November Hike 2005

The gravesite of James W. Dayton and Frank "Shorty" Harris. 

As the story goes, James W. Dayton was the summer caretaker at the Furnace Creek Ranch and a former swamper on the twenty mule team borax wagon train.  On July 24th, 1899 he was on a trip from the ranch to Daggett for supplies, when he complained to the ranch hands that he didn't feel too good.  However, he started out alone with a wagon, six mules and his dog.  It was a hard journey that would take him 150 miles.  After sixteen days, Frank Tilton and Adolph Nevares headed for Death Valley looking for the overdue desert traveler, Dayton.  Twenty miles south of Furnace Creek Ranch they found his body.  His body was found curled up underneath a mesquite bush a half mile north of the abandoned Eagle Borax Works.  Nearby was Dayton's wagon with two full canteens and three barrels of life giving water.  The wagon brake was set and all six mules where dead in their tangled traces.  Only his dog survived, yet at the point of starvation, but forever standing by his master.  James died on his first day out from an unknown illness, an easy prey in the heat of Death Valley.  Tilton and Nevares buried him on the spot.  Frank gave him his last rites:  " Well, Jimmie, you lived in the heat and you died in the heat, and after what you have been through, I guess you ought to be comfortable in hell."  

Frank "Shorty" Harris lived out his life as a single blanket, jackass miner.  Born on July 21, 1857 in Rhode Island he was orphaned at the age of seven. Later, he rode the rails west in the l870's seeking his fortune in the mines.  His travels took him to Leadville, Tombstone, Coeur d'Alene and finally to Death Valley.  The summer of 1904, he and Ernest "Ed" Cross discovered gold at Bullfrog.  Both laid claim to the richest jackpot this side of Klondike.  Shorty came out on the short end, as he drank and gambled his share away for $1000 from J.W. McGalliard.  However, Ed was the lucky one and joined J.W. and formed the Original Bullfrog Mines Syndicate.  Ed sold his share for $125,000 and he and his wife bought a big ranch in Escondido.  Yet, Shorty's mining days were not over and in the fall of 1904 he hustled another grubstake from Leonard McGarry.  He and George Pegot headed for the Panamints in December and the two of them found free gold in a little pocket on the north side of Hunter Mountain.  While Shorty rushed the sacks of assayed gold at $250 a ton in Goldfield his partner stacked out claims.  This was another short lived success, as Shorty drank through the rush that was started at the Gold Belt Mining District.  The next year Shorty was grubstaked once more and fell in with Jean Pierre "Pete" Aguereberry, who had just been swindled out of Echo Canyon by Chet Leavitt, but that's another story.  Shorty and Pete headed for Ballarat to look for new gold booms.  They took the trail across the valley floor and headed up Blackwater Canyon and over to Wildrose Spring.  Pete spotted flecks of gold and grabbed rock to check it out later at camp.  Shorty said the rock was no good, but Pete finally convinced him that it was rich indeed.   The next morning they headed back to the big ledge and they each staked out several claims.  Pete claimed the north half as Eureka and Shorty claimed the south half as Providence.  They headed off to Ballarat to record their claims.  Shorty believes that it's the biggest claim in the southwest.

The town of Harrisburg is founded after confusion with Ogerbury and Harrisberry.  Shorty's two grubstakers hustled him off to San Francisco and find backers to form the Cashier Gold Mining Company.  Shorty is on the good end this time and ends up with 50,000 shares of stock and $10,000 in cash.  This is the biggest sale he ever makes and he heads back east to celebrate.  Pete's grubstakers formed the Midas Panamint Mining Company and Pete got a lot of stock, but very little money. 

Since this story is about Shorty, it's been said that he was without any real mine to call his own and that he lived mostly off the kindness of strangers who were running out their lives wandering up and down Death Valley in that never ending search for a new strike. It is said for all their searching, their rewards were purely spiritual. 

One of Death Valley's most prominent graves belongs to Frank "Shorty" Harris, who died in Big Pine in 1934.  He asked that he be buried beside Jim Dayton, his friend of bygone days.  "Rest in Peace Shorty and may the sun always warm your dry dusty bones."           
The 2nd Section of the Desert Trail. Death Valley

Ernie checking out Quail Springs
Ernie and Drycamp enjoying the beautiful day .
Reds great picture of the morning sunrise somewhere south of the Owlshead Mountains. 
Unique Death Valley,
Enticing yet dangerous,
How do I resist?

Desert sky brilliant,
Walking alone yet not quite,
Beautifully still.

Sunrise to sunset
Cycles seamless and open
Time becomes endless.

Quiet happy sand,
Time eternal, infinite
Crunch, noisey self!

Desert Trail ahead,
Please be patient and forgive
Any mistakes made.

Haikus from DVHA 11-5-05
Red James
Red & Claimjumper checking out the monuments for Bennetts Long Camp and Borax Works
One of the several channels made by the Amargosa River as it heads north to the lowest point in the western hemisphere.  At 282 feet below sea level, located out in the Badwater Basin. 
After the record rainfall in 2005 most of the salt playa has been wiped smooth.  As time goes by and all the moisture is sucked out of the ground the salt slabs will reappear.   But for now we get to enjoy the many patterns across the valley floor.

"To be hiking in the valley floor, in the company of people that have become my dear friends over the years, I am ever so gratefull for the opportunity to see what few people see and experience it with my fellow desert rats.  I can't help but ponder over the hardships the first white Death Valley wanderers of 1849 came across and I am awe-struck at their tenacity.  What was hell to them has become a haven to us 100+ years later.  I tip my hat to Manly and Rogers for the honorable men they were.  Wish we had some of their kind today."

    This is the article that Skip Smith wrote for the Quarterly Publication of the Desert Trail Association out of Madras Oregon.  He lives in Oregon for some ungodly reason and loves and enjoys the outdoors and jumps on the Desert Trail when ever the opportunity comes up.  So enjoy his narrative.

    The drive to Death Valley National Park in November can be trying.  There was light snow and winds from Sunriver to the California border.  Then no more snow, but heavy winds until Reno.  From Klamath Falls to Reno, I drove between 45 and 50 mph.  I had wisely decided to take an extra half day for the drive.
    Our hiking organization is the Death Valley Hiker Association.  Their illustration president did the eight Desert Trail segments and guide book that are within Death Valley.  His name is George "Grubstake" Huxtable.  Several of the members are also members of the DTA.
    Friday night is the spaghetti night.  Dusty makes the best marinara sauce and Sylvia adds marvelous meatballs.  Dusty's kitchen set up is as elaborate as a rafter's.  And Dusty, with Red's help, even does the dishes.
    It was 8:25 am on Nov. 6, 2005. Six of us waited patiently on the Badwater Road.   We would  look east to the mouth of Sheep Canyon.  It was here a year ago we emerged on the Desert Trail only to be rained on and find the playa too mucky to cross.  But today was to be our day.
    As promised, at exactly 8:30 the four shuttlers arrived in Dr. T 4WD rental.  They had dropped three 4WD vehicles on the West Side Road; two for caches and one to get us back to camp.  It was here Dr. T announced he had made the trip despite going to be married in two weeks.  The females of our group gave Dr. T rather nasty looks.  No problem ladies, he's trainable.  Our hardy hikers were.  Dusty, Claimjumper, Grubstake, Desert Dave, Panamint Red, Sidewinder, Dr. T, Ernie, Gene, and me.  The forecast was a high of 84 degrees with the sun to set at 4:30 pm.
    At 8:45 we were off and hiking.  Red and I were camera happy, so by the time we really got going Dusty was a little dot in the distance.  Everyone else was congregated about halfway between Dusty and us. 
    What a tremendous experience crossing the floor of Death Valley.  The valley floor is 6 miles wide.  The stuff we walked on was either as bumpy as border hopping or soft white stuff.  The dry drainages of the Amargosa River were beyond written description.