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Death Valley Trails to Chloride City, by Del Albright

Jeeps line up
Del Albright
Four-wheel drive rigs line up to begin the trek to Chloride

Death Valley vista
Del Albright
View toward Badwater and the southern end of Death Valley

Chloride crystals
Del Albright
Chloride crystals

Prickly pear cactus
Del Albright
Blooming prickly pear cactus along the way

It seemed like months since he had tasted a decent drink of water. The sun felt like it was burning a hole through his old miner's hat. His lips were long since chapped beyond recognition, but he wanted to find that pot of gold he'd been looking for. Heat was part of mining in the desert. Nonetheless, August in the Funeral Mountains of Death Valley was no place for a man to be alone. But it was 1871, and he was alone. He thought.

His mule was down slope several yards, trying to find something to munch on in the sparse desert vegetation. He had only his pick with him -- and a good thing too! He almost brought his life to an end when he spotted the rattlesnake in just the nick of time. He pulled his foot up, stopping his step in mid-stride and jumped back a'swinging just as the rattle tail struck out! He chopped down with the pick and won the battle with the snake.

In the aftermath of the fight, he saw where his pick had busted up a good bit of dirt and rock. The rock had a look to it like ore. He felt it and looked closer. His heart almost stopped. He had found silver!

Well, like all stories of the desert, things are not always as they at first seem to be. The old miner thought he had found silver chloride and a boom started faster than you can say Death Valley Scotty. The initial strike turned out to be lead chloride instead of silver, but still miners were flocking to Chloride City on the Chloride Cliffs. Some mines were productive; most weren't.

Today you can visit Chloride City in your SUV (four-wheel drive) and have a wonderful day exploring what is left of our heritage in this once raucous boomtown of the old west. Located directly above Keane Wonder Mine, south of Hell's Gate, the Chloride Cliffs were also known as the "Rim of Hell."

Gold was also discovered there, in fact, on two occasions. Chloride City took on another nickname in 1878 as the "City of Gold." This boom lasted about five years. Then in 1905 gold was discovered again. Welsh and Irish miners were imported to the area to apply their mining skills to some pretty harsh conditions.

If you consider that their drinking and mining water had to be pumped up some 3,500 feet from Keane Wonder Springs, you can only marvel at their ingenuity and persistence. In those late 1800s, miners did some amazing things in search of their own pots of gold. A lot of them died trying, and the gold veins petered out in a few years. The town started to die.

Next: Our Trip to Chloride>

Del Albright
2/16/06

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