National Geographic : 1970 Jan
National Geographic, January 1970 son in his Sunday suit. They were in rags when the party finally reached civilization. Others were not so fortunate; conflicting accounts indicate three to eight deaths in all. I stood one day where Manly's party prob ably camped, a site marked by a mesquite guarded plaque near the salt pan, and scanned the sharp rise of the Panamints to the west. Somewhere up there on a ridge, the departing pioneers had paused and looked back at the scene of so much suffering. And someone ut tered the words, "Goodbye, Death Valley!" With such damnation in its christening, the area acquired a whole lexicon of despair: Arsenic Spring, Badwater, Coffin Canyon, Dantes View, Deadman Pass, Desolation Canyon, Devils Golf Course, Hells Gate, Last Chance Range, Lostman Spring, Lost Wagons, Poison Spring, Rattlesnake Gulch, Starvation Canyon, and Suicide Pass. Imaginative writers embellished this som ber picture. One report described Death Val ley as a 30-by-30 -mile basin where hundreds had died; another said there was no need to bury the victims because the dry air mummi fied them. Tales warned of poisonous vapors, of gnats so big and numerous that they stung coyotes to death. The legends about this land got such a fast start that they have never been overtaken by the facts-which are bad enough. Titus Canyon Walk Turns Thirsty The first fact is the heat. It became factual to us one glaring June midday as we hastened from shadow to shadow in lofty-walled Titus Canyon (map, opposite). Ordinarily you can drive through Titus, a winding, 12-mile-long slash into the Grape vine Mountains, a thousand feet deep in some places and barely wide enough for a car. But those spring rains had swept the road away, and it had not been rebuilt by June, when we returned to Death Valley with our three sons. Spectacular Titus was on our must list, so we decided to hike into the lower end during the early morning hours. "You should make it all right if you get out by late morning," said Dwight Warren, about Testament to failure, a derelict car and shack betray someone's hard-lost dream of wealth. Many such sights dot Death Valley National Monument, where prospecting is still permitted. Ironically, these hulks lie below Nevada's Bullfrog Hills, scene of a fabulous 1904 gold strike. Land of long shadows, Death Valley nestles between high mountains for its entire 140-mile length. Geologists believe alluvial fill has raised the floor by some 9,000 feet, yet 500 square miles remain below sea level. The 3,000-square-mile area became a national monument in 1933.