Borax Museum - Death Valley National Park

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This page last updated on 02097/2018
On a visit on 02/28/2014, 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.
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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.
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