Shorty’s Well (Death Valley National Park)

Shorty’s Well is located along West Side Road, below Hanaupah Canyon. The well was dug by Alexander “Shorty” Borden in the 1930’s while developing a road leading up the fan to the Panamint Mountains and his claim in Hanaupah. “Shorty” being a tough old bird utilized only a pick, crowbar, shovel, dynamite, and burro power, finishing the road in a six month period.

While it is hard to imagine fresh water available along the salt pan, it was found only six feet below the surface. “Shorty” installed a hand pump, which was mounted on a concrete base. The pump has long been removed, and the pipe leading to the well has been filled with gravel.

Long before “Shorty” dug his well, this area was inhabited by the Native people of Death Valley. Archaeologists have found several artifacts in the dunes surrounding Shorty’s Well; including, corner-notched projectile points, base-notched side-notched projectile points, oval points, and metates; dating to Death Valley III (AD 500 – AD 1000) and Death Valley IV (AD 1000 – AD 1900) eras.


Sand dunes and mesquite trees at Shorty's Well.

Sand dunes and mesquite trees at Shorty’s Well.


Several additional wells and springs are located along West Side Road, each of them played an important role in the survival of both the earliest Native inhabitants of Death Valley, and the miners that came in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. The odd cultural mix that can be experienced in such a small setting spans over 1,500 years, there are not many places like this left on earth.

Visiting Shorty’s Well today you will not only find just the concrete base of the well, but a world of sand dunes, mesquite trees, desolate-cracked salt flats, and magnificent views of the valley in all sides.


Sand dunes and mesquite trees at Shorty's Well.

Sand dunes and mesquite trees at Shorty’s Well.



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.

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