Death Valley: Wildflowers, Ashford Mill, Harmony Borax Works, Rhyolite Ghost Town, Sourdough Saloon

This post covers historical sites in and near Death Valley with some additional wildflower images.

Feature Image Details

The feature image is a single shot, not a composite or focus stack taken at Ashford Mill, a former mining town settlement in Inyo County, California.

The next image shows what’s left of the mill.

The original mill at the site was built in 1914 by brothers named Ashford. The ore was processed here from the Golden Treasure Mine 5 miles to the east in the Amargosa Range, and processed for further smelting.

Wildflower displays in Death Valley are few and far between. “Super blooms” occur every ten years or so. I was there for the “super bloom” in February of 2016. As “super blooms” go, this one was mediocre. In a true “super bloom” there are huge waves of purple and yellow and more densely packed flowers.

Yet, compared to the typical year, this display was magnificent.

Flowers in Mud Cracks

Harmony Borax Works

The Harmony Borax Works is located in Death Valley at Furnace Creek Springs, then called Greenland.

After the discovery of Borax deposits here by Aaron and Rosie Winters in 1881, business associates William Tell Coleman and Francis Marion Smith subsequently obtained claims to these deposits, opening the way for “large-scale” borax mining in Death Valley. The Harmony operation became famous through the use, from 1883 to 1889, of large Twenty-mule teams and double wagons which hauled borax the long overland route to the closest railroad in Mojave, California.

Darwin Falls

Darwin Falls is located just west of Panamint Springs via a 2.5-mile unpaved road. There is no formal trail. A mostly-level, one-mile walk to the falls involves rock scrambling and several stream crossings. I would rate it as easy.

This small spring provides most of the water for Death Valley.

Rhyolite Ghost Town

The Rhyolite Ghost Town is a boom and bust story related to gold mining.

The above link provides a fascinating story of a town that went from boom to bust in a decade. It had a stock exchange and a red light district that drew people all the way from San Francisco.

In 1906 Countess Morajeski opened the Alaska Glacier Ice Cream Parlor to the delight of the local citizenry. That same year an enterprising miner, Tom T. Kelly, built a Bottle House out of 50,000 beer and liquor bottles.

The Bottle House was restored by Paramount pictures in January 1925.

The ghost town of Rhyolite is on a mixture of federal and private land. It is not within the boundary of Death Valley National Park.

Tom Kelley’s Bottle House

Tom Kelley’s Bottle House Side View

The bottle house is now fenced in with a locked gate. A caretaker unlocked the gate for me one afternoon, but mid-day is not a great time for images. The first image shows the porch in the shade. For the side image of the bottles, I used a polarizer to cut glare from the sun.

Polarizers work best at right angles to the sun, and I am pleased by the overall quality in some brutal light.

Union-Pacific Railroad Car Ruins

Cook Bank

That is what’s left of the once booming Cook Bank.

For the above image, I used a Canon TS-E 17mm f/4L Tilt-Shift Lens to maintain proper perspective.

Notice the straight lines on the sides. Tilting a lens up to fit things in, results in buildings (trees, whatever), that appear to be leaning in.

Sourdough Saloon

Sourdough Saloon is in Beatty Nevada, just minutes from Rhyolite.

If you want to dine in a smoke-filled ash-heap, be my guest. I found the place intolerable. I took one step inside, then left. Nevada has few smoking restrictions and this is typical.

That said, I love the iconic look of the place. Also, I was very fortunate to have a jeep in front instead of a parade of cars.

I took that image shortly after sunset. The ambient light and the lights of the saloon balanced out nicely.

As a general rule, nighttime images like this often look best 15-30 minutes after sunset.

Equipment List

Those interested in my equipment and recommendations can find it here: Mish’s Equipment List.

If you missed them, please check out my previous articles.

  1. Death Valley: Zabriskie Point Sunrise, Manly Beacon
  2. Death Valley: Dante’s View Sunrise
  3. Death Valley: Artist’s Palette
  4. Death Valley: Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes Sunset
  5. Death Valley: Badwater, Salt Polygons, Devil’s Golf Course
  6. Death Valley: Golden Canyon Sunset and Moonrise Images
  7. Death Valley: Natural Bridge, It’s Another World
  8. Death Valley: Aguereberry Point and Aguereberry Camp – Christmas Eve Fog


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Mike “Mish” Shedlock