“Sarcobatus Spring” Shelter (Death Valley National Park)

Traipsing around the backcountry of Death Valley National Park can be a lot of fun, it is such a vast area that one never knows what hidden gem they may encounter. The key is to be alert to anything and everything that may look out-of-place or unusual.

On a recent trip I had focused on investigating the springs that are located in the Nevada Triangle of the park. Why springs, you ask?  Springs have been a natural gathering point for humans since their inception, as well as all other animal species. In most cases where you find a spring you will find traces of past habitation, whether it be Native American villages or “rock art,”  or ranches, homesteads, or even mining ruins from early white settlers.

Between Phinney Canyon and Currie Well I had noted an unnamed spring on an old topo map of the area.  I was unable to locate any further information, but I figured it was still a worthwhile stop to investigate, even it didn’t amount to anything more than a trickle seeping out of the ground. Just shy of reaching the spring a wall of stones on a nearby hillside caught my eye.  Being the good little adventurer that I strive to be, I decided to check it out.

 

View of the shelter from below.

View of the shelter from below.

 

Walking up the hill I immediately began to find rusty cans, a good sign that early settlers had utilized the area, but not only did I find rusty cans, I also found lithic scatters. Lithic scatters is a fancy way of saying prehistoric garbage, or in other words the chipped leftover stone from flint knapping. Finding both of these elements heightened my curiosity about the stone wall that was making my way toward.

Approaching the stone wall, I realized that it was much more than just a wall.  The wall was actually built up along-side a natural rock shelter. Stashed inside was an assortment of random rusty goodies, and old weathered wood.  A tin cup hung from a rust covered wire. This shelter obviously had a past to it, only it remains historically undocumented.  Looking a little closer at the walls of the shelter, orange pigment caught my eye. Sure enough, there were also Native American pictographs in the shelter. Further examining of the shelter revealed more lithic scatter, like those that I had found near the bottom of the hill.

 

Obsidian (Volcanic Glass) - A lithic scatter from flint knapping.

Obsidian (Volcanic Glass) – A lithic scatter from flint knapping.

 

A peek into the shelter.

A peek into the shelter.

 

An interesting homemade contraption.

An interesting homemade contraption.

 

To me I find it very interesting the way that an early settler (probably a miner) utilized the space that an earlier people had once used, and you can visibly see the difference in lifestyle and culture. This is not the first time that I have seen this, and I’m sure that it won’t be the last time either.

Just a short distance from the shelter the spring is located, essentially a hole in the earth with water  filling it. Hundreds if not thousands of animal prints are in abundance in the mud surrounding it.  To the people who once used the shelter, this spring was a life source. Not only would it have provided them with water to drink, but also animals to eat.

 

A cup on a wire.

A cup on a wire.

 

Faded orange pictographs on the shelter wall.

Faded orange pictographs on the shelter wall.

 

"Sarcobatus Spring"

“Sarcobatus Spring”

 

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.

4 Comments

  • Jim, I met the my first obsidian flint knapper this weekend at a children’s education event in Tehachapi at the Errera House Museum area. I don’t know his name but he is said to be from Ridgecrest and made dozens of 4″ long arrowheads for the children. I treasure hunt my property for flakes of obsidian, broken arroweads and cutting stones and remnants from the Kawaiisu Indians who inhabited the area leading up to Tomo Kahni State Cultural Park, and had no inkling that the art is alive and well. I took a quick trip home and brought back some pieces. One of the cutting stones was a petrified piece of palm tree. He explained that there was a time in ancient history when palms grew in what is now the Mojave Desert.

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