weather icon Mostly Clear

A not-so-shortcut through Death Valley

FURNACE CREEK, Calif. — After the Donner Party perished in the Sierra Nevadas en route to the California gold rush, pioneers waiting in Salt Lake City to make the trip in October 1849, heard about a southerly route, the Old Spanish Trail, to avoid the harsh winter.

But they lacked much information about it and only one person in town knew the route and agreed to lead them.

Wagon train members were getting upset their guide, Captain Jefferson Hunt, was traveling too slow, and when a young man rode into camp and showed a hand-sketched map with a fictitious shortcut across the desert, some wagon train members turned back rather than traverse a gaping canyon on what is now the Utah-Nevada state line, but 20 other wagons separated from Captain Hunt and kept on going. The fake map led to a place called Walker Pass, according to a history of the Lost ‘49ers provided by Death Valley National Park.

This group passed near present day Panaca and continued across barren valleys to Groom Lake, the present day Area 51. Then they split into two different groups. The Bennett-Arcan party wanted to head toward Mount Charleston in hopes of finding a good water source, another group, the Jayhawkers stuck with the original plan traveling west. Both were saved from dying of thirst by a snow storm and both ended up in Death Valley, the historical account states.

The wagon trains passed through Death Valley Junction, riding along present day Highway 190. On Christmas Eve 1849, some arrived at Travertine Springs, the source of Furnace Creek. The lost 49ers had now been traveling across the desert for about two months since leaving the Old Spanish Trail, the historical account reads, their oxen were weak from lack of forage and their wagons were battered and in poor shape. The formidable Panamint Mountains stood in their way.

The two groups diverged again at Furnace Creek. The Jayhawkers went north toward the Mesquite Flat sand dunes where they decided to leave their wagons behind and walk. They slaughtered several oxen and used the wood to cook the meat and make jerky. After crossing the Panamint Mountains via Towne Pass and dropping down into Panamint Valley, most of them turned south, into Indian Wells Valley near present day Ridgecrest. There they followed a prominent Indian trail heading south to civilization.

The Bennett-Arcan party struggled across the salt flats and attempted to pass over the Panamint Range via Warm Springs Canyon but were unable to do so. They sent William Lewis Manly and John Rogers over the mountain to get supplies, the two men spent nearly a month walking more than 300 miles to Mission San Fernando, got supplies at a ranch and trekked back with three horses and a one-eyed mule. One horse was ridden to death, the other two had to be abandoned. When Manly and Rogers finally arrived back at the Bennett-Arcan camp they found many had left to find their own way out of the valley, only two families patiently remained.

As they made their way west over the mountains, someone is said to have proclaimed, “Goodbye Death Valley” giving the valley its name. They escaped Death Valley but it took another 23 days to cross the Mojave Desert and reach Ranch San Francisco in Santa Clarita Valley. The so-called short-cut took four months and cost the lives of many men.

Don't miss the big stories. Like us on Facebook.
In these tough times, new art piece a reminder to ‘Keep Going’

BEATTY — Shadows. In 2006 Eames Demetrios designated Rhyolite as the capital of the District of Shadows in his fantasy alternate universe. This bit of information can be found on the plaque he placed at Goldwell Open Air Museum next to the Nevada ghost town.

GALLERY: See what Nye County’s Republican women are wearing this fall

The ladies of the valley were able to “fall into fashion” at the Republican Women of the Pahrump Valley’s Fall Fashion Show on Oct. 14 at the Artesia Clubhouse. It’s a fundraiser for the group’s scholarship program.

PHOTOS: Kids get free flights over Pahrump Valley

Pahrump’s annual EAA Young Eagles event was Saturday, Oct. 23 at the Calvada Meadows Airport. Nine pilots gave 71 children free 20-minute flights around the Pahrump Valley.

Peek inside this senior-living community’s gardens (GALLERY)

Spring Mountain Apartments, a low-income senior living community in Pahrump, has a brand new community garden to enjoy thanks to a partnership with two of the valley’s major nonprofit organizations, the NyE Communities Coalition and the Master Gardeners with the University of Nevada, Reno Cooperative Extension.

Smiles Across Pahrump: Photos from this festival will make you grin

Smiles Across Pahrump returned this month to the valley for the first time since 2019. Families were invited out for a day of unplugged, technology-free fun, continuing a tradition started by the late Butch “Patches” Harper.

Bye-bye burros: Beatty looks to thin herd

Some people love them, some people hate them, and most seem to do a bit of both. But what should be done about them? The town is asking BLM to address an overpopulation of burros.