Treasures of Death Valley

April 15, 2014 

NOTE: This is the first of a two-part story about the treasures of Death Valley

This will be my fourth consecutive year for another exciting adventure into the desert and mountains of Death Valley. The last week in March and the first two weeks in April are the ideal times to visit this colorful work of nature.

Temperatures on the valley floor during the night will be around 48 degrees and during the day 78 to 92 degrees. If one waits until mid-may, day time temperatures can exceed 107 degrees.

After driving past Stovepipe Wells, the distant mounds of the Mystique Sand Dunes come into view. The shadows from the evening sun give these dunes a different personally. They are a must see both morning and evening for that unique photo opportunity.

The drive east on the road to Scotties Castle will keep one excited just looking at the multi-colored mountains lining the highway. On previous trips this historic castle was on my vacation schedule. But this evening I'll be setting up my first campsite at Mystique Spring Campground located next to the main Death Valley Wash before Scotties Castle.

Today I'll drive past Ubehebe Crater and continue the 20-plus miles on the dirt and rock road (Race Track Road) to Tea Kettle Junction. Yes — I said Tea Kettle Junction. A lonesome sign in the middle of the desert and hanging from this sign are tea kettles of all sizes placed and signed by passing tourists.

This desert road follows between the Cottonwood Mountain Range and Last Chance Range. Normally the desert floor is covered with wild flowers, but I believe I'm two weeks early this year. The Barrel and Beaver Tail Cactus have blooms along with the Joshua Trees. Maybe when I return in six days, I'll be rewarded with new desert colors.

At the Tea Kettle Junction, I'll follow the Hidden Valley Road to the Lost Burrow Mine and once again try and follow a one-lane dirt and rock 4x4 road. My hiking started around the half-way point toward the mine. Leaving my jeep was worth the extra effort when the mine came into view. In the distance was the miner's cabin, storage shed and on the mountain side was the mill and loading structure. This mine was discovered in April 1907 by Bert Shively, an active prospector in Death Valley. Gold and Silver were its principal minerals.

A small canyon separated the main mines from the mill. On the canyon south wall are mounds of tailings from eleven separate mines (some of which may still be active). Following this canyon in elevation to the ridge gave me a surprise. I was now staring down at the race track 1,900 feet below.

After almost four hours of adventure, now it's time to hike back down to my vehicle and back to the cross-roads. Our next destination is called Rest Springs and follows another desert 4x4 road ten miles to 6,500 feet. At this point, I will start hiking to Rest Springs and continue in elevation to Burro Springs around 7,200 feet.

History states that in 1917 a pipe line was constructed from Burro Springs down to the valley and up to Lost Burrow Mine. This would give the miners the option of processing the ore at the mining site. There are still sections of rusted pipe along this remote canyon.

We set up our tent along the canyon just below Rest Springs. The following morning our tent had accumulated ice on its surface. To my surprise the morning temperature dropped below 30 degrees. Time for a quick cup of hot coffee, break camp and start the twelve plus miles back to Tea Kettle Junction. Then continue following the Race Track Road another six miles to the Grandstands at the Race Track (flat lake bed with moving stones). After waking on the dry lake bed surface, it was back to our vehicle and proceed to the dry campground at the base of the Lippincott Mine area.

Part two of this story will describe hiking and mining areas within Death Valley.

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