Death Valley
Historic Resource Study
A History of Mining
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D. The Valley Floor

1. Presenting Death Valley to the World

a) Resorts Open in the 1920s

Death Valley, land of terrible thirst, whose strange beauty and unique geology long have been associated with romance and mystery--and strange tales of heroism and lingering death--is about to lose its distinction as one of the few remaining regions of the globe known only to the adventuring trail breaker, the hardy prospector and the perspiring borax worker.

Soon the eye of the ubiquitous tourist will view with unconcern its legendary terrors and gaze in perfect comfort and safety upon its grim wonders. Civilization again extends its frontier--and the goodly company of adventurers lose one more of the rapidly vanishing 'far places" of the earth. [1]

Illustration 255. Map showing old Stovepipe Wells, Stovepipe Wells Hotel, Eichbaum Toll Road route, and McLean Spring.

Not until the 1920s did Death Valley's general isolation from the public end and its spectacular scenic and historical resources open up not only to the neighboring populace but eventually to people across the nation and around the world. H.W. Eichbaum accelerated this chain of events by construction of his Stovepipe Wells resort in 1926 in the upper part of Death Valley--the first tourist accommodations in the area. Its northerly location and the fact that it was most easily accessible over the Panamints from the west meant that it attracted people primarily from southern California and the Owens Valley area. The road leading from that hotel south toward Furnace Creek Ranch was, however, a fair desert road, and the opening of Furnace Creek Inn in 1927, offering a whole new segment of the valley to public view, was an added incentive to journey in that direction.

This later hotel was operated by the Pacific Coast Borax Company, which after the cessation of mining activity at Ryan became interested in promoting tourist travel to Death Valley in order to continue operating and making profits off its Death Valley Railroad and its facilities at Ryan and Death Valley Junction. Important strides were made in encouraging travel to the area when the company's project gained the support of the Santa Fe and Union Pacific transcontinental railroads, whose promotional campaigns for package tours did much toward introducing people to this part of California. The chance to be transported in relative luxury on the railroad all the way from Los Angeles, and then to be motor bussed to nearby scenic wonders, meant a comfortable and relatively easy trip for many.

The blessings and approval given to the promotion of tourism here that was offered by various National Park Service officials such as Stephen T Mather, director, certainly were not detrimental to the success of the undertaking. Indeed, Mather was an active consultant with the railroad men and others concerned with the planning phases of the Furnace Creek Inn operation.

Usually it required only one exposure to the valley's awe-inspiring vistas and strange geological formations, and perhaps one day of basking in the temperate climate (further warmed by the knowledge that one's friends elsewhere were suffering winter's hardships), to convince people that here was truly another magnificent winter playground. The chance to view Mt. Whitney, highest point on the continent, and at the same time marvel at its lowest elevation, Badwater, on the floor of Death Valley, was an opportunity not to be missed.

According to Harry Gower, an engineer for the borax people for almost fifty years, this venture into the tourist business was not an easy one for the company or its employees:

Looking back, however, at the adversities of past years, no one can now imagine why we were so anxious to get into the hotel business in Death Valley in 1927. Maybe it looked like a good idea then but certainly in 30 years no great profits from it have plied up in the Company coffers. The principal headaches and drawbacks were the short winter season and the consequent bother and expense of opening up in the Fall, recruiting a staff and then closing down again before the next period of hot weather. Other problems could be listed, such as generation and failures of electric power, production of water, operation of the laundry and the ruinous effect on our equipment of the extremes of the weather, dust, flash floods, etc. [2]

b) Tourism Increases When Area Becomes National Monument

Increased travel was insured when the area was turned over to the federal government as a national monument in 1933, for federal guardianship of its vast acreage meant a corresponding improvement in its roads and facilities. The region's attraction was unique in that it was most endurable and hospitable during the winter when other national parks were blocked by ice and snow. Thus it was in a position to absorb much of the tourist trade crowding into California's sunnier climes. Phenomenal progress was soon made in constructing and either hard surfacing or oiling new highways within the monument, and in opening up new trails and water holes to enable ever-expanding exploration of the valley's resources. Eventually an airport was needed, campgrounds were constructed, and housing for government employees was added. This rapid development resulted in an increase in visitation to the area from only a few thousand in 1933 to almost 50,000 in 1936.

Resorts were enlarged to accommodate the visitor influx, Furnace Creek Inn having to add a second dining room, a larger lounge, and improved furnishings. Furnace Creek Ranch added housekeeping cottages and more cabins. Even the Amargosa Hotel at Death Valley Junction enjoyed a profitable business. All three main Death Valley hotels are important and significant in their own ways. Furnace Creek Ranch is the, oldest establishment, having been founded initially as a supply point for the Harmony Borax Works, producing food for both its stock and workers. It was opened for visitor accommodation in 1933. The Stovepipe Wells resort was built from scratch by H.W. Eichbaum, and first opened its doors in November 1926. Its success helped encourage opening of Furnace Creek Inn in February 1927 by the Pacific Coast Borax Company.

Since then the different hotels have enlarged and expanded their services and facilities. Today they are the main supply centers in the area and are smoothly and professionally run operations, catering to thousands of. visitors annually by providing accommodations, food, books and literature on the region, and generally performing a valuable service in helping acquaint visitors with the inspiring beauty and absorbing and romantic history of this once formidable part of California.

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Last Updated: 22-Dec-2003