Monday, February 22, 2021

Death Valley - Part 5 - Finale - Mengel Pass, Miner Cabins, Warm Springs Camp and Tocopah Hot Springs

Butte Valley

So after the excitement of Barker Ranch, we now needed to race up and over Mengel Pass and down to the cabins in hopes that we could get one for the night.  Specifically, we hoped to get the Geologist's Cabin - but in reality, any cabin would work!

So we left Barker Ranch, and backtracked a short distance to the turn off North into Mengel Pass.  At first, the road seemed fairly tame - a little off-roading here and there - then we caught up with the Jeeps in front of us, and then the rock crawling began.  Both of the Jeeps in front of us were towing a trailer - but the FJ crawled right along - in fact with more apparent ease than the Jeeps.  

Found On the Road Dead

We passed a Ford which we Found On the Road Dead - but continued on up through the top of Mengel Pass, and down in to Striped Butte.  As I indicated before, we were hoping to get a very specific cabin - the Geologist's Cabin - but it was not to be.  We saw a flag up at Russell's Camp - which we knew we did not want to stay at, and the Jeeps in front of us turned off to Stella's Camp/Mengel Camp, and we went on to the Geologist's Cabin.  And we just missed it.  If we had been 30 minutes earlier, we probably would have snagged it, but no such luck - which is unfortunate, because it is a beautiful little stone cabin which has been kept up extremely well.  

The Jeeps passing the Ford on Mengel Pass

But we decided to head back and see if either of the other two cabins/camps were available - as we pulled up to Stella's Camp/Mengel Camp, one of the Jeeps was there.  We asked if they were staying as they did not yet have the flag up, and he said yes.  But as we drove away, he hollered down to us to come back - Stella's Camp wasn't big enough for them, so they were headed to Russell's Camp, which is larger.  So we had Stella's Camp for the night!

Stella's Camp/Mengel Camp - Butte Valley

We pulled the truck up into the gate and unhitched the trailer.  We investigated the main cabin, as well as the stone cabin below (which had no windows, so we opted not to stay there) and headed in to the main cabin.  The main cabin had a weird smell to it - but we figured maybe it was just stale.  We still wanted to run up and check out Emmett's Cabin, so we put up the flag, left the trailer, and bounced over to Emmett's Cabin - a few miles up past the Geologist's Cabin.  

Emmett Cabin
Emmett Cabin - Inside

Emmett's Cabin is VERY tiny - not even enough room for both of us to sleep in there - but there is an old school bus there - very odd in this setting.  Emmett Harder held a claim on this site to mine and mill on it from 1991 - so not so very long ago!  There are even notices of assessment work in the cabin as recent as 2008.  We discovered that the place is actually called the Lone Tree Mine site, but is, as is common in Death Valley, referred to by the last owner's name.  Emmett Harder was still alive as of 2015 - he spent time with the Manson family, mined and milled in Death Valley, and is now a writer.  After inspecting all the unusual stuff at Emmett's Cabin, we decided to head back as it was getting dark.

Emmett Cabin as seen from the parking area

When we arrived back at Stella's Cabin, Paul got a nice fire going in the Cabin and I plopped down in a camp chair in front of the fireplace to get warm.  The odd smell wouldn't go away, and Paul lit some candles that were in the cabin to try and get rid of the smell.  As I was looking around, I saw underneath the sink a bucket.  On the bucket were some markings in black Sharpie that indicated that it was a mouse trap - via drowning.  As an uncomfortable feeling started to fill my mind, I asked Paul to check in the bucket.  Sure enough, there was a drowned mouse decomposing in the bucket.  He immediately took the bucket outside and dumped the contents while both of us attempted not to vomit.  But immediately the smell began to dissipate and I began to feel more comfortable.  

Clint and Stella Anderson in front of their Cabin in Butte Valley
I sat comfortably in front of the fire for a bit while Paul read to us from the visitor log book.  We learned that the Ford that had been on Mengel Pass had been there for several weeks at least, and we heard about others' adventures in Butte Valley.  Paul wrote a paragraph or so about our trip to Stella's, and then Paul and I decided to read all the articles on the walls about Stella Anderson.  

Sunset at Stella's
Stella Anderson, a Missouri native, prospected with her husband, Clint, for so long she couldn't remember when they moved there.  In 1973, Clint Anderson passed away, but Stella Anderson stayed on.  Visited regularly by her grandson, Bobby, she eeked out a living in the beautiful valley, being visited periodically by people passing through or by the National Park Service on a monthly basis.  As she was quite alone out there most of the time, the locals in the town of Trona, who would periodically come check on her, set her up with a complete CB Radio system.  Paul even explored the old antenna up top of the hill behind her cabin!  
The remains of Stella's CB Antennae

Stella's history is well preserved in her cabin - and was extremely interesting to read about!  But it's dinner time now, and we still have another set of steaks and stuffed mushrooms!  So we cooked in the cabin and made those absolutely delicious Sprouts sirloins again, with stuffed baby bellas.  Again, an amazing night of food cooked on our Coleman stove and using our 1971 Coleman camp oven!  I've said it before, and I'll say it again - we eat well when we camp!  I think I've got this camp cooking thing down to an art!
A romantic overland dinner - steak and sausage/cream cheese stuffed baby bellas, candle, and some reading!
After dinner we decided to watch another movie in our surround-sound theater, otherwise known as Lewis & Clark - the FJ Cruiser!  As we snacked on candy from the store in Beatty, NV and watched our movie, we grew tired and decided to go to bed.  We put on our headlamps, walked back into Stella's Cabin, pushed open the door - and rodents went flying...lots of them.  And that was it.  I wasn't sleeping in there.  These weren't cute little Mr. Jingles.  There were at least 4 or 5 that I saw (and no, we didn't leave food out - everything was cleaned up).  
The truck with Striped Butte in the background
SO - we decided to quickly set up our sleeping space in the trailer.  Which was off kilter, but trying to move it to a flatter area would be problematic.  As we started to pump up the sleeping pads, we discovered that the big one had a rip in it - likely from the broken window we had two days ago - so off came the pads from the cots, and into the camper we went to try and sleep.  Paul slept on the "down" side, and I tried my best not to roll over and squish him in what was already a small sleeping space.  It was a rough night.  But we didn't have rodents running all over on or under us.  
Striped Butte and Butte Valley
We got up the next morning and tentatively ventured back into the cabin - no rodents - Paul started a small fire for warmth and I made sausage, egg and cheese sandwiches.  Paul got the coffee and tea going, and we sat down to eat our breakfast.  We discussed what we wanted to do today - it was only Friday and we weren't scheduled to be home until Saturday night.  But it was unlikely we were going to get the Geologist's Cabin, as we had heard that the people staying there were actually the caretakers, and they themselves had said they might stay a couple of days.
Butte Valley overlooking the eastern Panamint Range
So Paul and I packed up camp, took down the flag, and said our goodbyes to Butte Valley and Striped Butte.  We began the long trek towards Warm Springs - our next destination.  It was early, but it was beautiful, and we followed some hawks out of the Valley...

The drive was uneventful, although quite lovely - we had woke up early, and we were on our way early - and as we pulled in to the Warm Springs camp area, we found a group of four or five trucks just finishing up their breakfast routine.  
Warm Springs Gold Mill Site
The Warm Springs Camp was originally established in the 1880's by tribal chief Panamint Tom, who built a ranch on the sight with over one hundred fifty fruit trees - but they were all washed away in a flood in 1897.  Then in the 1930's, a mining camp was established by Louise Grantham.  Louise had help from a prospector named Ernest Hugn, aka Siberian Red.  The talc mine produced over 830,000 tons of talc, making Louise a profitable woman for a "miner."  In 1939 she set up a gold mill to process ore from the Gold Hill mine in the canyon - the remains of the gold mill and arrastra are still visible as you go into the Warm Springs Camp area.  
Warm Springs Gold Mill with Lewis & Clark in the Background
The buildings at Warm Springs Camp were in use as recently as the 1980's when Pfizer used them to house workers for the talc mine.  In 1984, Pfizer donated the camp to the National Park Service.  There are tons of remains, including a beautiful fireplace, a swimming pool which was fed by the warm spring (although no longer in use) and several buildings.  They are quickly deteriorating, however, and it is likely that within the next 10 years will lose roofs, etc., to the elements.  
Warm Springs Camp Compound
Paul in the Warm Springs Pool - Last Time Paul was Here it was Full!

Beautiful Walk-In Refrigerator Door at Warm Springs Camp
The Glorious Stone Fireplace at Warm Springs

Paul and I poked around Warm Springs for quite a while.  Paul hiked up to the actual spring itself, which was a scramble up the side of the mountain.  The water is not hot, but is warm, and stays warm all the way down the mountain to the ranch/camp houses.  It was used to fill the pool back in the day, and has made for a beautiful, lush, green oasis in the middle of the desert.
The Spring at Warm Spring Camp
After we finished checking out the Warm Springs Camp, we headed over to the Warm Springs Talc Mine - a large operation that winds in a corkscrew down into the mountain.  Paul, being the daring individual that he is, went in.  I stayed outside - you know - for safety reasons.  And because I'm a scaredy-cat.  But I found interesting things to look at nonetheless - and Paul and I were in communication most of the time through the radios.  

Warm Springs Talc Mine - Entrance

Upper Adit Looking Out from Fence
A piece of talc with beautiful growths

Paul Having Too Much Fun Exploring
After Paul finished his mine explorations, we decided it was time to head out.  I had remembered reading about the Tocopah Hot Springs and we decided we would try heading in to Tocopah and see what we could find!  
Airing up on the eastern edge of Death Valley
As we aired up the tires and had some lunch, we said goodbye to Death Valley, and drove in to Shoshone, California.  Here we fueled up (at a rather obnoxious $4.58/gallon) and then drove down to Tocopah.  Tocopah was wonderful - we found a little resort that would allow us a day pass for soaking - and we got to soak for an hour or so, which was incredibly refreshing after a week overlanding in Death Valley.  There isn't much else in Tocopah, but then we decided to drive in to Las Vegas, grab some dinner, and head home.  

This was the longest trip I've ever been on - camping.  And as it turned out, it was amazing!  After a year of me telling Paul "I'm not the camping type" - he got me to spend 5 consecutive nights on the trail - enjoying the stark beauty of Death Valley.  

And I loved it.  Death Valley - we will be back!


1 comment:

  1. Wonderful story. I love how I feel like I am right there with you as I read. We need to name you USABackRoads girl. Thanks for sharing your journey