Death Valley Ghost Towns & Mines

20 Mule Team Wagon, Harmony Borax Works, Death Valley, California, Kathy Weiser, 2015.

20 Mule Team Wagon, Harmony Borax Works, Death Valley, California, Kathy Weiser-Alexander, 2015.

Since the 1848 discovery of gold in CaliforniaDeath Valley has experienced over 140 years of boom and bust mining, creating a number of ghost towns in the area. Little did those many miners passing through the area in 1849 know that there were vast deposits of gold, silver, copper, and borax just waiting to be taken out of the mountains and valley floor.

From the 1880’s to early 1900’s mining was limited and sporadic in the Death Valley region, mostly because many of these early mining districts met with a notable lack of success. Primitive and inefficient technology, scarcity of water and fuel, and the difficulties of transportation made it economically impossible to mine any but the highest grade ores. Some of the towns that died even before the turn of the century included Kasson, Rhodes Spring, Old Tecopa, Old Stovepipe Wells, and Panamint City, as well as dozens of mines.

However, one of the earliest successful mining operations was the Harmony Borax Works, which was active from 1883 to 1888. This mill was famous not for its ore deposits, but for the Twenty Mule Team wagons used to transport the partially refined borax.

With renewed interest in gold and silver mining, the early 1900’s witnessed a number of new mines and settlements. SkidooRhyolite, and Keane Wonder Mine became large-scale operations. The boom towns which sprang up around these mines flourished during the first decade of the 20th century but, soon slowed down after the panic of 1907. Prosperous large-scale metal mining in Death Valley ended around 1915.

In February, 1933 President Herbert Hoover signed the proclamation creating Death Valley National Monument, which resulted in a temporary closing of monument lands to prospecting and the filing of new mining claims. However, by prior agreement the monument was quickly reopened to prospecting and mining by Congressional action in June of the same year.

Close-up of wagon wheel, Twenty Mule Borax Wagon in Death Valley, California.

Close-up of wagon wheel, Twenty Mule Borax Wagon in Death Valley, California.

As improvements in mining technology allowed lower grades of ore to be processed and new heavy equipment allowed greater amounts of rock to be moved, mining in Death Valley improved. Open-pit and strip mines for borax and talc began to scar the landscape as internationally-owned mining corporations bought claims in highly visible locations of the national monument. However, the public outcry that later ensued led to greater protection for all national park areas. Congress passed the Mining in the Parks Act in 1976 which closed Death Valley National Monument to the filing of new mining claims, banned open-pit mining and required the National Park Service to examine the validity of thousands of pre-1976 mining claims. Mining was allowed to resume on a limited basis in 1980 with stricter environmental standards.

In 1994, when the area became the Death Valley National Park, the park assumed  jurisdiction over hundreds of additional unpatented mining claims. For the next decade, the Billie Mine, an underground borax mine along the road to Dante’s View, was the only active mine in the park. In 2005, when the Billie Mine closed, the last of Death Valley’s mines had ceased operations.

In its wake, mining created more than a hundred ghost towns and mining camps in Death Valley, though these are quickly decaying, due to weather, vandalism and neglect. Throughout the valley are the ruins of mills, metal and stone buildings, mine openings and few still intact towns.

There are numerous ghost towns in the Death Valley area in both California and Nevada. Here is a list, along with location and a few notes about what remains for each.

Ghost Towns, Mining Camps, and Closed Mines:

Amargosa, Nevada – East of Amargosa Valley, Nevada – Railroad foundation only. Note: The townsites of Original, Nevada and Death Valley Junction, California, were also called Amargosa for a time. Bullfrog, Nevada was called Amargosa City briefly.

Amargosa Borax Works, California – Near Shoshone, California – Foundation remains, low adobe walls.

Arrastre Spring, California – Eastern slope of the Panamint Mountains overlooking the salt flats of Death Valley – An old deteriorating arrastre and numerous petroglyphs.

Ashford Mill, Death Valley, California

Ashford Mill, Death Valley, California, Dave Alexander, 2015

Ashford Mine and Mill, California – West of Shoshone, California – Several standing buildings, mining remains.

Ashton, Nevada – Southwest of Beatty, Nevada – none.

Ballarat, California – Northeast of Trona, California  – A few remaining residents, miners’ cabins and other tumbling shacks, crumbling walls, several foundations.

Barker Ranch, California –  Death Valley National Park – Ruins of cabin, small guest house.

Beatty, Nevada – Nye County, Nevada –  Not a ghost town, but a vital part of Death Valley mining days.

Bend City, California – Near Kearsarge, California – None

Beveridge, California – East side of the Inyo Mountain Range. Mining remains, rock walls. Recommended only for experienced back-packing hikers

Bonnie Claire, Nevada – Northeast of Scotty’s Castle – Significant ruins and mining remains.

Bowlerville, Nevada – A few miles south of the Johnnie Mine in Nye County, Nevada. – None.

Browne’s Camp, Nevada – Nye County, Nevada – None

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