California almonds, California citrus!
Our roots date to 1872 when company founders began mining borates in Nevada. Later, in 1881, they discovered borates in Death Valley. Using teams of 20 mules, hooked to giant wagons, they hauled the mineral, 165 miles, to the nearest railroad hub in Mojave, Calif.
The current Boron location opened, as an underground mine, in 1927. The mine was converted to an open-pit operation in 1957.
• Company founders donated original Death Valley land holdings to the federal government and lobbied to have it protected as a national park;
• 29 Mule Teams hauled borates for only five years, but 20 Mule Team® Borax, a natural laundry and cleaning product, lives on as one of the most recognized brands in the United States;
• 20 Mule Team® Borax has been sold as a consumer product for more than 100 years and was once proclaimed as a miracle crystal to aid digestion, keep milk sweet and even cure leprosy and cancer.
Today, we have 1,000 employees — serving 500 customers with more than 1,700 global delivery locations. With a strong culture of safety, the 20 Mule Team Borax mine continues to be recognized as one of the safest mining operations in the United States.
The mine itself measures 2 miles long, 1.75 miles wide and 900 feet deep. We excavate about 22 million tons of ore per year, and produce about 3 million tons of refined products — shipped to customers via truck, rail, barge and other ocean-going vessels. On-site haul trucks are the size of a house, cost in excess of $3 million each, and can carry 240 tons of material per load.
The future is exciting as the industry continues to uncover new minerals and more efficient ways to process raw materials. The culture of safety remains strong — with best practices shared throughout the industry. Most operational processes, that set the standard for borate production, were developed or first adopted at Boron operations. The company’s success spans three centuries — an achievement that rests on its ability to meet or exceed expectations.
Rio Tinto/US Borax offers visitors a glimpse into the world of mining at the US Borax Visitor Center. Located off of Highway 58 on Borax Road. The Visitor Center is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., seven days a week. We welcome visitors to come and catch a glimpse of the largest open pit mine in California. Admission is free.