Death Valley Junction, CA

Death Valley Junction was originally named Amargosa (“bitter water” in Paiute language), the name was changed in 1907 because the Tonopah & Tidewater Railroad connected with the Las Vegas – Tonopah Railroad here to service the Ryan and Lilac C. Borax Mines near Ryan from 1914 – 1928.  From 1923-1925 the Pacific Coast Borax Company constructed many buildings around the town including the Spanish Colonial Revival whistle stop which included a hotel, theater, and office building.

In 1927, Pacific Coast Borax relocated to Boron, CA. Boron would serve (and still does) as the new mining location for PCB (now known as  Rio Tinto Borax). This didn’t seem to matter much at the time,  Death Valley Junction continued to thrive as a tourist spot. Once the mines at New Ryan closed up, so did the railroad with the exception of the baby gauge railroad that ran from New Ryan into the Widow Maker and Charley McCarthy Mines. This baby gauge remained open into the 1950s, not for mining, but for tourist rides.

In 1967 a breath of fresh air arrived in Death Valley Junction, her name Marta Becket. Marta, a New York ballet dancer, mime and artist had been traveling with her husband in Death Valley. One morning they awoke to find that they had a flat tire. A park ranger sent them to a repair shop in Death Valley Junction. Marta’s husband attended to the tire, while Marta walked around the sleepy town. While exploring she came upon the abandoned theater (Corkhill Hall), which was part of the Spanish Colonial Revival whistle-stop. She instantly feel in love with it. The next day they tracked down the owner and agreed to rent the building for $45.00 per month.

Today that building is known as the Amargosa Opera House, Marta performed at the Opera House for the better part of 45 years, only officially retiring in 2014. The Opera House is much quieter these days, however an occasional show makes its way to Death Valley Junction in the cooler months.

As well as the Opera House, Marta operates a hotel and café. Some people believe that the hotel and opera house are haunted by the miners that stayed here during the borax days. Multiple television specials have been filmed over the last few years on this subject, some are very convincing.

Death Valley Junction is now a very quiet place. At one time it had a population of three-hundred, but now is home to only four.

A number of abandoned structures remain, and the town cemetery always makes for any interesting visit. The Tonopah & Tidewater Railroad Museum is also located in Death Valley Junction, having opened their doors 2013.

 

 

About the author

Jim Mattern

Jim is a scapegoat for the NPS, an author, adventurer, photographer, radio personality, guide, and location scout. His interests lie in Native American and cultural sites, ghost towns, mines, and natural wonders in the American Deserts.

  • thedejuretour

    Jim –

    I am somewhat surprised that you have not yet visited Bodie or Ballarat.

    Coming soon I suspect?

    • I’ve been to Ballarat, but it was long before I started this website. I wasn’t all the impressed because the place was filled with campers, and dirt bikers. I think I spent a total of 2 minutes there. I’ve been thinking about stopping again, I drive right by it usually about once a month.

      As for Bodie, I’ve been wanting to get there for the last few years. I’ve just never managed to make the trip. I do believe that I’ll be making a point to get there this year.

      • thedejuretour

        Yeah, there’s not much there, but the roads from there lead to some mighty interesting stuff, including the “Manson Ranch”, a.k.a. the place were Charles Manson was hanging out circa 1969.

        Bodie has somewhat of a Disneyland atmosphere, and it cost a few bones to park your car, but it is well worth the drive and time to get there.

        I went in late 2006, and I have some really good pictures of it.

        • I’ve been wanting to get up to the Ranch, however I don’t have the right mode of transportation to make the trip. I have a Mustang, and I already take it places that it shouldn’t go!

          I had a feeling Bodie was a bit like that, however there are some other places to check out in close proximity. But I’m well aware that Bodie is a must see.

          • thedejuretour

            I hear you brother. I have a 1984 Chevy Blazer 4×4 which is more than adequate for desert traveling, but I can’t afford the gas to take her on long trips anymore.

            So, I am stuck driving my girlfriends 4-cylinder Kia. Trust me, THAT THING has been places it has no business going! In fact, just one week ago today, we were out on a portion of Saline Valley Road of off the 190…..some of the worst washboard I’ve ever seen, becuase it’s actually broken up old blacktop paving. Ouch. On the same trip, I also drove it up into the El Paso Mountains. You should have seen the look on these two dudes faces when I rolled up to their mining claim in a little Kia, lol. And there they were with a Blazer 4×4 and a $60,000 Land Rover.

            Speaking of washboard, get ready for miles of it on the way to Bodie…..too many tourists coming off the 395. Arrgh!

  • Shane Oakes