A Fortune to Be Made in Death Valley - Borax
Borax and the 20-Mule Team - Men in search of quick fortunes began drifting into Death Valley after the Civil War, hoping to find a lucky strike of gold or silver. In 1881, one such prospector, Aaron Winters, was living with his wife, Rosie, at Ash Meadows, a desolate place near the Funeral Mountain, on the east side of Death Valley. According to one visitor, the Winters lived in a hovel, "close against a hill, one side half-hewn out of rock, with a thatched roof. The earth served as a floor."
That visitor was Harry Spiller, who had come riding down from Nevada, looking for a mineral that men were cashing in on big there. "It lays in dry lake bottoms," he told Winters, "white crystals like cottonball turned into mineral. They call it borax. Big demand for it." Spiller indicated that a fortune could be made by anyone lucky enough to find borax beds in Death Valley. Winters questioned the visitor. He learned that when sulphuric acid and alcohol are poured over borax and ignited, the mixture burns with a green flame. More...
Marksmanship in the Old West
Western Gunslinger Myths - Part of the American credo is a belief that famous shootists of the West were expert marksmen. Much early Western literature deals with seemingly incredible shooting that has never been equaled. The very names of the pistol experts are ones that people have traditionally regarded as "the cream of the crop" when it comes to handling a gun. They include, for instance, Wild Bill Hickok, Jesse James, Buffalo Bill Cody and numerous others. But, were these guys really that good? It can truthfully be said, of all the myths foisted upon the public, the one about frontier sharpshooting is the most exaggerated. And probably the most ridiculous. More...
11,049-foot Desert Mountain
Death Valley's Telescope Peak - MTwo miles above the floor of Death Valley, as I hike up a mountain trail in a temperature of 75 degrees, the image of a mid-summer day on the desert floor fades with each step. I pause at a rolling green meadow, awestruck by a brilliant display of wildflowers spread out before me. As I reach the tree line, where remnants of winter snow still linger, I struggle for another breath.
Hours earlier, our group had gathered at the trailhead at Mahogany Flat Campground, at an elevation of 8,133 feet, to begin a strenuous 14-mile round trip day hike to the top of the 11,049-foot desert mountain called Telescope Peak. Located in the Panamint Range, it is the highest point in Death Valley National Park. The trail is often covered with snow until June. Just a month earlier, hikers had labored through knee-deep snow over the last mile to reach the summit. More...
Ancient Art Remade in Modern Form
Modern Art in the Desert - For a thousand generations, humankind's artists and musicians have given expression to the vision, spirituality, history and worldview of their peoples. We see the evidence on the walls of caves in Spain and southern France, where nomadic Paleolithic hunters painted stunning images of Ice Age animals, their quarry, perhaps 40,000 years ago. We see the evidence on the rocky surfaces of stone alcoves, cliff faces and boulders throughout our deserts, where Paleo and Archaic hunter and gatherers, Puebloan agriculturists and the raiding tribes painted or chiseled a galaxy of images at thousands of sites, with some of the oldest possibly dating more than 10,000 years B.C. Since those early images were likely part of the ritual and magic of the peoples, we can imagine the primal chants and rhythms that may have surrounded the sites during ceremonial events. More...
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