The Indians were undoubtedly the first to look upon Death Valley, and probably the Spaniards were next, but it remained for the Forty-niners to bestow the first publicity. The Jayhawkers and the Manly party, seeking a shorter route to the gold fields of California, made the first recorded crossing of Death Valley. Weakened by their long journey from their homes in the East, during which they fought their way at first doggedly and then despairingly, blazing their trail with abandoned equipment andbleaching bones, they ventured into Death Valley to find their way shut off by the towering Panamints. Camping at Bennetts Well, named for 1 of the party, they sent 2 of their number ahead to seek a route through the mountains that would lead them out of this valley of despair. After many weary days the scouts returned with the necessary information and the pioneers started on the last lap of their long journey in search of riches. As they opped the crest of the mountains they paused and gazed back over the vast wasteland which, to them was synonymous with tragedy and suffering, and uttered a farewell: "Good bye, Death Valley." It has never known any other name.
After these pioneers came others. Seekers of gold paused and prospected the valley and the srrounding mountains. Precious minerals were uncovered and hundreds flocked to the find. Location monuments still mark the claims they staked. Ruins of buildings still stand, marking a measure of success. Dotting the landscape are elongated mounds of earth and rock, some with crude wooden headboards, silently proclaiming the resting place of those who tried and failed.
Borax is chiefly responsible for the taming of Death Valley, for it was borax that brought in men and their families as permanent residents. Eagle Borax Works, the first, is now a watering place for man, bird, and beast. The Harmony Borax Works with a few 'dobe cabins surrounding it bears mute testimony to the activity that once flourished there.
The abandoned mining towns of Leadfield and Skidoo lend color to the history of the region.
Nearby are other ghost towns such as Rhyolite, Bullfrog, Panamint City, Wildrose, and Ballarat.
The mining operations and scattered buildings made but small marks upon Death Valley and the surrounding region enclosed in the national monument. It is today much as it was when white men first saw it. The visitor can see without the exercise of imagination, the grim and forbidding barrier that demanded and collected toll from the early travelers. Though the danger is held in check today by easy and rapid transportation, the threat remains, and unless the visitor is familiar with and prepared for desert travel, he is advised to say on the main roads.
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© 2000-2002 by Jacque Rogers