What a great trip last week!! A long shuttle, but fantastic scenery the whole way. We had a full group off to a timely start on Saturday from Ashford Mill enroute to our "trailhead" almost 50 miles away. The hike started near the road end, 17 miles west of Owl Hole Springs. Weather was perfect with a light breeze left over from stronger winds the day before. Very small grasses and plants blanketed the ground showing off a green carpet from long distances mixed with the creosote displaying full yellow spring blooms.
Our initial destination on the hike was the Epson Salt mine to the northwest. I was excited to see far more ruins than anticipated, including many of the old "A-frames" that supported the wooden monorail. Hard to imagine, a wooden monorail constructed in 1924 to transport epsom salt 18 miles to a railroad siding at Searles Lake!
From the mine, we ventured northeast eventually dropping intothe broad and shallow Wingate Wash. This wash was used as the borax route for the Harmony Borax Works in the 1880.s Twenty mule teams would lumber through this wash weighing in at over 30 tons. We walked past the deeply rutted wheel marks untouched for many years. As we followed the wash we were attempting to find the location of the "Battle of Wingate Pass" where Death Valley Scotty carried out one of is most elaborate charades. It was here that he faked an ambush to divert the prospective financial backers he was traveling with from insisting on seeing Scotty's mine (the one that didn't exist!). The plan went terribly wrong when Scotty's brother was accidently shot and the hoax was revealed.
The day was starting to get long and although we were in the vicinity of the ambush location, we could not initially find the specific location. We decided to make camp and then scout around the general area. Just before dusk, we finally stumbled onto the rock "fortresses" and marked the location for further exploration in the morning.
The group was up and ready to roll in record time Sunday morning, getting out of camp just after 7:00 am. We went back up to the escarpment where we found multiple "forts" matching our rough map locations and old photos. The "forts" were in perfect position to pick off a passing wagon in the wash below.
We continued on, now in a southwest direction, gaining slight elevation through an unnamed wash enroute to Lost Lake. The wash bottom was paved with beautiful golden decomposed granite, very similar to Through Canyon that we hiked in fall of 2000. At the top, the contours turned very confusing before revealing long and narrow Lost Lake. This buff-colored playa made a striking contrast to the darker hills and green vegetation that surrounded it. On these playas, distances always distort-invariably making long distances look much shorter. Our vehicles were now a straight shot to the south, but still hours away. We got back to the vehicles by mid-afternoon and began our long shuttle back to paved road. Seven vehicles, 100 miles, and only two flat tires. Not bad.
Upon hitting the Death Valley road folks split up and headed north or south depending on their next destination. Claudia and I turned north and returned to Shoshone for the hot showers and dip in the spring-fed pool.
Hope you have a great spring desert season. I've enjoyed leading these hikes over the years and truly value the many friendships I've made along the way. I'll definitely plan to stay in touch in the future. This fall, Don Brown will be leading our DVHA hike. I know he has an interesting route planned for the group, so stay tuned. Details to follow.
By far the most widely publicized of all the ill-fated salt ventures in Death Valley was this epsom salt mine.
What attracted all the attention was not the mine itself, but the curious little monorail that was built to haul the salt out. The deposit was situated in the low, lavender Crystal Hills just sout of the old Borax road in Wingate Wash and not far from the scene of Death Valley Scotty's infamous "battle".
Thomas H. Wright and his American Magnesium Company began building the monorail in the fall of 1922. The rail ran from the Trona Railroad, six miles south of town. From there the rail ran due east across the south end of Searles Lake, up Layton Canyon and over the Slate Range, northeast across the tip of Panamint Valley, through Wingate Pass, and down the wash to the salt deposit at his Crystal Camp. For the rest of the story; Death Valley & The Amargosa, A land of illusion, by Richard E. Lingenfelter.
Might be possible. On Saturday afternoon, February 11, 1933, just three weeks before the end of his term, President Hoover finally signed the proclamation creating Death Valley National Monument. During the winter of 1933, nearly 400 men from the newly formed Civilian Conservation Corps were sent to Death Valley to start building the roads, digging wells, and opening campsites. Many more would follow, until the valley had more miles of road than any other place in the park system. Is it possible that this sign was placed by CCC workers in the mid 1930's?
To set the stage we need to talk about the men and the wagons. John W. S. Perry was the foreman for the king of borax, William Tell Coleman. In 1884, Perry built ten giant wagons at Mojave and selected five teams of eighteen mules and two horses to pull them. Teams that size and larger had been used at various times and places throughout the West, but it was these five teams that the Pacific Coast Borax Company would later immortalize with its advertising campaign for "20 Mule Team Borax. Fully loaded, the wagons weighed over 30 tons. The round trip from Death Valley to Mojave and back was about 330 miles, and took twenty days.
Grubstake taking aim behind one of the rock forts above Wingate Wash. The site of Scotty's battle still stands. Its a great hike route. So read upon the history and plan a great weekend backpack. Thanks Grubstake............
Best picture of the weekend goes to Chahwalla. The burros over the fence. They looked healthy, with full bellies, and green grass everywhere. Its been along time since they've seen fifteen colorful backpacks.
Our group of desertrats on this beautiful spring morning.
Photo Credits to Grubstake, Chahwalla, and dustyfart