Old Stovepipe Wells, Death Valley, Cal

Visit Date: October 7, 2015

"This waterhole, only one in the sand dune area of Death Valley, was at the junction of two Indian trails. During the bonanza days of Rhyolite and Skidoo, it was the only known water source on the Cross-Valley road. When sand obscured the spot, a length of stovepipe was inserted as a marker, hence its unique name."

So states California Registered Historical Landmark No. 726. The monument and historical marker are on the eastern edge of the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes.  Accessible via a short drive down Stovepipe Wells Road, from Scotty's Castle Road.

The "wells" were originally two shallow pits dug into the sandy floor of the valley basin. With the mining booms of Rhyolite, Nevada and Skidoo, the wells were a natural stopping point between the two camps. Stage and freight service between the two began in 1906 and by the following year, a small settlement had grown on the site. It was also the location of the first telephone office in the valley. J.R. Clark, a superintendent of construction on the Rhyolite-Skidoo road reported that Stovepipe Wells then consisted of a commissary tent, a boarding house, several additional tents, a corral and feeding stable and "accommodations in every respect for pilgrims crossing the hot sands. The spring is now inclosed and the water is consequently much improved."

Early in 1907, the Rhyolite Herald reported on the Stovepipe:

Waystation, 1908

"The rusty stovepipe is gone, and there stands in its place a full-fledged road house, way down in the depths of the desert isolation. Many a prospector, tired, worn and weary, has travelled far to the protection of this water hole, marked only by the single piece of pipe; perhaps many a prospector has drunk from its slimy waters never to rise again, being too faint, too famished, to consider the advisability of bailing out the hole and waiting for a fresh supply. The water at Stovepipe is good, provided it is frequently drawn off, but alike most desert water holes it soon becomes stagnant and unfit for use. The coming of the road house has eliminated all the bad features of the water, which is now considered of the best.

The Stovepipe road house is quite an up-to-date place. The equipment includes a grocery, eating house, bar, lodging house, corral, stock of hay, grain and provisions,--a little community in itself where travellers may find rest and food for themselves and their beasts. Just now, decided improvements are in progress. A fly is being added to the main tent, walls are being dug, bath room installed, and a pump is being placed to take care of the water. Hammocks will be added for the comfort of guests. Good accommodations have been provided for ladies. Free water is furnished, and every day the place is alive with freighting outfits, etc. going between Rhyolite and Skidoo. Stovepipe is 25 miles from Rhyolite; the half-way station. Meals are 75 cents; beds, 75 cents. The telephone. connects Stovepipe with the outside world, via Rhyolite."

Unfortunately, the decline of Skidoo and Rhyolite as great mining centers was swift, and the demise of the Stovepipe Wells waystation was similarly abrupt. Sand, wind and time have erased all evidence of the waystation, other than the capped well. But history whispers.

Besides the stovepipe and historical marker, there's not a lot to see here. Unless you like sand. There's a lot a sand. If you're thinking about photographing the sand dunes late in the afternoon, this is a good place to park and then hike out to take your photos.

Heading back up the dirt road towards Scotty's Castle Road, I spotted this grave just off the road. It marks the final resting spot of Val Nolan, who died near here in August of 1931. "A victim of the elements." It's called Death Valley for a reason. Nolan was apparently a local miner, who was last seen alive in Beatty, Nevada. The intense summer heat, the elements, took his life and he was reportedly found several months later by a movie crew who buried him where he was found. Although, I've read another report that claims Nolan was a fictional victim of the elements, used to promote tourism in Death Valley. Either story works for me.

An earlier photo. Date unknown.

Old Stovepipe Wells, it was worth the visit.