Tracking History through Sperry Wash
By Debbie Miller Marschke
This trip actually began in November 2007. Steve and I were coming home from a project in the wilderness areas of the Kingston Mountains and we had decided to go “exploricating” on the way home. It’s one of our favorite pastimes- which launches with the question, “I wonder where that road goes…?” . We had ventured down the Sperry Wash, ending at Dumont Dunes declaring, “We should run a trip in here sometime!” Naturally, when the Rondy was set at Shoshone, we knew this would be sooner rather than later. After we had announced that we would run the trip, we did a prerun in March from Dumont Dunes to the Western Talc Mine. We decided then to run the trip backwards from what was published in the newsletter because we wanted to take our time to enjoy Sperry Wash and the ever-flowing Armagosa River. The wildflowers were delightfully awesome then, much better than we had expected. We kept our fingers crossed for one more good storm between prerun and the Rondy to keep them fresh, but it was not to be. In the meantime, I set out to see what I could learn about the route we had chosen for the trip.
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This brings us up to the Rendezvous, Saturday April 12, 2008. As it turns out, our trip was all about TRAINS. Beginning with the train of vehicles we shepherded; 19! On our trip was Chris, Gwen, Allison, Kyle & Kara Hauk (first timers!), Gary Thomas, Tom Perasso & Glenda Roach, Nan Savage, Ted Kalil, Jim Watson, Neal & Marian Johns, Leroy Pilkington (first timer!), Terry Ogden, Homer Meek & Lou Valencia, Danny & Norma Siler, Coop Cooper, George & Carol Gilster, Craig & Chris Baker, Chuck & Lois Lahmeyer, Dave & Penelope Bullock, Bill & Mason Cook and Ricardo Elizalde, Ted & Joan Berger , Judy Scrivner, Joe, Heather, & Bob Joerger, and Bob Dodds (caboose).
Our train of cars headed south from Shoshone on Highway 127, regrouping at Dumont Dunes. Sometimes the ATV gangs venture from the dunes to the wash, but this day it would be ours. Sperry Wash trail begins on the north side of Dumont Dunes and follows the Armagosa River for many interesting miles. We enjoyed the intriguing geology as we crossed over the river many times as the trail meanders along the path of least resistance on the riverbottom. As I had learned and passed on to the group, travel through the Armagosa River canyons was not so easy in 1906. Francis Marion “Borax” Smith attempted to push his work crews in the heat of the summer constructing the Tonopah & Tidewater Railroad, which had reached this challenging area after beginning in Ludlow, CA. November of 1905. The rail line had made good progress up to this point, laying down track easily over Broadwell Dry Lake, Soda Lake, and Silver Lake. In the heat of summer, he urged his crews to excavate narrow cuts, move the earth, and build trestles. As we drove through the Sperry Wash, the cuts and berms became obviously evident. Everyone admired and respected the arduous labor these men endured. We all understood why so many workers either died or quit the job, it was no place for sissies. After an unsuccessful last stand in bringing in a crew of Japanese, Borax Smith had to postpone the operation until the heat relented. The T & T finally reached Tecopa in May of 1907.
Steve and I made many stops along the route so that our group could get out of the vehicles to enjoy the river scenery and take in the history. We halted the group along the wall of a long tall river bank cut because it was the only identifiable shade on our route that would accommodate so many vehicles. It was nice to relax out of the abundant sunshine with a cold drink and munch lunch. I always enjoy the socializing and I victimized as many subjects as I could!
As was the objective of the T & T Railroad to end at the mines, we headed out of the Armagosa River basin to the Western Talc Mine. Now, a big deep talc pit may not sound appealing, but you should have seen the colors in this baby! The stratification and coloration of the minerals on the walls of this pit was something to behold.
Our time was waning but we managed to squeeze in a final stop near the Lower Noonday Camp area and a very interesting corrugated metal mining structure. I didn’t know anything about the structure, but I’m sure everyone still found some interesting history to poke through. As we had expected, some folks were itching to get back to Shoshone ( the pool? silent auction? happy hour? All of the above!). We voluntarily lost some vehicles as we passed the road to the China Ranch, no doubt those date shakes beckoning. We don’t know of anyone in our “history train” that got stuck or derailed, so we are boasting that we did not lose our allowable 10% (truth is, we GAINED percentage because 2 vehicles had joined us as latecomers!) Steve and I would like to thank all the folks who flattered us by choosing our trip, we respect the other DE leaders we had competed against on Saturday - leading this large group was quite a complement to us and we appreciated the friendship and support.