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Darwin, California, is about halfway (40 air miles to either) between the highest point in the continental United States (Mount Whitney--14,496 feet) and the lowest point (Badwater, Death Valley--282 feet below sea level, the second hottest place on Earth).
Darwin was not always the tiny Mojave Desert ghost town that it is today. In the 1870s, it was a rough-and-tumble mining boomtown, boasting a population of over 3,000--more than half the head count of then Los Angeles. Darwin mines produced the second largest amount of silver in California history, only lagging behind nearby Cerro Gordo.
The townsite of Darwin is not named after the Australian mining town of Darwin, nor is it named for Charles Darwin of evolutionary fame. Although Chuck Darwin's hypothesis of survival of the fittest certainly applied to Darwin, California, during its heydey in the 1870s. If you didn't know how to use a gun or a knife--and use it well--chances are you wouldn't have lasted long. In 1874, the sheriff noted that the bodies in 122 of the 124 graves in Darwin cemetery either died by knife or bullet5.
Darwin townsite is named after Dr. Darwin French (a.k.a. E. Darwin French and Erasmus Darwin French), who named Darwin Canyon, Darwin Wash and/or Darwin Falls after himself, after arguably discovering all or one, sometime between 1850 and 1860. There is no evidence that Doc French ever visited Darwin itself during its brief boomtown phase, or after it started a long decline into near-bust.
French was a New York Physician who had come to California in 1846 in the First Dragoons with Kearny's Army of the West4. A Fort Teton cattle rancher by 1850, he and a Judge Ricard, three "Mariposans" and Ignacio (the token Indian guide), headed out in September of that year, hoping to strike it rich by finding the legendary Lost Gunsight Mine3,6. (At least three other books don't have French in the area until 18605,2,1.) So much has been written about the Lost Gunsight Mine that it could easily have a whole web site devoted to it. Semi-briefly, Jim Martin, along with some other fellow Georgians, were headed for the California gold fields (earlier in 1850?)5. There are several versions--like everything to do with Darwin--what happened next, but this is my web page, so I can use the one I like best. creosote. 1850s' Death Valley.
I found in the mountains near Death Valley. only that it was near a whole slew of outcrops composed of the same odd-looking rock, in a canyon, somewhere near Death Valley. Apparently, his talent for cartography no way near matched his talent for gunsmithing (and still are) in finding what became known as, you guessed it, the Lost Gunsight Mine.
D. French was one. The kegs would give them more exploration range in the Death Valley region, where distance between undependable springs is considerable to say the least. At the forks of the Kern River. At Wall Spring (in the Coso Mountains?)3,6, they added still another Indian, a Paiute3. This one supposedly knew the pass used by Jim "Lost Gunsight Mine" Martin's party (or California-bound emigrants in general). passing close to the great Darwin lead-silver mines (to remain unknown for another 20 years) and halting at the mouth of Darwin Wash, only about 10 miles northwest of Lookout Hill, where Modoc and Minietta Mines would pour out rich silver bouillon in the late 1870s." Mr. Lingenfelter3 has a Paiute "leading them to Darwin Canyon, which French later named for himself. Searched the hills to the east around Towne Pass. Lingenfelter also criticizes the French party for looking for the Lost Gunsight Mine in the Coso or Argus Ranges to begin with. They should have been looking for it in the Panamints.
However, the "hills to the east around Towne Pass" ARE the Panamints, or at least part of them. Go figure. So it sounds like Darwin and the boys came home empty-handed. Or did they? "In March 1860 the French expedition discovered gold deposits in the Coso Range between Little Lake and what is now Darwin. Through the summer, excitement mounted and a modest rush created the town of Coso. The Americans were soon joined by experienced Mexican miners, and Coso became a lively camp. Today it lies within the Naval Weapons Center firing range and is closed to the public."
French party frolicking in the creosote in 1860 not 1850. Did Darwin and the boys make a second trip? "French--with several others including Dennis Searles--made a foray into the badlands in 1860. This time French found silver, but it was miles away in the Cosos. The Party named places like Darwin Wash and Darwin Falls, the mountains and valleys of Panamint and probably labeled other landmarks. "The U.S. Navy took possession of the China Lake Naval Weapons Center in 1944. Within these 766,533 acres known in the old days as the Coso diggings were 1430 mining claims."2 Leadabrand2 has 'em discovering silver--not gold--in the Cosos.
"The town was named for Fort Tejon rancher, Dr. Darwin French, who named a wash after himself when he was in the area in about 1860. Eventually his name was attached to a canyon and a falls, and the town. Dr. French found several silver ledges in the Cosos . . ."5 Or so says Phil Varney5. So who's right? Got me. I got a headache from all this. A bad one.
References (meager as they are) 1Paul C. Bateman, Dorothy C. Cragen, Mary DeDecker, Raymond J. Hock, E.P. Pister, and Genny Schumacher, edited by Genny Schumacher, Deepest Valley, Sierra Club, San Francisco, California, 1962. 2Russ Leadabrand, Exploring California Byways III, Desert Country, The Ward Ritchie Press, Los Angeles, California, 1972. 3Richard E. Lingenfelter, Death Valley & the Amargosa--A Land of Illusion, University of California Press, Los Angeles, 1986. 4Ron and Peggy Miller, Mines of the Mojave, La Siesta Press, Glendale, California, 1986. 5Philip Varney, Southern California's Best Ghost Towns, University of Oklahoma Press, Norman and London, 1990. 6Harold O. Weight, Lost Mines of Death Valley, Calico Press, Twentynine Palms, California, 1970. When Darwin really was Gateway to Death Valley because of Bob Eichbaum's Death Valley Toll Road, which had its start a few miles from downtown Darwin in Darwin Wash.
The Outpost cafe and gas station. If the heated rooms were the cabins, then it's almost a sure bet that the menu came from The Outpost itself. (Only the most slow-witted Darwin entrepreneur would advertise someone else's rooms on his menu.) The history was probably written for the menu before 1937, because that's when the state finished State Route 190 to Death Valley, which bypassed Eichbaum's original road from the Darwin Road cutoff to where Darwin Wash ends near Panamint Springs.
This effectively quashed Darwin's brief stint as gateway to Death Valley (or gateway to anywhere). The Death Valley Toll Road (minus the toll) still exists, some of it in great shape. the road offers majestic views of Panamint Valley, the Sierras and other nearer mountain ranges; down in the wash, steep canyon walls--peppered with interesting geologic features--dwarf travellers. China Garden Spring and Darwin Falls are accessible only by the old toll road.
The lone surviving building of 1870s Darwin still stands (the old schoolhouse), although decidedly very much worse for the wear. Fort Coso, Coso and Cole Springs (?) now lie inside the boundaries of the China Lake Naval Weapons Center and are off limits without special arrangement. So is King's Canyon and its myriad petroglyphs. Considering the hundreds of brawls, stabbings and shootings that occurred in Darwin during its boomtown days in the 1870s. Towne Pass not Townsend Pass leads to Death Valley. As for Three-Fingered Jack, it's a colorful name (brief history from menu courtesy of Darwin Museum). A longer brief history of Darwin, California By Robert P. Palazzo Darwin, California was not always the tiny Mojave Desert ghost town that it is today. In the 1870s, it was a rough-and-tumble mining boomtown, boasting a population of over 3,000--more than half the head count of then Los Angeles. Darwin mines produced the second largest amount of silver in California history, only lagging behind nearby Cerro Gordo.
Named for Darwin's black metal, the rich silver ore that was its lifeblood in the 1870s. The town was named after Darwin Wash and Darwin Falls, which in turned were named by their discoverer, Dr. Erasmus Darwin French, who was not looking for either but for the fabled Lost Gunsight mine. In September 1850, an Indian guide led Erasmus and three fellow searchers through then-unnamed Darwin Wash on the way from Fort Tejon to the mine's suspected Panamint Valley location. Failing to turn up any hint of the Lost Gunsight lode the first time, French mounted another expedition 10 years later and returned, this time concentrating more on the Death Valley area. Again, he had no luck. Darwin proper didn't emerge until long after French left the area.
Inyo Independent--included the first printed mention of what was to become Darwin. When Darwin was still unnamed and part of the Coso Mining District. On December 3, 1874, the New Coso mining district was organized; governmental laws adopted; and officers elected. By December 5, 1874, "the Coso excitement" was "rapidly spreading," according to the Independent. Before year's end, the mining district and townsite were quickly laid out; Darwin officially became Darwin.
Darwin's top-producing mine was the Defiance, so named because of legal wrangling to regain control of it by the original Mexican owners (including Raphael Cuervo). Pat Reddy, Inyo County's flamboyant one-armed attorney, ended up owning it in payment for his legal services, not unusual for Reddy. He also obtained control of the Yellow Aster Mine in Randsburg, California in the late 1890s because of unpaid legal fees. One-armed attorney Pat Reddy, one of early Darwin's most flamboyant residents (photo courtesy of Robert P. Palazzo). The year of 1875 was one of Darwin's busiest. Darwin grew explosively. By March 25, Darwin was large enough to support two baseball teams, the Inyos and the Independents. (For the record, the Inyos beat the Independents that day, 22 to 18.) The first Darwin gunfight newsworthy enough to rate ink in the Inyo Independent also occurred in March.. Seems that Nick Perasich had operated a restaurant in Panamint City and left town for good, owing Bark Ashim (who had a store there) $47.50.
Apparently Bark took unpaid debts very seriously and tracked Nick to Darwin. Finding him on March 10 in Sullivan & Melstadt's Darwin restaurant., Bark barked, "Pay me the forty-seven dollars and a half you owe me, at once!" Was maybe Darwin's first recorded gunfight, but it certainly was not the last. The town went on to become one of the old West's most violent towns, with murder rates rivaling--if not surpassing--those of early Tombstone, Arizona; Deadwood, South Dakota; Bodie, California; and Dodge City.
Samuel D. Woods (California congressman, 1900-1903) about Darwin in 1882. The Coso Mining News, Darwin's only newspaper, published its first issue on November 6, 1875. Editor T. S. Harris moved the paper and printing press from Panamint City at the end of October 1875, when Panamint's fast decline put an end to the Panamint News.
Darwin continued to grow, reaching its zenith in 1877 when its population exceeded 3,000. The nation's economic downturn in 1877 was ultimately felt in Darwin. Darwin mine production also declined in both 1877 and 1878. In May 1878, a fierce labor dispute broke out, the beginning of Darwin's end. On September 21, 1878, the Coso Mining News shut down. Editor T. S. Harris once again loaded up the printing press and newspaper equipment, this time moving to Bodie, he followed them from Panamint to Darwin. In November 1878, Darwin finally got its long-awaited telegraph. Started in the Darwin Hotel and incinerated the heart of Darwin's business district.
By 1880, only 85 men, women and children remained in Darwin. However, Darwin refused to die. Mining and prospecting continued. In fact, Darwin was California's 1argest lead producer in the late 1940s, accounting for over two-thirds of the state's production. Miners gather inside the Darwin store of Silas Reynolds and Domingo Etcharren in 1906. The building burned in 1918 (photo courtesy of Robert P. Palazzo). Although Darwin never achieved the notoriety of towns like Tombstone and Deadwood, some of its citizenry did, including (to name only a few): George Hearst, later a U.S. senator from California and father of newspaper giant William Randolph Hearst, owned several Darwin mines. R. H. "Rob" Paul, a Wells Fargo detective and stage driver in Darwin, befriended the Earp Brothers and later became U. S. Marshall of the Arizona Territory.
Robert S. Hatch, owner of Darwin's Coso Livery and Sale Stable, witnessed the OK Corral gunfight and then became sheriff of Tombstone. Dave Neagle owned a saloon in nearby Panamint City and was in Darwin briefly. Later a Tombstone chief of police, he was also a U. S. Marshall and killed Judge Terry while acting as bodyguard for U. S. Supreme Court Justice Field. Joseph LeCyr, a Darwin stable owner, went on to become deputy sheriff of Calico. Remi Nadeau, the freighting king, built the first four-story building in Los Angeles and the first building with an elevator. Victor Beaudry owned the Darwin waterworks.
He went on to acquire the Los Angeles water system. Ned Reddy, noted gunman in Nevada and nearby Cerro Gordo, brother of Pat, owned Darwin's Capitol Saloon. Some famous Darwin miners and prospectors include John LeMoigne, Shorty Harris, Domingo Etcherran, Bill Corcoran and Jack Stewart. (Etcherran co-discovered the Keane Wonder mine in Death Valley.) Besides its sometimes-notable mining production, Darwin also had a few later brushes with recognition. In 1926, H. W. "Bob" Eichbaum built the Eichbaum Toll Road, which started at Whippoorwill Springs and went along Darwin Wash to Zinc Hill, following the old Skidoo Road, up Towne Pass and ending in the sand six miles from the old Stovepipe Well. At the end of the road, he and his wife built a resort that he called Bungalow City (later renamed Stovepipe Wells). All the sometimes-considerable Death Valley traffic into Death Valley from the west went through Darwin from 1926 to 1937, earning Darwin the moniker, "Gateway to Death Valley." An intrepid motorist leaves civilization behind and heads for Death Valley down Darwin Wash via Eichbaum Toll Road in a photo taken sometime between 1926-1937(photo courtesy of Robert P. Palazzo). The increased traffic also increased public recognition of baskets made by Panamint Shoshone Indians. Darwin was considered to be the center of Panamint Shoshone Indian basketry between 1920 and 1940.
Among makers of the finest of all Panamint baskets were Darwin residents Mamie Gregory, Mary Wrinkle, Maggie Bellas, Maggie Juaquin and Rosie Nobles. Baskets woven by these artists are still considered to be some of the finest of all Indian baskets because of their extremely tight weave, exquisite design and craftsmanship. Darwin had a bit of excitement in November 1934 when "Public Enemy Number One," Baby Face Nelson, was seen eating in a Darwin restaurant. But the days of tourists thronging through Darwin didn't last. By 1937, State Highway 190 opened, bypassing Darwin, leaving no reason to go through Darwin to reach Death Valley. So much for the tourist trade.
The Death Valley Hotel Company's advertising brochure for 1937-1938 changed the gateway city from Darwin to Lone Pine and even eliminated Darwin from its mileage table. Ore from Darwin mines was processed here in the mill buildings. (Darwin mines produced viable amounts of lead, silver, copper, zinc and gold into the 1950s.) Photo was taken looking toward Darwin Hills (Irv Dierdorff collection, photographer unknown). Darwin has no gas stations or other services, except for a phone booth and a post office. Little of 1870s Darwin and its buildings remains to remind visitors of the bright, once-promising side of its checkered past. [Editor's note: Almost all information in "A longer brief history of Darwin, California" came from the author's 1996 book, Darwin, California, the only book exclusively about Darwin and recipient of Virtual Darwin's highest rating, four dust devils. It's available from the publisher (Western Places, telephone: 503-635-1379, P.O. Box 2093, Lake Grove, OR 97035); single autographed copies are available directly from the author at 3002 Midvale Ave., #209, Los Angeles, CA 90034 for $15, plus $2.50 shipping and handling.] Physical Setting.
Darwin has an average annual precipitation of about four to five inches. Precipitation in Darwincomes from a few short, intense storms. Without vegetation to modify the runoff. What there is of it in Darwin townsite and the surrounding area is typical of the creosote bush (Larrea) scrub plant community, relatively common in desert areas east of the Sierra Nevada. Mostly on alluvial fans of large washes, the plant community is characterized by prickly pear or cholla cactus, indigo bush, sagebrush, box thorn, Mormon tea (Ephedra), a few Joshua trees (Yucca brevifolia), brittlebush and--of course--creosote bush, arguably the most recognizable, if not dominant, plant of the community.
The California Native Plant Society's Inventory of Rare and Endangered Vascular Plants indicates that Darwin harbors a known rare plant, Petalonyx gilmanii (the Death Valley sandpaper plant). An investigation of this plant in the Darwin area was conducted by Mary DeDecker, a well known authority on Inyo County flora. Mrs. DeDecker indicated Inyo County, particularly that associated with the creosote bush scrub community.
Common wildlife in the area include coyote, chipmunks, kangaroo mice, pocket mice, kit foxes, desert hares, hawks, doves, lobster-sized scorpions, ravens, chuckars, various song birds, brown-headed cow birds with incessant fingernails-down-the-blackboard obnoxious screeches, huge bat-sized moths, cat-sized bats, various reptiles, reddish five-foot rattlenakes as thick as your forearm and wild burrows that routinely rut loudly outside your windows while chewing on rocks. Geology of the Darwin area is dominated by the Paleozoic sedimentary rocks of the Darwin Hills.
The townsite is located adjacent to the Lucky Jim Wash, a significantly large drainage course.
A portion of Lucky Jim Wash and the unnamed tributary wash are designated as flood hazard zones by the Department of Housing. The townsite overlooks the lower Lucky Jim Wash, a broad plain which rises slowly into the Coso Range to the south (the peaks of which are inside the China Lake Naval Weapons Center). Mount Ophir, the highest point in the Darwin Hills, rises to the north of the townsite. Inyo County Planning Department, Darwin Specific Plan, Independence, CA, February 1978. Geology and Ore Deposits of the Darwin Quadrangle, Inyo County, California, Geological Survey Professional Paper 368, United States Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C., 1962. The Darwin Lead-Silver-Zinc District The Darwin lead-silver-zinc district comprises the area of the Darwin Hills in the south-central part of the Darwin quadrangle. It lies within the organized New Coso mining district. The district has produced an estimated $29 million in lead, silver, zinc, and minor copper. Most of the ore came from the Darwin mine (just outside of Darwin townsite), which consists of consolidation of the former Bernon, Defiance, Essex, Independence, Intermediate, Rip Van Winkle and Thompson mines.
Geology The Darwin Hills are underlain by a thick sequence of limestone, silty and sandy limestone, shale, and siltstone that ranges in age from Devonian on the west side of the Darwin Hills to Permian on the east. The formations represented are Lost Burro formation, Tin Mountain limestone, Perdido formation, Lee Flat limestone, Keeler Canyon formation, and Owens Valley formation. The Paleozoic rocks are intruded by a stock of biotite-hornblende-quartz monzonite in the central part of the district and in the Coso Range. Darwin Hills, the sedimentary rocks are mostly metamorphosed to calc-hornfels.
TThese folds localize some of the principal ore bodies in the Darwin mine. One is on the west flank of Ophir Mountain and can readily be seen from the Darwin mining camp. Independence workings and on the west side of the Darwin Hills adjacent to the Darwin mining camp.The lower unit of the Owens Valley formation on the east side of the Darwin stock. A belt about 800 feet wide can be traced the length of the Darwin Hills.
The Paleozoic rocks in the Darwin district are broken by four sets of faults.Examples are the Darwin tear fault and the Standard fault.These faults are the feeder fissures for the lead-silver-zinc and for the tungsten deposits of the Darwin district.
The Ophir fault is parallel to, but west of, the Davis thrust. Bodies in the Darwin quadrangle are in the Darwin district. Blue and Red veins in the Defiance workings, and the ore bodies at the Custer, Jackass, and Promontory mines.
Two readily accessible bedded ore bodies--the Blue and Red veins--are well exposed at the surface of the Defiance workings of the Darwin mine.
The only important irregular replacement ore in the Darwin district is in the Defiance, workings adjacent to the Defiance fault.
The most notable N. 70 degree E. veins are at the Christmas Gift, Darwin, Lane, and Lucky Jim mines. The ore shoot at the Lucky Jim mine has a maximum strike length of 460 feet on the 200 level, and it plunges steeply to the southwest.
The only economically important, steep northward- striking vein is the Essex vein in the Darwin mine. The other two major northwestern-striking faults--the Darwin tear fault and the Standard fault--contain very little ore. Steep north-striking faults have had some effect in localizing ore.Future of the district New ore in the Darwin district has been found in the past mainly by following downward ore bodies exposed at the surface or in the upper workings of the mine.
Many areas remain to be explored from the present workings of the Darwin mine. Ore in the Darwin mine is in a medium-grained idocrase-garnet-wollastonite rock; dense dark calc-hornfels like that west of the Davis thrust and unaltered limestone are unfavorable.
Ore bodies near the present workings in the Darwin mine.
Geology and Ore Deposits of the Darwin Quadrangle, Inyo County, California, Geological Survey Professional Paper 368, United States Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C., 1962. Darwin, California, is about halfway (40 air miles to either) between the highest point in the continental United States (Mount Whitney--14,496 feet) and the lowest point (Badwater, Death Valley--282 feet below sea level, the second hottest place on Earth). All roads lead to Darwin Distances from important cities and cultural hubs Darwin is: 94.7 miles from Ridgecrest, California (the nearest city with supermarkets and a Wal-Mart). 40.8 miles from Lone Pine, California (the nearest gas station). 2972.6 miles from Marblehead, Massachusetts. 1923.6 miles from Mt. Pulaski, Illinois. 1741.6 miles from Iowa City, Iowa. 223.7 miles from Los Angeles, California. Use this handy scale to figure your travel time to Darwin If your city or cultural hubs is listed above, click here for specific directions to Darwin.
Flash floods closed four separate sections of the road from L.A. to Darwin on Sept 1 and 2, 1997 at Olancha, Red Rock Canyon, Swansea and Little Lake.State Route 127 State Route 136 State Route 168 State Route 178 State Route 190 US 395 US 6 Los Angeles traffic report You're very observant! The chart above is not for Darwin at all. It's for Bishop, about 80 miles to the north. However, that 80-mile difference makes up for Bishop's slightly lower elevation (4,123 feet to Darwin's 4,720). By personal tireless observation, both seem to share very similar climates. By taking temperature readings at all times of the year in Darwin and then comparing the highs and lows (and also random readings) with the Owens Valley Radio Observatory weather station (just outside Bishop) web site, I found that Bishop highs are just about the same as Darwin.
Darwin tends to be a bit warmer, maybe by about five degrees. Of course, the climactic similarities are temperature averages only. During thunderstorm season (July and August), Darwin can be deluged while Bishop remains dry as a bone. Even large winter storms can affect the areas differently. It might snow in Darwin while Bishop is bright and sunny. Bishop stats are the only ones close enough to Darwin's to be meaningful--and you can't get weather conditions from Darwin unless you are actually there or call someone who is. Another way of judging Darwin's current temperature is to subtract 20 degrees from whatever it is in Death Valley at the moment. Nine times out of 10, you'll end up with the temperature in Bishop. So why not just use the Bishop temperature in the first place? Darwin Museum is no longer in Darwin; it's in Lone Pine. Well, that's not entirely true. The Darwin Museum building is still in Darwin but sans contents, which are now 38 miles away in Lone Pine, in the former Schat's Bakery building on Main Street, an unfortunate turn of events for Darwin but fortunate for the museum.
The owner of the museum building in Darwin basically donated its use to the New Coso Heritage Society, which runs the museum.
"Museum seeks a little TLC," an article in the February 10, 1998, Inyo Register (the local thrice-weekly broadsheet outlining all doings, from the nefarious to the good and laudable, in California's most-impoverished-but-most-scenic county) predicted a gloomy future for the star-crossed depository of all things Darwin. Some residents feared that the deteriorating building and lack of local interest would force the remnants of the New Coso Heritage Society to return the museum's contents, piece by piece, to the original donors, many of whom live outside the Inyo area. Enter Marlene Cierniak, owner of Lone-Pine-based Silver Star & Land and Cattle Company. Within two weeks of the Register's doom-and-gloom predictions, she and a band of volunteers moved almost all the museum's considerable holdings to its new home in Lone Pine.
(The large wooden trestles to the right of the museum--originally part of Darwin's Lane Mill--were too large to move and remain, at least for now, in Darwin.) The new museum contains everything from the old museum, including: a realistic statue of a late Darwin resident and museum caretaker--Timmy--dressed as a miner (now looking out a window at downtown Lone Pine), a black widow spider in a jar, many interesting photos, relics found around Darwin by residents and donated to the museum, mining equipment, Indian artifacts, a cow skull and a surgical kit once owned by the late Dr. Darwin French, after whom Darwin is named.
Annual membership in the New Coso Heritage Society is $5; lifetime membership is $100. Dues can be mailed to Ms. Cerniak at 335 S. Main St. (Highway 395), P.O. Box 1228, Lone Pine, CA 93545. The latest info about the new museum can be had at at the Silver Star Land & Cattle Company Web site (photo by Marcia Mack, June 1997). Maturango Peak as seen from the alluvial fan of the Cosos, a few miles outside Darwin (photo by Irv Dierdorff).
Rocks on Racetrack Playa in Death Valley actually slide around to their hearts' content, but the concrete chunk has never moved an inch since it was placed there in June 1997.
Racetrack's roving rocks Although researchers have studied roving rocks on the Racetrack Playa in Death Valley for 50 years, debate continues over exactly what moves the rocks.
Racetrack rocks are known for their seemingly insatiable wanderlust, traceable by concave trails--sometimes hundreds of feet long--across the cracked dry lakebed,.
Racetrack research marched on. In April 1997, Paula Messina, Phil Stoffer and Keith C. Clarke published a GPS study of Racetrack. They used GPS to map every Racetrack feature. Preliminary results suggest that eastern trails are straighter, and the western trails seem less straight and more haphazard.
The meaning? They don't know; more research is needed. (All photos by Irv Dierdorff; Racetrack, Tri-X black and white, circa November 1985; Darwin chunk, October 1997.) The Mystery of the Rocks on the Racetrack at Death Valley, Smith College geology paper, 1997. For another view on Racetrack's roving rocks, check out the renowned Sinister Sliding Stones Web site. Go back to the Death Valley index page, if that's where you came from. Chances are that any camera-carrying tourist, who spent even five minutes in Darwin, has at least one snapshot of "The Outpost." Gateway to Death Valley.
When completed in October 1937, State Route 190 bypassed Darwin, bypassed the tortuous section of Bob Eichbaum's Death Valley Toll Road that wound through Darwin Canyon, and bypassed The Outpost, ending its reign as eatery of choice for hungry Death Valley travellers. Under new ownership, it housed Darwin's post office from 1938 to 1959; peeling painted letters However, those same concrete-like caliche layers also make the walls of Darwin's washes dandy places to dig small underground houses, which is just what early Darwin miners did, because the surrounding desert's scarcity of wood made traditional wood-frame structures extremely expensive to build.
Almost every Darwin wash with steep walls has a dugout or two. Some are merely crude caves. Others (like this one) sport a natty hinged wood door and screened window from some of the more nasty critters that call Darwin home. Darwin mines with hand tools.
Darwin caliche has several properties that aided dugout propagation. The caliche layers lie laterally (horizontally). Darwin's steep-sided washes expose the edges of those horizontal caliche layers to weathering. Wind-driven ice, rain, snow, oxidation and chemical processes somewhat soften both exposed caliche and--by capillary action--adjacent caliche overlain with alluvium. (Irv Dierdorff photo).
Off limits to visitors, except during special tours by Ridgecrest's Maturango Museum, are petroglyphs inside the boundaries of the China Naval Weapons Center.The Coso Mountains contain the densest concentration of rock art anywhere in the western hemisphere. Little Petroglyph Canyon, considered the best petroglyph site on the base (photo by Marcia Mack).
To find out trip dates and how to sign up, click this little old link to Maturango Museum right here (you might need to scroll through their page a bit to find the info). Darwin Falls: A twisted tale of water rare, fierce heat, horses, dress shoes and guns Darwin Falls is a real rarity, a genuine waterfall in a genuine desert, not a half-assed seasonal seep, Darwin Falls majestically falls 365 days a year at the edge of Panamint Valley, the next valley over from the Valley of Death. Panamint is fiercely hot in the summer, an oven, a potter's kiln, perhaps only a scant five degrees cooler than Death Valley.
Darwin Falls Wilderness was under Bureau of Land Management control until October 31, 1994, when President Bill signed the Desert Protection Act into law, adding 1.3 million acres to Death Valley National Park (DVNP), including Darwin Falls Wilderness, 100,000 acres in northern Panamint Valley. With over 3.3 million acres, DVNP is the largest national park outside Alaska. (That fact has little to do with Darwin Falls, but comes in handy if you need to impress someone at a cocktail party or meat-packing-plant picnic.) The Darwin Falls road, actually part of the old Death Valley Toll Road, is two miles of some of the worst suspension-ruining washboard in the Mojave Desert, second only to the road from Ubehebe Crater to Racetrack.
Bang a left off SR 190, one mile after Panamint Springs Resort. Only attempt this if you're headed toward Darwin. Don't try it if you're coming from Darwin. If you bang a left, one mile after Panamint Springs Resort, coming from Darwin, you'll end up on no road at all, out in the creosote on the edge of Panamint Dry Lake, looking stupid. Adding a unique road-apple bouquet to Panamint Resort's water supply, which by chance just happens to be the water from Darwin Falls.
I've yet to see a horse on the Darwin Falls trail.
Guns and Darwin Falls: Exploring the enigma At Darwin Falls, "Pack it in, pack it out" surprisingly refers to packing iron not garbage.
Whatever perceived threat Darwin Falls poses, it must be considerable.
Such supposition, however, is completely unfounded on my part, utter guesswork. So, at least for now, the enigma of guns and Darwin Falls continues (photo courtesy of the Lloyd Woolever collection).
Little Evidence Remains of Midgets Role in Building Scotty's Castle Except for tiny entrances to their spartan underground dormitories (this one near the current-day public restrooms), little evidence remains today of the important role midgets played in the construction of Scotty's Castle. Built between 1921 and 1931 in an isolated corner of Death Valley, the $2 million cost of the nine-building compound was borne by Chicago financier Albert Johnson, who preferred midget labor for three reasons, according to a 1927 interview in Atlantic Monthly: Midgets ate less, so feeding costs were considerably cheaper than "full-sized" workers. Food was scarce in remote Death Valley and extremely costly to import.
Mine owners couldn't afford their overinflated wage demands. Midgets also brought much-needed entertainment to Death Valley. Albert Johnson and castle namesake Walter E. Scott (aka Death Valley Scotty) were avid outdoorsmen and thespians. Unfortunately the solitude of isolated Death Valley forced them to limit theater attendance to occasional forays into distant cities (photo by Irv Dierdorff, April 1998). Many Death Valley hotspots (pun intended) sport monikers that either compare the area's searing temperatures with the fires of hell or foretell the deleterious end effect (namely death) of said heat on the otherwise robust health of the unwary. Cheerful names for Death Valley locales from the latter category include the Funeral Mountains, Last Chance Range, Dry Bone Canyon, Dead Horse Canyon, Deadman Pass, Coffin Peak, and the always upbeat Starvation Canyon, among others. Comparisons of Death Valley's fiery temps with the brimstone-stoked underworld inspired: Dante's View, Hell's Gate, Satan's Outhouse1, Devil's Speedway, Devil's Golfcourse, Devil's Hole and Devil's Cornfield (above), a few miles northeast of Stovepipe Wells on State Route 190. Devil's Cornfield supposedly was named.
Death Valley was a bit of a shock to the old system back then, physically and visually. Devil's Cornfield. Pick up the appropriate flyer at Stovepipe Wells, Furnace Creek or any other number of DV-info dispensaries.
Not so for the $2.99 steak-and-eggs breakfast special served at the Stage Coach Casino in Beatty. The two-hour trip from Darwin to Beatty. Results of the risky (Beatty is home to a low-level nuclear dump).
On the return trip to Darwin, researchers were disappointed to find that low-light levels at the Devil's Cornfield precluded photographic documentation. A stop at Stovepipe Wells also turned disappointing. Death Valley National Park staff produced the probable cause--many large tour buses had stopped at Stovepipe Wells during our fact-finding foray to Beatty, and the occupants had denuded the normally filled informational brochure display. (Infrared photo, about 1983, by Irv Dierdorff.). Dirty Socks Hot Springs is about 28 miles from Darwin, 4.7 miles outside Olancha, accessible from the west side of State Route 190 by about a half mile of semi-paved road. It sports a beautiful view of the Sierras but is also smack in the middle of the worst dust-storm-producing section of Owens Dry Lake
Possible reasons for Dirty Socks's plight include its large size. Many other springs in the Owens Valley are now dry because Los Angeles Department of Water and Power has so lowered the water table by groundwater pumping and diversion of the Owens River into the L.A. aqueduct.
(Infrared photo by Irv Dierdorff, about 1984.) Everything from Tremors to Gunga Din has been filmed in the Alabama Hills on either side of the road to the Mount Whitney trail head, just minutes from Lone Pine and 30 minutes from Darwin (infrared photo by Irv Dierdorff, late October 1985). Lone Pine is known for its beautiful rugs, always kept in spotless condition. Actually, Lone Pine is not known for its beautiful rugs, but I haven't had time to scan the real photo that goes here.
Olancha's gas stations are actually closer (32 miles versus Lone Pine's 38-plus), but it lacks a real grocery store and other Lone Pine amenities, Mount Whitney trail head (Whitney Portal), one fast foodery (Carls Jr.) and lots more. Still, the town is only about a mile long. It does, however, have a traffic light. If you want to know more about Lone Pine, including its annual film festival, see the Lone Pine Chamber of Commerce link on the links page. The Eastern Sierra Web page also has a Lone Pine page. Panamint Valley The significance of the desert: In the desert, .
1Edward Abbey, Confessions of a Barbarian (selections from the journals of Edward Abbey, 1951-1989). Little, Brown and Company, New York, 1994, p. 185 (excerpt written in Hoboken, New Jersey, January 19, 1963). Photo by Irv Dierdorff, about 1990, of Panamint Butte near Lake Hill with the head of Mr. Ed (no relation to the author of the preceding quote). Explanation of nomenclature: Panamint Valley was swallowed up by Death Valley National Monument when it became Death Valley National Park. But Panamint Valley is not in Death Valley, it's in Panamint Valley. However, it is in Death Valley National Park. Same goes for some other additions to the park, plus some areas that have been in it forever. Saline Valley is in Death Valley National Park, but Saline Valley is not in Death Valley. Eureka Dunes are part of Death Valley National Park but are geographically located in Eureka Valley. Badwater, Furnace Creek, Stovepipe Wells, the Devil's Cornfield and Devil's Golf Course--however--are in Death Valley.
Saline Valley east of Saline Valley Road is in the park; but Saline Valley west of the road is under BLM jurisdiction. Disagree about how the pages are set up? Feel free to start your own Web site and arrange them the way you want. "Tom's Underground City, only three miles ahead" is just one possible message that an enterprising artiste could paint on this well-constructed unused sign in Panamint Valley, near the intersection of Panamint Valley Road and Trona Wildrose Road. Panamint Valley (although now part of a national park) sees almost an incessant parade of low-flying, barrel-rolling, sonic-booming, screeching fighter jets, not to mention huge prop-driven transport planes.
TBallarat. The post office closed in 1917. About halfway between Trona and Panamint Springs on Indian Ranch Road, Ballarat is privately owned. Fortunately, gaining permission to explore its dusty deserted streets is always cheerfully granted by the caretaker, usually found in the general store (photo by Irv Dierdorff, November 1997). Prehistoric Panamint People Prayed, Celebrated X-mas, Science Team Says Proof positive that paleolithic predecessors of present-day Panamint Paiutes prayed to a Christian God--and celebrated Christ's birthday--is this recently discovered ancient intaglio on the northern section of Panamint Dry Lake. Nearby Panamint Springs Resort from a high-speed knee collision with a rathskeller bar stool.
After archaeologists returned from the Panamint Valley expedition to their respective noted colleges, it seems that Cole gave the intaglio location to a testing laboratory, so that a rock could be dated by the little-known iridium-dating technique. Which has jurisdiction over Panamint Valley, was momentarily dumbfounded about the mixup but quickly.
NPS expects to complete a small snack bar adjacent to the site by October. Besides Bodie, California, probably more ruins and structures survive in Rhyolite, Nevada, than any other Mojave Desert ghost town, Rhyolite was virtually a ghost town by 1911, only seven years after its name first graced a map. Decline of its most productive mine, the Montgomery Shoshone, contributed to its downfall, as did the abrupt loss of financial backers. Rhyolite was named after the area's predominant rock, the coarse-grained igneous equivalent of granite.
By the 1920s, Rhyolite had one resident, a 92-year-old Frenchman. Today, the most prominent landmarks--in various states of decay--include: the aforementioned Cook Bank, a store front (right photo), scads of foundations, the old jail (minus a roof and a wall), the train depot (once Nevada's finest) and the Bottle House. Just outside Death Valley National Park, Rhyolite is a few miles northwest of Route 374, the road from the park to Beatty, Nevada. On the road to Rhyolite is a not-to-be-missed group of environmental art installations (photos by Irv Dierdorff, 1983, Kodak Tri-X ). 1Some of the information about Rhyolite came from a tri-fold brochure: Rhyolite. Friends of Rhyolite, P.O. Box 85, Amargosa Valley, NV [no date]. Every photo (including this one) that I have seen of Papoose Flat in the Inyo Mountains only hints at its beauty.
Many vantage points from lichen-covered boulders along the flat's western edge offer incredible vistas across Owens Valley, 5,000 feet below, to the snow-capped Sierras beyond. At the flat's 8,500 feet, the views of the Sierras are from a perspective decidedly very different from the valley; much more of the rugged valleys and glaciers are visible. In fair weather, the best road in is off Harkness Flat, which is off Eureka Valley Road out of Big Pine.
on what is loosely called a road, from Badger Flat to Papoose Flat. Much of the time, you and your vehicle are among stunted trees bearing the scars of countless lightning strikes. The road to Papoose that comes in from Andrews Mountain would be the best route--except for the switchbacks. The one up from Harkness Flat is a close second (photo by Irv Dierdorff). Hey, this isn't Saline Valley!
Darwin, some 60 miles distant to the rear, is blocked from actual view by mountains (probably the Nelsons and Hunter Mountain). They also have images of Owens Valley and Death Valley. Bat Rock . . . in Saline Valley marks an intersection on Saline Valley Road. drink of water, a rare commodity in Saline Valley, which shares similar hellacious temperatures with Death Valley, the second hottest place on Earth, the next valley to the east.Saline Valley and other remote areas recently included in Death Valley National Park (DVNP). An historic Saline Valley tradition that has been going on for at least 30 years? Everything east of Saline Valley Road (including Bat Rock) is in the park; anything to west of the road is still under BLM jurisdiction. (Color contact test prints by Marcia Mack of 4 X 5 color negatives in a plastic sleeve.)
At that meeting, the once-owner learned that Death Valley National Park--without any public notice--expanded its boundaries to include the mountain range containing this cabin.
(photo by Irv Dierdorff). Not much has changed since U2 posed beside this Joshua tree, somewhere in the Death Valley area, for "The Joshua Tree" album back cover 11 years ago. Isn't that Bono's bootprint over there to the right, next to that gigantic cow pie? Don't bother asking where the tree's at. Virtual Darwin's undercover operative in England swore the crack tree-finding team to secrecy before reluctantly revealing the general location of the historic site