Back in the early 1930s, Elizabeth and William Campbell searched up and down this basin. They were self-taught archaeologists who probably covered more ground in J Tree than pretty much anyone else. In the Pinto Basin, they followed the ancient riverbank terraces for miles and discovered many small campsites along its long-since disappeared banks. They collected chipped stone tools - leaf-shaped points, scrapers, and choppers - that were different from others of the region. Years later when they were radiocarbon tested, they registered more than 9,000 years old and confirmed the existence of a vanished people -- The Pinto Culture.
I pulled over at this roadside exhibit along Pinto Basin Road. It's great that the NPS puts these out to give us travelers a bit of a clue as to what we're looking at as we drive through the park. Looking out over this basin, it's difficult to imagine it with a river flowing through it. I've ventured out into the Pinto Basin a few times, it's a hot, dry place nowadays.
In recent times (mainly the early 1900s), a lot of mining took place out there and in the hills and mountains surrounding the basin. Back during those years there were several wells in the basin, supplying the mills and mines with the water they needed to operate. Maybe they were pumping from an underground river, whose predecessor once flowed above ground through the basin? I don't know, but I do enjoy driving out there to see what I can find.