The Geologist Cabin, located in Butte Valley is considered by many to be the optimum backcountry cabin in Death Valley National Park. Its beautifully built stone walls, wide chimney, and the stunning Striped Butte in the backdrop is very inviting. Despite its remote location it sees traffic on a regular basis, having become an attraction itself.
There is a controversy over who actually built the cabin, one theory is that Asa Russell (aka: Panamint Russ) built the cabin in 1930. Russell and his prospecting partner Ernie Huhn began prospecting Manly Peak in 1925. They found a gold-bearing ledge, but lost track of its location. After several months of searching, they gave up. Russell never really did give up however, he returned in 1930, and claims to have built multiple cabins in the vicinity to support his mining efforts.
The April 1955 issue of Desert Magazine features a story written by Russell, titled, “Life on the Desert.” In the article he makes mentions of his cabins along with descriptions of their locations, none of which resemble what we refer to today as the Geologist Cabin. There is however a photograph of Russell standing proudly at the doorway of Geologist Cabin, the caption reads, “Panamint Russ, shown here standing beside his cabin at the foot of Manly Peak in the Death Valley Panamint Range, started his mine shaft in 1930 on Faith and is still working on it.”
Respected authors and researchers Emmett Harder (These Canyons Are Full of Ghosts: The Last of the Death Valley Prospectors) and Judy Palmer believe that the cabin wasn’t built by Russell, but rather by Wallace Todd, Capt William Fison, and Dr. John Wolff in the 1930s. Todd, and Wolff both being geologist, it is easy to speculate why the cabin is now referred to as the “Geologist Cabin.”
Today the cabin is a destination to some, and to others a place to rest as they travel between Death Valley and Panamint Valley via one of the park’s most notorious back country roads. Travelers and the National Park Service alike have labored to keep the old cabin in good useable condition, and preserved for future generations. The cabin is open to stay in on a first come basis, there is no charge for staying, just leave it in better condition than you found, and don’t remove artifacts.