The Lost Highway 190 Construction Camp (Death Valley National Park)


I was in the vicinity of Rainbow Canyon and Father Crowley Vista Point on the hunt for a petroglyph site, when I unexpectedly came across piles of rusty cans, glass bottles, an old cook stove, and stones outlining the locations of where a few tent buildings (one very large) had once been located.  I was taken aback for a moment, as I inspected the ruins of the camp, which is located on no known maps.  What was I looking at, who lived here, and a host of other questions rushed through my mind.

Normally finding a camp like this, in this region would indicate that there is a nearby mine – with this having been the mining camp. I dismissed this theory rather quickly, the nearest mine is the Wahoo Mine,  located several miles west.

Naturally I documented the ruins,  and took note of the camps precise location. It’s location, very close to Highway 190, the highway which runs from Owens Valley, through Death Valley, and ends at Death Valley Junction.


Rocks outline the area in which a large tent building was once situated.

Rocks outline the area in which a large tent building was once situated.


More aligned stones, marking the location in which a tent building once stood.

More aligned stones, marking the location in which a tent building once stood.


Upon returning from the trip, I sent off the photos and the location to a friend that works for DVNP, figuring that she may be able to give some insight on the mystery camp.  My friend replied, stating that she had never been there, but had been told that in that same vicinity there was a highway camp for the construction of Highway 190.

The cans in the can dump, we were able to date to between the mid 1930s and the early 1940s – based on their construction and appearance. 

With these key clues, it is relatively safe to assume that this was indeed a Highway Construction Camp, used during the construction of Highway 190, and/or during the period in which the Civilian Conservation Corps was tasked with maintaining the Highway.

Highway 190 was built in the mid-1930s, with paving having been completed in 1937.  The CCC maintained the stretch of highway until 1942, when a flash flood washed out an eleven mile stretch of the road. This prompted Death Valley to return highway maintenance to the State of California.

While I’m sure that this Highway Construction Camp hasn’t been lost to the Park Service, it surely has been lost to both the average and not so average visitor. The ruins are not extensive, and to most they would likely appear uninteresting – but this is still a part of the history of a place loved by many, Death Valley National Park.


The can and bottle dump.

The can and bottle dump.


Cans identified to the mid 1930s - 1940s.

Cans identified to the mid 1930s – 1940s.

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.