Strozzi Ranch (Death Valley National Park)

One place in Death Valley where I have done little to no previous research or exploring is the “Nevada Triangle,” a 300,000-acre parcel of land within the National Park which falls in the Silver State. I’ve had no excuse for ignoring it up until this point, other than having other places of interest take precedence over it.  “The Triangle” is a rather remote portion of the park, no major roads enter it, and it is totally disconnected from the main valley – or even California in general, via road. On a recent excursion to Death Valley, I finally dedicated two days to get out there and see what Death Valley had to offer in it’s “triangle”.

I went armed with only my trusty Death Valley National Geographic Trails Illustrated Map, and no previous research. I wanted an element of surprise, and no expectations.  I spent the first day exploring in Phinney Canyon, which travels high into the woodlands of the Grapevine Mountains. From Phinney Canyon, I traveled over to Brier Spring, and Currie Well – not much is actually listed on the map for this region, but between these places, and other hidden gems along the way, there are several interesting sites.

I was en route to Brier Springs, expecting to find a small stream with a trickle of water. Several rock shelters along the road piqued my interest, and warranted investigation for the possibilities of their being Native American rock art (Pictographs & Petroglyphs). While there was no rock art, there was several telling signs that the shelters had been occupied at one point, however not by Native Americans, but rather by miners. That is not to say that Native people had not occupied the shelters prior to the miners, but any surface evidence was not present. Instead the surface elements present were that of rusty discarded cans.

 

Rock Shelter that was utilized by miners, in route to Brier Springs.

Rock Shelter that was utilized by miners, in route to Brier Springs.

 

From the shelters I continued on down the dusty dirt road, while the sage brush which filled the landscape gently rattled in the wind. A fork in the road soon presented itself, and I opted for the right hand path. It abruptly came to an end at an old rustic fence, pieced together using rotting branches from an assortment of trees, and metal wire.

What the heck is this I asked myself? Excited, I jumped out of the Jeep to investigate closer. Behind the fence was a massive rock shelter with extensive amount of smoke damage, and a bright green patch of grass. A seep must protrude from somewhere from within the shelter, as the grassy patch seemed moist, and a high concentration of honey bees enjoyed harassing me. The fence was rustic, and appealing to the eye. It was old, and obviously well made at the time of its construction. But why?

 

An old rustic fence, pieced together using rotting branches from an assortment of trees, and metal wire.

An old rustic fence, pieced together using rotting branches from an assortment of trees, and metal wire.

 

Inside of the pen, an enormous rock shelter, and patches of grass.

Inside of the pen, an enormous rock shelter, and patches of grass.

 

Returning to my vehicle, I figured that I would find the answer later – later would come just moments later as I turned back onto the road in which I came, returning to the fork, and continuing on up toward Brier Springs. Going around a singular bend, I saw a sight that I hadn’t expected, a half-dozen charming, yet rustic buildings. In a singular moment, my day was made. Abandoned buildings are on my favorite subjects to photograph, and explore around.

Caesar Strozzi, an immigrant from Switzerland had built this homestead in 1931. Strozzi and his wife Mary utilized the homestead as a seasonal ranch, spending the summers here raising his cattle, goats, and chickens. When Strozzi was not at the homestead, he resided in the nearby town of Beatty.

Strozzi constructed several structures on the homestead including a small ranch house, blacksmith shop, a chicken house, and various other work shops. Water was piped in from Brier Springs, situated just a quarter of a mile up the hill. Brier Spring also allowed for the opportunity to plant crops, a few peach trees are still situated near the spring itself.

 

An outside look at the main set of buildings. The yellow building was the main house.

An outside look at the main set of buildings. The yellow building was the main house.

 

The walls of the residence are wallpapered with various old boxes.

The walls of the residence are wallpapered with various old boxes.

 

The kitchen cabinet.

The kitchen cabinet.

 

Outside, a rusty stove.

Outside, a rusty stove.

 

Strozzi utilized the homestead from 1931 until 1947. He died in Beatty, NV in 1953, and is buried at the Desert Hill Cemetery.

These rustic buildings which have stood for nearly 85 years, are a glimpse into a time when people worked hard, they broke their back for whatever they had. Electricity was nonexistent (unless they had generator) in a remote place like this, and down time was likely spent reading a book, tinkering in the shop, or reminiscing about “the good ole’ days”. Time sure wasn’t wasted talking about the latest music sensation, tv shows, and certainly not the latest cat meme.

 

A dugout style building.

A dugout style building.

 

The inside of the dugout structure is cozy and well manicured. Complete with a brick fireplace.

The inside of the dugout structure is cozy and well manicured. Complete with a brick fireplace.

 

Poking around the structures reveals bits and pieces of the life of Caesar and Mary, as small pieces of their lives still remain. In the main house, boxes from Pacific Coast Biscuit Co., and Sears Roebuck wallpaper the small living quarters. In the kitchen lids from jars of Lady’s Choice, and Best Foods. An old stove sits rusting out front. In the workshops, there are rusty tools, and various odds and ends which fill the hand-made shelves.

This is an amazing place, a place worth preservation. Unfortunately the NPS seems to disagree. In their Inventory of Historic Resources, it is said of Strozzi Ranch, “The attempt has no historical importance, and the buildings at the ranch do not deserve preservation.” While this report is severely dated (1981), let’s hope that since the ranch has now well passed the 50 year mark, they are now seeing things differently, and Strozzi Ranch will survive for as long as the elements allow it.

 

Workshop buildings.

Workshop buildings.

 

The shelves in the workshop are stocked, and waiting for Strozzi to return.

The shelves in the workshop are stocked, and waiting for Strozzi to return.

 

An assortment of rusty relics.

An assortment of rusty relics.

 

Brier Springs.

Brier Springs.

 

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.

  • Tom Perkins

    Jim, this has to be one of my favorite posts so far. Such a unique location and a huge surprise! I will add this to my short list of journeys to the Nevada Triangle. Thanks for posting.