Tuesday, December 11, 2012

More Death Valley-Rhyolite, Titus Canyon and the 20 Mule Team

The start of the 49er encampment saw the 20-Mule Team arrive.  A 20 mule team like this one, with two wagons for hauling 40 tons of borax, along with a water wagon, was pulled approximately 165 miles to the nearest railspur.  
In actuality, the mule teams can be less or more than 20, depending on the size of the load they pulled.  20 Mule Team Borax, a cleaning product, took its name from the mule teams which hauled the borax.  But mule teams only hauled borax for six years, from 1883-1889.  

They had the mules hauling the wagons about 2 miles up to the old Borax plant, and then back to the visitor center.

The trick is turning a corner.  The back mules have to jump over the harness to keep the wagons straight while the rest of the team is starting the turn.  Otherwise the wagons would turn too sharp.  

Here the mules took the wagons off the road at a precarious angle.  The mule wranglers had a hard time trying to get them back in line.

I thought the wagon was going to turn over for a while.

But they eventually got everything back on the road.  Notice how the back set of mules have jumped across the harness and are keeping the wagon straight.

One of my favorite groups to play during the encampment was South Coast.  They were here four years ago too.  They provide a folksy sound, reminding me of the folk music from the 60s.
One day a group of us decided to take the scenic trip through Titus Canyon.  On the way there we stopped at the old ghost town of Rhyolite.

Outside the historical museum (which has always been closed everytime I've been there), was this colorful idea of a couch.

The town of Rhyolite sprang up in 1905 after some mines were opened nearby.  This is the old train depot.

By 1907 the town had electricity, running water, hospital, school, opera house and even a stock exchange.  At one time the town boasted a population of 3500-5000.

Sadly, the town declined as rapidly as it bloomed.  They say by the time this school building was completed, there were only three students to attend.  By 1910 the mine was operating at a loss and the mine closed in 1911.  By this time most of the population had moved on and by 1920 the population was 0.

Tom Kelly's bottle house.  Built in 1905 with thousands of bottles, most beer bottles from the 53 saloons which were located in the town of Rhyolite.  The three room house was finished in five and a half months, but Tom Kelly never lived in it.  He sold raffle tickets for $5 and the winning family, the Bennet's, lived there until 1914.  The inside walls were plastered so you could paint or wallpaper. When I was here four years ago you could walk right up to the house and even look in.  But now they have a large fence around the entire area so you can't get too close.

Outside the house are quite a few interesting statues and figures made from concrete and bright colored glass.  

This large miner is standing in front of the historical museum.  I'm not sure what the smaller statue is supposed to be, but it looks like a penguin to me.

In another area of Death Valley is Stovepipe Wells.  The story says this was one of the few fresh water wells in the area.  Since the water would be tainted if it reached the alkali surface, and since the nearby sand dunes would cover up the well after a sand storm, someone stuck an old piece of stove pipe into the well.  It has been long blocked off and unused, but a hundred years ago this was the lifeblood of those travelers trying to cross Death Valley.

Stopping on top of Red Pass for lunch.

It looks like Phil found a comfy, shaded spot to sit.

The view from Red Pass.

The ghost town of Leadfield.  The townsite dates to 1925 and 1926 and at its peak only had a population of 300, although it did have a post office.  

Standing in front of one of the mine openings.  Notice they have it blocked with bars.  This leaves space for the bats to come and go.

Looking down into the mine you can see the shaft supports.

Titus Canyon is a 26 mile trip, one way, but only the last few miles are you really in the canyon itself.  Then you have several miles of narrow, steep rock walls.  It is a beautiful drive and I enjoy it every time I go to Death Valley.

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