2008 Trip Report - DE Rendezvous - China Ranch
China Ranch & Amargosa Canyon
Sunday, April 13, 2008
Leader: Bill Neill
by Karen L. Monsen
Trip participants: Barbara and Ron Midlikoski; Bob and Karen Monsen; Danny and Norma Silver; Craig Baker and Christina Grinder; Leonard, Rebecca, and Hannah Friedman; Mary Hughes; Allan and Ding Wicker; and caravanning with us to China Ranch were two Europeans, Florence Hervé (French) and Thomas Schmidt (German).
We left Shoshone Sunday morning with eight vehicles following leader Bill Neill. Our group included a couple from Europe who were caravanning with us to China Ranch. Bill, a.k.a. the Tamarisk Eradicator and a “regular” in the Amargosa Canyon, took us the short 10-mile drive south on CA 127, left on Tecopa Hot Springs Road, past the Tecopa Springs nude bath houses (male and female separate), and a slight left onto the Old Spanish Trail Highway.
The Old Spanish Trail—the pioneer settler route from Santa Fe, New Mexico to California—was known as the “longest, crookedest, and most arduous trail in the West.” It crossed the desert from water hole to water hole in a wandering fashion. Today, this portion of the Old Spanish Trail connects California to Nevada highway 160 approximately 40 miles west of Blue Diamond, NV (southwest of Las Vegas).
At the China Ranch sign, we turned right onto the dirt-graded Furnace Creek Road. The road was flanked by clay, mud, and conglomerate mixed hills. Between 1915 and 1918, gypsum was mined here. They produced $100,000 worth of gypsum, which was primarily used for plaster. The mines were closed in 1918 when two men were killed in a cave-in. Nestled among the barren clay mounds was our destination—a green oasis and family owned and operated date farm known as China Ranch. Cottonwoods, willows, and date palms surround several building structures that include the Morrison House, Green House, Adobe House, and Gift Shop. Hikers can choose from several trails, Ranch View Trail, Creek Trail, Badlands Trail, Cliff Trail, Mesa Trail, and The Crack Trail.
We parked next to the gift shop, gathered water bottles in hand, and headed up the Mesa Trail for a 4-mile hike (more or less). The European couple thanked us and headed out on their own, only to rejoin us briefly later down the trail.
We walked over an area that was a landlocked basin some 12 million years ago intermittently filling and drying. Experts estimate Lake Tecopa probably began drying and receding 100,000 years ago. The Amargosa River forms a narrow green line as it winds through the arid landscape carving the canyon and creating steep cuts and slopes.
Soon we reached the man-made elevated embankment of the former Tonopah and Tidewater Railroad. The rail line was built 1906-07 and abandoned in 1940. Although the rails were removed in 1942, some of the wooden railroad ties are still visible and partially buried in the dried clay and others have eroded out and are scattered along the side slopes and valley floor.
We walked along to a point where we could step across the Amargosa River. We continued to a spot where the river dropped and created a small waterfall and pool where pupfish can be spotted. We hiked to a slot canyon where we paused to cool off in the shade. At the canyon entrance, Allan Wicker balanced his camera on his dual-duty, convertible hiking pole/tripod and took a group photo.
Returning to China Ranch, we hiked back across the Amargosa River and along areas where Bill Neill has been working to eradicate the (water-sucking, invasive species) tamarisk trees. Looks like Bill will be back again to continue the work.
We hiked past what remains (not much) of the talc-loading ramp next to the railroad. We took in a 360-degree desert view that included river, layered ore hillsides, mud/clay mounds, and the old rail line. Along the way back, we passed Indian sleeping circles where the rocks marked prior Native American encampments and the rusting remains of several motorized vehicles—a fender, rusty scrap pieces from trucks, and scattered miscellaneous parts.
We paused next to the 1903 Taft Building, which is today a stone ruin of an assay office that was later used as a bunkhouse for the Tonopah and Tidewater Railroad. It was damaged in a 1992 earthquake and lost its roof along the way. It appears that efforts are underway to shore it up and perhaps add a new roof.
We returned to the China Ranch gift shop where we enjoyed lunch and date shakes. Many of us sampled a variety of dates and purchased date bread and dates for the return trip home. As we departed China Ranch, a sign on the side of the road sums up the end of another Desert Explorers’ trip and Rendezvous, “No matter where you go—there you are.”