Thursday

Weiser Ridge & Quarry – Trip Notes for 03/20/2014

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EFP-EP-P1070172
(Fig. 01)
MSP-Weiser Ridge & Mine
(Fig. 02)
03/20/2014 Trip Notes: As this was our third visit to this area, several of us opted not to go all the way to Weiser Ridge and the quarry area at the end of the road, but rather decided to hike some of the washes and ravines in search of fossils near the California Ridge (Fig. 02), the first mountain range that you cross through (Fig. 01) after you travel across several miles of desert from the I-15 exit (Fig. 03) and begin to enter this area of the Muddy Mountains. The areas highlighted in yellow in (Fig. 02) show the general area that we hiked. Harvey Smith and Cynthia Pace climbed to the top of a ridge on one side of a ravine (Fig. 04), while Blake and I hiked up the ridge on the opposite side (Fig. 05). In one of the washes, Blake and I did find several  large boulders that contained evidence of some shell and sponge fossils (Figs. 06 & 07). While hiking the road on the way back (Fig. 08) “Buster” Brown, another of our hiking partners pointed out a fossil (Fig. 09) that he located in the cliff side next to the road. Could it be a turtle? Though there are several varieties of cacti scattered about (Fig. 10-12), blossoming plants inside this very rocky, mountainous area are quite limited. As many times as I have visited this area, I always find hiking around its unique geology (Figs. 13 & 14) fascinating.
                            
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(Fig. 03)
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(Fig. 04)
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(Fig. 05
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(Fig. 06)
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(Fig. 07)
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(Fig. 08)
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(Fig. 09)
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(Fig. 10)
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(Fig. 11)
EFP-P1070145
(Fig. 12)
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(Fig. 13)
EFP-P1070161-P1070162
(Fig. 14)

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Pauline Mine Road - Trip Notes for 03/20/2014

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(Fig. 01)


03/20/2014 Trip Notes: Even though I had visited this area just a month before, my main reasons for returning was to retrieve a rock that I located in the middle of the road on the last trip that contained dozens of fossilized coral (Fig. 02). We only had to walk a quarter mile up the road to the cairn that I had used to mark the rocks location. As the face of the specimen was flush with the road, we used a shovel to dig around it. As you can see from (Fig. 02) the specimen had already been split into two pieces. After freeing it we carefully hid both the rock and shovel for pickup on our return. We then continued on up the road to the Aztec Quarry and a coouple of mines near the end of the road. Shortly after digging up the rock we spotted two wild donkeys (Figs. 03 & 04) that were eyeing us from about 75 yards off the side of the road. Though both of us had spotted wild horses on previous hikes to this area, this was the first time either of us had spotted wild donkeys. What a difference a month can make. As I was unable to spot almost no blossoming plants on my previous trip, I was surprised to find several  (Figs. 05-08) on this visit.
                             
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(Fig. 02)
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(Fig. 03
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(Fig. 04)
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(Fig. 05)
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(Fig. 06)
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(Fig. 07)
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(Fig. 08)
While climbing around some of the surrounding hills, we had some nice views of the of Goodsprings Valley looking south to the top of Table Mountain (5,140 feet) and the Table Mountain range in the far distance (Fig. 18). Looking east provided views of the Aztec sandstone quarry that overlooks Aztec Tank where we had just hiked the previous month. (Fig. 12) is another picture of my fossilized coral find after I got it home.
                                
EFP-P1070116
(Fig. 09)
EFP-P1070120-P1070121
(Fig. 10)
EFP-P1070123-P1070127-2
(Fig. 11)
(Fig. 12)

Goldstrike Canyon & Nevada Hot Springs

EP-P1060980Goldstrike Canyon & Nevada Hot Springs: This moderately strenuous hike runs down a narrow, rocky canyon to a series of hot springs and several hot pools. Going down, most of the route is fairly easy as it descends about 600 feet in about 2 miles. That said, there are several sections that require some 3rd-class scrambling, six of which have fixed ropes to assist getting over and around some large, slippery boulders, a couple of which are much easier to climb down than up on the return. Once you reach the Goldstrike Hot Springs, it is roughly another half mile of tough scrambling (more fixed ropes) down to Nevada Hot Springs and the Colorado River.

Saturday

Harmony Borax Works

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EFP-P1060838-P1060839-2
(Fig. 01)
Directions: The shortest route to Death Valley from Las Vegas is only 2 hours or 120 miles. From Interstate 15 South , EXIT on NV Hwy 160 West. Drive 60 miles to Pahrump, Nevada and turn left onto Bell Vista Road (3 miles north of Hwy 372). Drive 30 miles to Death Valley Junction, California and turn right onto CA Hwy 127. Drive about 300 feet and turn left onto CA Hwy 190 and drive 30 miles to the Furnace Creek Visitor Center. Then drive North on highway 190, about 1.5 miles past the Visitors Center, and turn left on Borax Mine Road. Park in the lot at the start of the fenced, paved loop that circles the site.

02/28/2014 Trip Notes: This is a short stop in Death Valley near Furnace Creek, was our third stop of the day, and the rain was just beginning to come down. It is the center for a lot of the mining history for Death Valley. In about fifteen minutes you can walk around and see the remains of a refinery, an old twenty mule team wagon, as well as a lot of area history. This pleasant 0.25-mile loop runs on a fenced, paved trail through the historic Harmony Borax Works. Exhibits along the trail include the batch plant ruins, machinery, signs describing life and processes at the plant, and historic 20-mule team wagons. Across the nearby flats (Fig. 02), the remains of adobe buildings stand in quiet testament to the people who made a living here. Out on the flats, salt "haystacks" remain from the day men walked away from here. The picture in (Fig. 02) is of a Borax storage building used stored the processed Borax before being shipped.

(Fig. 02)


Considered an outdoor museum because the natural atmosphere in Death Valley preserves artifacts so well, the Harmony Borax plant and wagon cart are left out in the open for visitors to see. Borax, called “white gold” by miners in the late 1800's, was mined heavily in the area around Death Valley. In the 1800s The Harmony Borax Works was constructed to process the borax before it was hauled away on a twenty-mule team wagon. Though this is definitely not a "destination" site, it is worth the stop. See the sections below for more information. From here we went to the Borax Museum located inside the Furnace Creek Ranch ... Borax Museum at Furnace Creek Ranch.
                                 
EFP-P1060828
(Fig. 03)
History of the Harmony Borax Works:  The Harmony Borax Works are considered an outdoor museum because the natural atmosphere in Death Valley preserves artifacts so well, the plant and wagon cart are left out in the open for visitors to see. After “cottonball” borax was discovered on the marsh near near Furnace Creek in 1881, this became the site of the borax processing plant built circa 1882-84 by William T. Coleman, owner of the Harmony Borax Company, to process raw borax ore for shipment to the train depot in Mojave, 165 miles to the south. The Harmony Borax Works was one of the central features in the opening of Death Valley and the subsequent popularity of the Furnace Creek area. The plant and associated town site played an important role in Death Valley history. The high cost of transportation made it necessary to refine the borax here rather than carry both borax and waste 165 mile across the desert to the railroad. Crude shelters and tents once dotted the flat below, where the Chinese workers, paid $1.60 a day for gathering the ore, ate and slept. Other employees lived at what is now Furnace Creek Ranch. Getting the finished product to market from the heart of Death Valley was a difficult task, and expensive task. Needing a more efficient method, Mr. Coleman commissioned his superintendent, J.W.S Perry to design transport wagons and locate a suitable route to Mojave. As a result, the Harmony operation became famous for its use of the large 20-mule teams and double wagons (Fig. 04) which hauled the semi-processed borax over the long, 165 mile overland route to the closest railroad in Mojave, California.
                           
These twenty mule team wagons solved a transportation problem. Initially teams of eight and ten mules hauled the ore. But with increased production, the first teams of twenty mules were tried. Stretching out more than a hundred feet from the wagons, the great elongated teams immediately proved a dependable means of transportation. With their massive 7 foot rear/five foot front wheels with inch thick, 8 inch wide steel tires (Fig. 05), the wagons could carry 10 tons of Borax. Fully loaded, including a 1,200 gallon steel water tank (Fig. 04), these 16 foot long, 6 foot deep wagons weighed 36.5 tons. Between 1883 and 1888 they hauled more than twelve million pounds of borax from remote and inaccessible Death Valley to the railroad at Mojave.
                           
EFP-P1060834
(Fig. 04)
EFP-P1060831
(Fig. 05)
When in full operation, the Harmony Borax Works employed 40 men who produced three tons of borax daily. During the summer months, when the weather was so hot that processing water would not cool enough to permit the suspended borax to crystallize, Coleman moved his work force to the Amargosa Borax Plant near present day Tecopa, California. The Harmony plant went out of operation in 1888, after only five years of production, when Coleman’s financial empire collapsed. Later acquired in 1890 by Francis Marion Smith (to become the Pacific Coast Borax Company), the works never resumed the boiling of “cottonball” borate ore, and in time became part of the borax reserves of the Pacific Coast Borax Company and it successors. On December 31, 1974, the site was placed on the National Register of Historic Places. Still today, the romantic image of the “20-mule team” has become the dominate symbol of the borax industry in this country.

Refining the Borax: Borates, a form of salt minerals, were first deposited in ancient lake beds that, over millions of years, uplifted and eroded into the yellow Furnace Creek badlands. Water dissolved the borates and carried them to the Death Valley floor, where they recrystallized as borax, commonly called “Cottonball Borax”. Workers refined borax by separating the mineral from unwanted mud and salts, a simple but time-consuming process. First, workers heated water in the boiling tanks, using an adjacent steam boiler (Fig. 06). Then, winching ore carts up the incline, they dumped the ore into the boiling tanks (Fig. 07) and added carbonated soda. The borax dissolved, and the lime and mud settled out. They drew off the borax liquid into a series of cooling vats located below the boiling tanks, where it crystallized on hanging metal rods. Lifting the rods out, they chipped off the now refined crystallized borax. To produce "concentrated" borax, they merely repeated the process. For later transport, the workers bagged and stored the refined or concentrated borax in a barn that stood in the valley below the processing operation.
                                
EFP-P1060822
(Fig. 06)
EFP-P1060827
(Fig. 07)
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Borax Museum (Furnace Creek Ranch at Death Valley)

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EFP-P1060882
Directions: The shortest route to Death Valley from Las Vegas is only 2 hours or 120 miles. From Interstate 15 South , EXIT on NV Hwy 160 West. Drive 60 miles to Pahrump, Nevada and turn left onto Bell Vista Road (3 miles north of Hwy 372). Drive 30 miles to Death Valley Junction, California and turn right onto CA Hwy 127. Drive about 300 feet and turn left onto CA Hwy 190 and drive 30 miles to the Furnace Creek Visitor Center (Fig. 02). The Borax Museum is located at Furnace Creek Ranch at Furnace Creek, about 30 miles from Death Valley Junction and 24 miles from Stovepipe Wells Village.

02/28/2014 Trip Notes: Our last stop of the day was at the Borax Museum. This small, hard to find museum is located inside Furnace Creek Ranch. This historic building is filled with hundreds of historical artifacts, pictures, and displays reminiscent of the borax mining days during the mid 1880’s. The picture “Dance of the Mules”, (Fig. 02), show the delicate sidestepping process required to get the large 20 mule team wagons around the difficult mountain curves.
                       
"Swinging the team around a curve in a mountain pass tested both driver and team: one mistake could spell death for all. As the team started around a sharp curve, the chain tended to be pulled into a straight line between the lead mules and the wagon. To keep the chain going around the curve and not pull the team straight over the edge, some of the mules were ordered to leap the chain and pull at an angle away from the curve. The mules - the pointers, sixes and eights - would step along sideways until the corner had been turned. Swinging a curve successfully was an awesome demonstration of training and team work."
The museum also houses more than a half dozen large shadow boxes containing some of the best displays (Figs. 03 & 04) of mineral elements I have ever seen, including some Chain coral (Halysites) (Fig. 05) and other tabulate coral (Favosites) (Fig. 06) fossilized in limestone from the Siburian period that were found in the Funeral Mountains. But perhaps even better, is the back yard exhibit area that contains just dozens of fascinating mining, logging and farming items, many dating back more than 135 years. The set of pictures (Figs. 07-10) show the frame of a 20 mule team wagon with its massive wheels and hubs. The logging truck seen in (Figs. 11 & 12), its wheels filled with wooden pegs instead of using spokes, were some of the most unique wheels that I’ve ever seen. The steel reinforced spoked wheels of the logging cart (Fig. 13) were used in the Spring Mountains to drag logs from the site where the were felled to the loading dock, where they could be loaded onto logging trucks and taken to the sawmill. The train in (Fig. 14) is the 60 ton, oil burring Baldwin 280 locomotive (#2 engine) that hauled borate ore from the mines at Ryan to the mill and main line railroad at Death Valley Junction from 1916 to 1931. All-in-all, Bob and I both thought this was one of the most interesting and informative museums that either of us had visited in a long time.
                                                
EP-P1060879
(Fig. 02)
(Fig. 03)                                                                                                (Fig. 04)
EP-P1060867EP-P1060865
BoraxMuseum01BoraxMuseum02
                                (Fig. 05)                                                                                                 (Fig. 06)
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(Fig. 07)
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(Fig. 08)
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(Fig. 09)
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(Fig. 10)
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(Fig. 11)
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(Fig. 12)
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(Fig. 13)
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(Fig. 14)

(Fig. 15)
The Borax Museum: This small, interesting museum is located 2 miles south of the borax works, a few hundred feet inside the entrance to the Furnace Creek Ranch between the restaurants and the post office, and is filled with photos and artifacts that provide a colorful history and education about the mining era of Death Valley circa 1885-1927. The building (Fig. 01) was constructed in 1883-1885 and was moved to Furnace Creek Ranch in 1954. It is the oldest wood-framed structure in Death Valley. It was originally the Monte Blanco assay office and later served as a miners' bunkhouse when it stood in Twenty Mule Team Canyon (Fig. 15), near the end of what today is the 20-Mule Team Road. The adjacent structure (Fig 16) is the original mule-team barn. The museum and the 3/4 acre yard behind the building houses an extensive collection of historical items pertaining to the history of borax mining in and around Death Valley. Inside the building you will find a outstanding collection of minerals, small historical objects, and a few items from the Shoshone Indians. The exhibit area in the yard behind the building contains more than 60 historical objects such as mining and farming tools, the 20 mule team feed wagon (Fig. 17), stagecoaches, the 2nd of 2 engines of the Death Valley Narrow-Gauge RR (Fig. 18), and many other historical objects from the mining era. You can purchase an inexpensive self-guided tour book for exploring the back yard at the museum desk. This booklet has a note on the history and use of every item you will see in the yard. The admission to the Borax Museum is free, so the extra cost of the booklet is well worth the price. There are more than 60 items of interest.
                           
EFP-P1060851
(Fig. 16)
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(Fig. 17)
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(Fig. 18)
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