Death Valley National Park

death valley, california
Pretty in Pink: Death Valley National Park, not to be underestimated at either end of the mercury scale (PhotoDisc)

Since the 1848 discovery of gold in California, Death Valley has experienced over 140 years of boom and bust mining history. From the 1880s to early 1900s mining was limited and sporadic in the Death Valley region. Many of these early mining districts met with a notable lack of success. Contributing factors were primitive and inefficient technological methods, scarcity of water/fuel, and absence of nearby transportation facilities.

The lack of efficient transportation made it economically impossible to mine any but the highest grade ores. One of the most well known but short lived mines was the Harmony Borax Works, which was active from 1883 to 1888. This mine was made famous not for its ore deposits, but by the 20 mule team wagons and the ad campaigns for the Death Valley Day's radio and television programs. With renewed interest in gold and silver mining, the early 1900s witnessed mines such as Skidoo, Rhyolite, and Keane Wonder become large-scale operations.

The boom towns which sprang up around these mines flourished during the first decade of the 20th century but soon slowed down after the panic of 1907. Besides gold and silver, prospectors scoured the valley for antimony, copper, lead, zinc, and tungsten. Prosperous large-scale metallic mining in Death Valley ended around 1915.

On February 11, 1933, President Herbert Hoover signed the proclamation creating Death Valley National Monument. This action resulted in a temporary closing of the new National Monument lands to mining exploration. However, by prior agreement Death Valley was quickly reopened to mining exploration by Congressional action in June of 1933.

Mining, however, did not end in Death Valley. During World War II, the talc industry developed and remained active until recent markets made mining unprofitable. These mining claims were bought by the Conservation Foundation in 1989 and donated to the National Park Service. It continues to review the status of the remaining 146 active mining claims in the old National Monument lands and will begin a review to determine the validity of the many mining claims on the additional lands while ensuring that federal guidelines are followed and Death Valley's resources are being protected.

Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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