Warm Springs Camp (Death Valley National Park)

Warm Springs Camp was established in the 1930s by Louise Grantham. Originally from Ohio, Grantham moved out west in 1926. She was searching for a prospector that had accepted a grubstake from her father a year earlier. She initially landed in Shoshone, CA – the people of the area were shocked by her, a woman with short hair, that tucked her pants into her boots, carried a gun; drank liquor, and swore like a sailor.

Grantham found the grubstaker that she had been looking for. At gun point she demanded the truck and equipment that her father’s money had paid for. She used that equipment and begun prospecting the area around Warm Springs, now located in the southern portion of Death Valley National Park. Her prospects contained both gold and talc deposits. By the 1940s her mine had  produced 830,000 tons of talc, this made her operation the largest talc producing mine in the western United States.

Grantham’s mining success was easy to see, her Warm Springs Camp was top-notch, a level above what the typical Death Valley mining camp looked like. The camp consisted of her private residence, the mess hall, a shop, a dormitory, and a few small houses.  The bathrooms had flushing toilets, as well as shower and bath facilities. Later a swimming pool that was fed by the warm springs was added to the camp.

 

Warm Springs Camp - Death Valley National Park - The dorm building

Warm Springs Camp – Death Valley National Park – The dorm building

 

Warm Springs Camp - Death Valley National Park - Inside the dorm building

Warm Springs Camp – Death Valley National Park – Inside the dorm building

 

It wasn’t always happy times for Grantham. In the 1940s she was under constant pressure to sell from both the National Park Service and Pacific Borax.  Both entities had a vested interest in seeing the success of Death Valley as a National Monument, and they wanted Grantham out. A lawsuit was eventually filed against Grantham by the US Government for her removal, but they never managed to force her out, her mining claims remained valid because they predated the creation of Death Valley as a Monument.

Grantham would remove herself from the day-to-day living at the camp in the 1950s, she relocated her mining office to Laguna Beach. She was still very much an active member of her mining team despite not being on site. In 1968 she developed cancer, and died in April of 1969.

 

Warm Springs Camp - Death Valley National Park - The residence building

Warm Springs Camp – Death Valley National Park – The residence building

 

Warm Springs Camp - Death Valley National Park - Inside of the residence building

Warm Springs Camp – Death Valley National Park – Inside of the residence building

 

Louise’s brother, Bill Grantham continued the mining operation in Warm Springs Canyon after her death. In 1973, he would sell the operation to Johns-Mansville Products.   Johns-Mansville operated on and off for only three years. From the start they fell victim to both safety and environmental groups, which had them inoperable more than operable.  In September of 1976, Johns-Mansville was on the verge of gifting the talc operation to the National Park Service, but Desert Minerals, Inc., a Kentucky-based company, purchased them.

Desert Minerals time at Warm Springs was short-lived at only eight months. Pfizer Inc. landed the property in the 1980s, as they developed the White Point Mine. They used the camp to house their miners.

In the 1990s, the National Park Service would finally get their way with the acquirement of the mines, camp, and all the surrounding property.

 

Warm Springs Camp - Death Valley National Park - Mechanical Arrastra

Warm Springs Camp – Death Valley National Park – Mechanical Arrastra

 

Warm Springs Camp - Death Valley National Park - Diesel engine (front left), Ore bin (middle)

Warm Springs Camp – Death Valley National Park – Diesel engine (front left), Ore bin (middle)

 

Today we are left with a well intact ghost camp. The bright yellow buildings still stand, and are free to explore. The camp has seen it’s share of vandalism in recent years, but it has still managed to hold up. Travelers on occasion will use the dorm building for overnight accommodations.  The swimming pool is known to still hold water much of the year, but on my last visit in December, it was bone dry.

Many relics from the mining past are on display, giving a glimpse of a bygone era, at least here in Warm Springs Canyon.

 

 

 

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.

  • pat

    Very interesting narrative and great photos Jim!

  • willie510

    My home address from 1959 to 1975 and beyond. Great place to live.

    • Victoria Marcum

      Do you remember my grandfather, Charlie Simmions? You might even remember me visiting him there.

      • willie510

        Of course I remember your grandparents and you and your brothers. It brings back great memories of Warm Springs. Thanks for the reply.

  • Eric Evans

    Would love to check it out some day… soon! Thanks for the article.

  • Victoria Marcum

    I spent most of my childhood visiting my grandparents at the Warm Springs camp where my grandfather was the diesel mechanic. The pool hadn’t been built yet for many of those years so my brothers and I spent a lot of time hiking and playing with the camp burro, Susie. My fondest memories are of the camp.

    • Linda Louise Franklin Gerardy

      Victoria – may I ask your age? I will be 60 in January, and I too have very vivid and fond memories of “Camp” as a child. My dad, Dick Franklin, was the mine manager, and we spent time there both pre and post “pool”! I remember your grandfather and “Susie” as well! Wonder if my brothers and I ever played with you and your brothers?!

      • Victoria Marcum

        Hi Linda, I am 65 years old. My brothers would have been your age as they were 4 and 5 years younger than me. I remember your grandfather’s name for sure but don’t recall him specifically. I’m sure I must have met him at some point. I remember Bill and Mary and their parrot “Aurora.” I also remember Don and Alice, they and my grandparents took turns providing a treat after movie night. Shoshone was definitely the closest town. My grandparents would visit us in southern Calif. on their weekends off and buy groceries but would stop in Shoshone on their way home and get ice cream at the little store; they had to put it in an ice chest to get it to camp without melting. We always felt fortunate that the people from the mine were allowed to swim in the Shoshone pool. We loved the warm water. I would have visited at the mine from around 1960 to 1969. Would your aunt have been the cook during that time? One of the cooks crocheted two doll dresses for me; I still have them. I would love to visit the area again some day but I live in Wisconsin now and don’t know how bad I want to make the trip. It was nice hearing from you. I just want to mention that I remember how fondly people spoke of Louise Grantham. They felt that she treated her employees well and she was a kind lady. Take Care, Vicki

  • Linda Louise Franklin Gerardy

    I’m Linda LOUISE Franklin Gerardy, proudly named after “Aunt Louise” Grantham, who I always describe as a “woman before her time”, and who was a “second mother” to my dad, Dick Franklin, who not only “grew up” at “Camp” at Warm Springs, but after becoming a Mining Engineer, became the mine manager for Grantham Mines. Long before I was born, my paternal grandMOTHER was the doctor at the mine, and my maternal great aunt was the cook at some point. Still have very vivid memories of the whole camp, as my family spent time there in the ’60s. It’s so weird that I should have this shared with me this week, as I was dreaming about Camp, and “googled” Shoshone, CA a couple of nights ago, as it was the closest “town” I could remember to Camp!