Death Valley Junction ~ Wild Horses!
Amargosa was the original name of Death Valley Junction and this community originally was a railway depot for the Death Valley borax industry in the early 1900s. The 20 Mule Team wagons full of borax ore used to make the tough journey uphill to the Amargosa Valley before railroad lines came to this area. In order to increase efficiency, a short line railway eventually was constructed from Death Valley Junction to just shy of Furnace Creek. This railway replaced the famous 20 Mule Team Wagons from the wild west and this region soon started to become tamed.
When it was no longer feasible to mine borax in Death Valley, the mining operations were shut down and the short line railway to the depot in Death Valley Junction was no longer needed to cart the ore. At about this same time in in history, thousands of folks back east were touring the Southwest region by train and the age of wild west tourism began. In order to meet demand, a luxurious inn was built at Furnace Creek to accommodate the tourists. The Furnace Creek Inn soon became a destination for the rich and famous, so the old Amargosa short line railway was then appropriated as local tourist train ride to this destination. Eventually a paved road replaced the Amargosa short line when the golden age of automobile touring came to be.
When the local short line railway faded away, the railroad depot town of Death Valley Junction pretty much turned into a deserted ghost town. Only a few steadfast locals remained and these folks ensured that the old historic buildings would survive into the future. The Amargosa Hotel & Opera House, which was built for the Death Valley railway tourist trade, has survived intact and the doors of this landmark have been open for business for many decades. The population of Death Valley Junction has dwindled down to less than 20 people during the last few years, so this little historic Mojave Desert railway depot community is now considered to be a living ghost town. Only the old Amargosa Hotel still turns the lights on after dark in this old west town.
There are many old historic buildings to see in the Death Valley Junction area, so it is worth taking the time to have a closer look. Wild horses usually pass through Death Valley Junction twice a day because there is a water source and the local wild horses have become a prime attraction for tourists in recent years. During my first year of college, I ran the old Furnace Creek Inn kitchen when this resort opened the doors for business during the extremely hot summer season for the first time in the history of this destination. Needless to say, I passed through Death Valley Junction quite a few times back then and the first time that I saw wild horses wandering through town, I thought the horses were ranch horses that got loose, but there are no open range horse ranches nearby. Another confirmation of the animals being wild was when I saw that the horses were on the outside of the fence near the buildings. Wild horses passing through a living ghost town is not something that I was used to seeing, so it was a pleasant surprise!
After spotting the wild horses, I pulled off the road next to the Amargosa Hotel and waited for the wild horses to approach. Sure enough, the wild horses chose a path to cross ro road in front of my car, so I had a front row seat. I ended up photographing the wild horses for a while and I did hang around till the small herd safely crossed the road. However, there was a scary moment when a speeding semi truck refused to slow down and the front fender brushed against a horse as it crossed the road. Luckily the horse was okay after the incident, but the speedy trucker that locked up his brakes must have been scared out of his wits! It was quite a sight to see and the horse that got clipped looked as angy as everybody else that stopped on the side of the road to watch the wild horses do their thing.
Because the company that I worked for in Death Valley basically paid employees slave wages (just like at most remote resorts) it was a few years later after getting a college degree when I finally got an opportunity to give the Amargosa Café a try. A slice of home made pie a la mode with a cup of coffee sounded good on that chilly winter day, so I gave into the temptation.
Dining in a café that is located in a living old west ghost town is a surreal experience that always inspires some interesting conversation with the local folk. The café owner and I started rambling on about the Nevada top secret military base stuff that was popular at that time. We were talking 4×4 trails too and he told me about a canyon where you can observe full scale military practice operations in action, with target drones being shot down and bombs going off all over the place! That sounded like a fun, yet dangerous place to be in this neck of the woods, so someday I might go check it out.
When touring Death Valley Junction while on a scenic drive, it is best to fill up the tank with fuel at the Area 51 Alien Travel Center in Lathrop Wells or in Pahrump before heading into this region. This is because it can be over 75 miles to the nearest gas station and the price of gas in Furnace Creek is triple the regular price. There is plenty to do and see in the Amargosa Valley and the Ash Meadows National Wildlife Refuge is literally next door to Death Valley Junction. Casinos, saloons, brothels and tourist traps dot the landscape on the Nevada side of the state line in the Amargosa Valley. On the California side of the line, there is only the living ghost town of Death Valley Junction and wild horses, which is a pleasant thought in itself!