16 Apr 2018

Jewellery related trips on holiday in Death Valley

I just went on a trip to Death Valley in California and it turned out to be surprisingly jewellery-related. Death Valley attracted its fair share of miners during the late 19th century gold rush, but interestingly there were hardly any profitable mines in the area. One mine which was profitable was the borax mine! I may have been one of the most interested parties walking around the borax museum!! The museum was an outdoor selection of equipment used to mine and transport the borax mostly from the 1880s.

After the museum, I went to see the old borax mine. It's quite amazing to think of the miners slogging away in the desolate surroundings, especially as the average temperature during the summer months is 47C. If you click on this photo, you can read a bit about "white gold"! And you can see a photo of the iconic mule trains that were used to transport the borax. The mule trains became a symbol of the miners working in the Death Valley area, despite the fact they were only used for about 6 or 8 years total!

This is the view away from the borax mine down to the car park. It's amazing how much space there is and the sweeping, impressive views.
Here you can see part of a remaining mule train car - although the mules have been replaced by an engine. Imagine the same wagons with 15-20 mules in front - it would have been an impressive sight.
Some of the miners lived very close to the mine. It's hard to imagine the conditions, with the heat and desolation and very limited water sources. I believe they ate mostly tinned food, and certainly the Chinese workers recruited from San Francisco didn't really get a good deal!!! (Click to read more details)

Besides all the borax, a group of clearly very intrepid entrepreneurs decided to start a charcoal making operation way, way, way up in the mountains. You have to go pretty high to get to anywhere with some trees. These picturesque and impressive kilns were lined up in what really felt like the middle of nowhere. The charcoal was made by burning wood for days and then cooling it for days. The charcoal was sold to a "nearby" (NOT very near!!!) mine for silver smelting. (That's according to the sign I forgot to take a photo of!) The charcoal operation didn't run for very long - I think it was either 3 or 5 years. Stunning location, but so very isolated it's hard to imagine how the people there got enough food and water.

To top off all this jewellery-related excitement, in the nearby Owens Valley we passed a plant processing sodium bisulfate! That's safety pickle to jewellers!

We also went to the ruins of what was a profitable gold mine...about which more later when I get the photos downloaded. 

No comments: