2017 – published by CCA Media, Cape Cod, U.S.A.
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording or by any information storage and retrieval system without written permission of the publisher, except for the inclusion of brief quotations in a review.
Come and join me on a journey through one of the eeriest – yet strangely, most beautiful, places on earth. It’s just a quick 150 minute drive from Las Vegas. This alien landscape of desolation is known as “Death Valley” for the simple reason that there is no other name possible for a place that is the hottest and driest in all of North America.
That it is also the lowest, prompts some people to speculate that the “Devil’s Hole” area of the valley of death is indeed a gateway to an underground city where satanic creatures may dwell.
Ragged, dangerous peaks also make it the highest place in the 48 adjacent states and gives further fuel to the Martian feel of the desiccated patchwork of desert, rocks, mountains and valleys.
How hot is it? It reached 134 degrees (56.7 C) on a blistering day in July over one-hundred years ago and “Death Valley” has threatened a new high every summer since. That roasting hot record temperature (as recognized by the Guinness Book of Records) was set at a place appropriately named “Furnace Creek”. King George the Fifth was on England’s throne at the time, while the United States was led by its 28th President, Woodrow Wilson.
Rick Cooper’s photo of the Furnace Creek Oasis with the Panamint Mountains in the distance.
How low is it? This photograph will give you some idea. Study it closely. Note the rooftops of the RVs. Then look up the rocky side wall of the crumbling cliff. You’ll see a red circle. That circle is sea level.
The lowest point in Death Valley is at a place called “Badwater Basin” and the water is indeed really, really bad. What little water there is, has become surrounded and encrusted by a vast field of salt, as shown in the next picture. There is no lower spot in North America than the basin, which is about 280 feet or 85 meters below sea level. Just 84 miles distant is Mount Whitney, the highest peak in the 48 adjacent United States.
The notorious valley of death got its name well over a century ago when a wagon train of prospectors and their families rushed toward the West from Boston and New York in the great gold rush of 1849.
Heading for California they made an unfortunate decision to take a short cut through the valley to try and find an opening through the Sierra Nevada Mountains. The valley nearly broke them as they were forced to kill their mounts for food and tear apart their wagons for firewood.
Facing death and starvation they somehow managed to traverse the cursed area with just one fatality. As they finally reached the pass through the mountains one man stopped and looked back at the valley. “Goodbye Death Valley” he shouted. The name took hold and the reason for the morbid designation is reinforced regularly with a litany of new fatalities.
E very year the long list of people meeting untimely deaths, gets a little longer. It’s estimated that about 700 people have perished in the valley of death since the gold rush days.
In early April of 2017, the file expanded by two when a 14 year old boy and his step mother lost their footing while trying to cross a creek. They were swept away downriver and apparently drowned. Authorities mounted an intensive search without success. Weeks later the body of the youth was found by a commercial river excursion boat. The remains of the woman have not been recovered as of this writing.
In a single period of three weeks in the early summer of 2016 there was one death in the valley and several near fatalities. Visitors to the Death Valley National Park made a grim discovery one morning when the temperature was 118 degrees. They found the body of a man sprawled on the little used Harry Wade Road, a dirt track that runs off of California’s Route 127. The remote road snakes some 30 miles into the valley. The dead man was found near his motorcycle. The bike was upright and in working order. Officials said it appeared that heat was a factor in the cyclist’s death.
Within a week, a single engine plane with two people aboard crashed during an attempt to set down on a barely used landing field near the western boundary of the 3.4 million acre national park. With the temperature at 111 degrees that day, the occupants of the aircraft might have perished in short order except that by sheer chance there were two people nearby who were able to assist them.
On June first a man and his mother narrowly escaped with their lives after their car got stuck in loose sand on a barren, unpaved road in the valley during a 110 degree day. As in much of the area, there was no cell-phone service.
They walled about a mile to get Badwater Road which is paved. But they had to walk another mile before they were picked up by a family from Korea who were vacationing in the national park.
Though they were in a car at that point, the woman fell unconscious and was hospitalized for about a week. She was fortunate to have survived.
Death by GPS
Not so lucky was an eleven year old boy who had set out on an overnight camping trip with his mother, 28 year old Alicia Sanchez, a Las Vegas nurse. She had decided to take her son camping in the Panamint Mountain section of the valley of death.
They began their ordeal in high spirits on a Saturday. She had a Jeep with a GPS, a case of two dozen 16 ounce bottles of water, some pop tarts and a few other snacks. She also had her son and their pet dachshund.
She had set the GPS on a course for the campgrounds, but in the valley of death, cellphones and GPS machines often either don’t work at all or give directions that are all fouled up. Such was the case with Sanchez. The GPS sent her to one of the least frequented places among the millions of square miles of valley desert.
The jeep got stuck in the sand and as Sanchez gunned the engine, instead of getting out of the miasma, the vehicle buried itself right up to the axles. Their water and short rations soon ran out.
She walked for miles trying to get cell-phone service. At one point she reportedly was able to get a text through to relatives. She said that she had changed a tire on the jeep.
After their supplies were depleted they began drinking their own urine. With daytime temperatures soaring to near 120 the boy died by Wednesday.
Two days later she was certain that she would also die but she was found by a national park ranger who followed tire tracks on a dirt road near the Owlshead Mountains. She was hospitalized for a brief period but survived the ordeal with no physical after effects. Surprisingly, the family’s pet dog also survived. He was given care by a vet who pronounced him in good shape after a short stay in the animal hospital.
The ranger who found Sanchez said that apparently her troubles were due to faulty GPS readings. Following the sad death of the boy, the ranger coined the term, “Death by GPS”. The authorities take great pains to alert all visitors to the valley of death that their cell-phones, tablets, and GPS units are quite likely to malfunction and should not be relied upon. The old fashioned map is still the best way to get around in Death Valley.
Others who have perished in the valley of death since the turn of the century include 32 year old Brett Kedish. He was with his wife near Stovepipe Wells. The temperature was over 100 when they began a hike to the sand dunes. Mrs. Kedish turned back after an hour and returned to their car. After a few more hours, with the temperature at 113 degrees she contacted the authorities who began a search. They found Kedish, but he was near death from several hours of roasting in the scorching heat. He was taken to a hospital where he soon died.
In July of 2003 Robert Hudson also decided to hike near Stovepipe Wells and walk to the dunes. Hudson was successful in getting to the dunes – but he died in them, unable to hike back in the blistering 120 degree sun.
Two years later, also in the summer heat of July, 50 year old – Kinhluan Nguyennogoc also perished on a hike during a day when the mercury was pushing past the 120 mark.
The valley of death seems to claim at least one victim every year. Usually the deaths occur in the summer when the danger from searing heat is at its highest.
Another destination in the valley of death that sometimes has a fatal attraction for visitors is Titus Canyon, so named for the first victim claimed by this hauntingly beautiful area, as depicted in the next photo….
The story of Edgar Titus who gave his name to the Titus Canyon is part fact and part legend and is presented as such with the reader welcome to pick and choose what to believe.
The 29 year old Titus left his home in Telluride, Colorado in late 1904 in favor of Bullfrog, Nevada – a mining town of about 1,000 people living in tents, dugouts, and shanties about five miles west of some of the Death Valley mountains. Word of a big gold strike had spread around the west, in part due to ads like the one shown in the next graphic.
After hearing of the bonanza available in the “greatest gold camp in the world” Titus convinced his brother in law Earl Weller to migrate with him to the valley of death. They sold everything they had to outfit a prospecting expedition into the Panamint Mountains. In the summer of 1905, with John Mullen as a third partner, they purchased three horses and a number of burros along with a great quantity of staple food and mining equipment.
Edgar Titus had apparently dug into a seam of high grade ore – or at least he thought he did. So the three hopefuls left the town of Bullfrog and rode into the valley of death with their horses, pack animals and supplies.
To get to the claim the men had to go through a long, narrow canyon devoid of shade and water that was baking in 125 degree heat. Soon the men and animals were parched and their scant reservoir of precious water was used up. By blind luck Edgar spotted a trickle of water seeping from a rock formation. He dug feverishly at the rock hoping to expand the slim water flow.
The other men joined in and in half an hour they had managed to move 700 pounds of rock and enlarge the water hole to the size of a bathtub. With throats so dry they could barely speak, they waited for their tub to fill with cool, clear water. They waited some more. The tickle stayed just that – a trickle. It was hardly enough for one person, let alone three men, three horses and a string of burros.
Edgar held his canteen to the tiny water flow for what seemed like hours until it finally was about one third full. He took a shallow swallow and informed the others that he would head on further down the canyon to find a better water source. He told the other two men to wait at the trickle until he returned.
After two days of waiting, Earle told John Mullin that he would go down the canyon to try and find Edgar. After two more days, John Mullin realized that neither Edgar nor Earle were ever going to return.
Mullin stayed by the miniscule water source for two weeks, his supplies gradually diminishing. He began to lose strength as the valley of death started to drain the life from his body. Fortunately he was found by another group of miners and survived – but Edgar and Earle perished along the winding canyon.
Three bodies were found in the canyon that summer of 1905, but the corpses of Edgar and Earle were not among them. Earle’s father spent the next two years in a hopeless search for the body of his son and that of Earle; but their remains were never found.
Here’s another photo of the canyon that Edgar Titus gave his name to:
Titus Canyon is 27 miles long. Imagine walking 27 miles, without water, on top of the stones that pass for pavement on the canyon road – stones that are sun baked and which are nearly hot enough to burn the rubber off your shoes. Twenty seven miles in temperatures over 120 degrees – but it’s a dry heat! A dry heat that’s hot enough to kill a strong man in a short time.
The Man Who Was Hanged Twice
One of the largest gold strikes in the Valley of Death was near Stovepipe Wells. Two itinerant prospectors, ‘One-eye’ Thompson and John Ramsey noticed some ledges with unusual coloring – that’s not too surprising in the valley; but what was really extraordinary about it is that one of the hues was golden! They filed claims and kept news of their strike quiet for a time, before selling out to a company called the Gold Eagle Group.
Gold Eagle developed the site into perhaps the richest gold mine in history. A town called ‘Skidoo’ sprouted up around the mine. In 1907 the community had a population of close to 500 people. There was a string of saloons, a handful of restaurants, a newspaper, various stores, and 150 homes ranging from tents and dugouts to buildings of actual wood frame construction.
The following year a telephone line snaked its way nearly 6,000 feet up the mountain to the town and for the first time, the residents of Skidoo were able to communicate directly with the outside world.
That telephone line and the poles that supported the wires proved to be an unlucky thing for Joseph ‘Hooch’ Simpson. He was a bartender at the Gold Seal Saloon. Simpson seemed to think he had to have one drink for himself every time he sold one! This sorry situation apparently kept him in a constant drunken and penniless state.
In need of cash he took twenty dollars from banker Jim Arnold; after fatally shooting him with a revolver.
A group of local citizens took the law into their own hands and hanged ‘Hooch’ from the very same telephone pole that would be used to help carry the news of the banker’s death to the Los Angeles Times.
The vigilantes gave ‘Hooch’ a proper burial and even put a marker on top of the grave. That made it easier for them to retrieve him three days later when a reporter from the Times wanted to photograph the body!
So they dug ol’ Hooch up and strung him up again – this time from a cross beam in one of the town buildings. The reporter took a photo of the ‘re-hanged’ Hooch Simpson. The picture and story became front page news in Los Angeles.
Before reburying the killer, the town doctor decided to cut off the head of the corpse for some testing he wanted to do. Hence the body was buried but the head was not.
This situation gave rise to reports over the next several decades of a headless zombie wandering the area around Skidoo (now nothing more than a ghost town) searching for his missing head!
A much more recent tragedy in the Valley of Death took place in 2014. London actor and professional fighter, David Legeno was taking in the sights of a remote part of the area and succumbed to the extreme conditions. His body was discovered by hikers. He had been dead two or three days when his remains were found.
The 50 year old Legeno had appeared in many films including two of the Harry Potter movies. In MMA fighting he lost his first three fights but improved rapidly, winning his next four in a row despite being in his mid forties at the time and being matched against much younger fighters.
He was said to be in excellent condition when he entered the Valley and had no known medical conditions. Foul play was not suspected.
FOUL PLAY SUSPECTED BY FAMILY
Another fairly recent death in the Valley was foul play for certain, according to the family of the victim – although the authorities have not yet found any evidence to back up that claim.
The victim was 24 year old Ryan Singleton, a former male model who stood six feet four inches tall. He had a few bit parts in films and left his family home in Atlanta to seek fame in Hollywood in 2013.
With a rented car he set off from Los Angeles toward Las Vegas. After a brief stay in Nevada he started back towards L.A. but he never got there. The car broke down in the southern end of Death Valley near Baker, a desert town of about 700 people. It was the ninth of July, when the average temperature in Baker on a typical summer day is 110 and the record is 125, about 52 C.
Apparently Singleton was picked up by a highway patrol officer after his rental car broke down. The policeman drove him to the rest stop in Baker where he telephoned a friend. Singleton told his friend about his car troubles and asked if he would pick him up. The friend agreed and immediately started the three hour drive from his home to Baker – but when he got there, Singleton was nowhere to be found. The friend went to the authorities and reported Singleton missing.
There was no sign of the missing man until ten weeks later when joggers found the body of a man with its internal organs missing. The remains were identified as those of Ryan Singleton.
It was said that the missing organs were likely due to scavenging animals, but the victim’s family does not believe that to be the case. They believe without doubt that foul play was involved.
The local authorities, after a complete investigation, reaffirmed that there was no indication of foul play – yet the victim’s family believes that Singleton would not have left the rest area unless forced to do so; because his friend was coming to pick him up. The case has officially been closed, but for the family the questions remain.
Family members are still trying on their own to solve the baffling case; saying that “Ryan Singleton did not simply collapse and die in Death Valley.”
MASSIVE SEARCH IN THE VALLEY OF DEATH
A small army of some one hundred professional and skilled volunteer rescue personnel set out at ten A.M. on October 23, 1996 to search Anvil Canyon for four German tourists who had vanished in the summer heat in late July.
The rescuers held no hope that they would find the man and woman and two young children alive – but they at least hoped to find their remains and solve the puzzle of their disappearance.
Earlier search efforts had added few pieces to the puzzle, but a fresh development brought new hope in the search for four year old Max Myer, his mother Cornelia, ten year old George Weber and his father Egbert Rimkus.
They had flown from their homes in Germany and had arrived in California early in the month. Their vehicle, a rented Plymouth Voyager minivan, was hardly suited for Death Valley.
Driving from Las Vegas they spent a night at a park in the Valley. They bought a few items, including information pamphlets, at a visitor center.
The next day they set out on a dirt road and came across a remote, abandoned mining camp where they left a note in German saying that they were going through the pass – apparently at Anvil Spring Canyon – that cuts through the ragged Panamint Mountains. Even a proper four wheel jeep type vehicle would have a rough time on this route.
Their two-wheel-drive car was not up to the task. It was found three months later to the day – on October 23, 1996. The minivan was nearly buried in sand in a ravine in Anvil Spring Canyon where there are no roads. Formerly there was an ancient, arduous passage, but it had long been abandoned since the time when an easier route was laid out.
Three of the van’s tires were shredded. One had come loose from the rim. Searchers speculated that they drove for some distance on the rims of the car before it finally became mired in the sand.
Inside the locked Plymouth were empty water bottles, rolls of exposed camera films, and various other items. That van was the first sign of the four tourists since they had disappeared and it inspired one of the biggest manhunts in the history of the Valley of Death.
Among the battalion of more than 100 searchers were eight units of volunteers from the Kern County Sheriff’s Mounted Rescue Group. Rescuers on horseback have a major sight advantage over ground units because their vantage point is about seven feet off the ground. Horses can travel at four to ten miles an hour in baking 120 degree heat for hours on end.
The superior senses of equines have been known to detect the presence of lost people after countless fruitless human searches. Horses are often able to discern movements, sounds, or smells that humans cannot. Another benefit of the mounted units is that they can transport equipment and supplies to assist all the other units.
Also on the hunt that October day were nine veteran trackers from the Indian Wells Valley Search and Rescue Group. This storied group of skilled people is responsible for near impossible rescues of people stuck at the bottom of any of the thousands of ancient mineshafts in the Valley and the nearby Mojave Desert. They are routinely summoned to help in emergencies throughout the Valley of Death as well as in other states.
A dozen experienced rescue people from the China Lake Mountain Rescue Group were also in the search party. These brave souls know the rugged peaks and jagged juts of the Sierra Madre Mountains like most people know their back-yards. They are experts in scaling the splits, cracks, and crevasses where tourists often are stranded.
These hardy, experienced Valley rescue units were augmented by dozens of other people as well as four Helicopter teams. The search went on for four days in paint peeling temperatures of over 120 degrees, with little rest or sleep for the teams.
Reluctantly after the fourth day, the large scale operation which had involved over 250 rescue people was called off. Over the years, several other attempts were launched in hopes of solving the riddle.
Amazingly 13 years later, the remains of the tourists were found by two hikers. In 2009 the hikers, who were off duty, search and rescue workers; found skeletal remains several miles south of where the Plymouth Voyager was abandoned. Identification papers of one of the tourists, was found near the skeletons.
As they closed the books on the case, the authorities said that no foul play was involved – but the Valley of Death had claimed four more victims.
For the past few dozen pages much has been written of the dangers of the Valley of Death but little has been said of the beauty. In the next section some of the majesty of the area will be depicted as well as more mysteries from the hottest, driest, and highest place in North America.
The Sailing Rocks of La Playa
For many years one of the great mysteries surrounding Death Valley was the ‘sailing stones’ of Racetrack Playa, a flat and sandy, dry lakebed. The large rocks, resembling tombstones, apparently move great distances on their own.
No one had actually seen them in motion, but the tracks they left behind were mute proof that the stones, some of which weigh as much as a full grown man, did indeed travel along the surface of ‘la playa’ (the Spanish words for ‘the beach’).
There were no footprints to indicate that people or animals were pushing the rocks. There were however, long snaky trails behind them that proved that they slid along the sand and had not been picked up by hurricane force winds and later plopped down on the sand.
Tourists, locals, and scientists wondered for decades about the unseen forces that allowed the stones to sail across the playa. Theories ranged from nature’s arsenal of wind and rain, to the tricks and ploys of ghosts and other supernatural creatures.
The stones might stay in the same spot for months or years as if rooted, then suddenly, though slowly, traverse distances of hundreds of yards before settling into a new spot. Always left behind, was a sharply defined sandy wake showing exactly how far the monument-like rock had moved!
The next picture shows what is perhaps the largest of the enigmatic walking, or sailing, stones of the Valley of Death. It measures more than three feet at its longest point and weighs over 200 pounds.
Though some old prospectors of bygone days might not believe them, a group of scientists claim to have removed the cloak of mystery from the riddle of the moving stones. The sailing stones are actually ‘skating stones’ according to results of a scientific paper published in 2014.
”At various times during the cold weather, thin sheets of ice are formed on the surface of the three mile long ‘Racetrack Playa’ and the desert wind pushes the rocks along the fragile ‘skating rink surface’ until daybreak when the sun melts the ice,” the researchers stated.
Veteran park officials say that the 2014 theory might be true for the small rocks – but they do not believe that is why the larger rocks move. That, they say is still a mystery that has yet to be solved.
The Borax Days
Though it lasted for a short period, the era of the teams of twenty mules tethered together to haul borax 168 miles through the searing desert, forms one of the most iconic images of the Old West.
Borax had been used for many centuries in the United States in gold-smithing and in the ceramic industries. Until the late 19th century it was imported from Europe. In 1881 vast quantities of Borax in “Cottonball” form were discovered near Furnace Creek.
So accessible was the ore as it lay in great, shimmering sheets on the desert floor that it could be easily taken with a common shovel. But so inaccessible was the site that it seemed as though it would be impossible to get the product to market.
The solution came in the form of the 20-mule teams. The mules were able to haul 30 tons of borax in massive wagons that themselves weighed seven tons. The route was 168 miles from the Harmony Mine to the railroad in Mojave and took ten full days for a single one-way trip.
Paul Herman’s photo shows remains of the original mining operation in Death Valley. The furnace was used to crystallize the “Cottonball” into the finished product.
Visitors to Death Valley National Park can see two of the original wagons. One is at Furnace Creek and the other, as shown in the photo, is encased in a corral at the original Harmony Miine.
The ‘20-mule Team Borax Company’ sponsored a long running radio show called “Death Valley Days” hosted by the “Old Ranger”. The radio version ran from 1930 to 1951 and was one of the earliest and most successful of all Western radio programs.
The show moved to television in 1952 and though its tenure was three years less than the radio version it remains one of America’s most iconic depictions of the American West of the 1800s.
Every radio episode began with a bugle call and then the announcer’s introduction. On television the opening scene became even more dramatic as the bugle call was accompanied by the stark image of a line of 20-mule team wagons inching slowly across the desert.
One of the many hosts of the television series was actor Ronald Reagan who in a later political life became a two-term U.S. President.
Most of the stories on Death Valley Days were based on real life dramas. Such was the case with “Death Valley Scotty”. That episode was written about the record breaking cross-country run of the 1905 train called the “Scott Special”. It was a bullet train chartered by Walter E. Scott – better known as “Death Valley Scotty”. One of the Valley of Death’s most unique figures, “Scotty” is the subject of the next chapter.
Scotty’s Train and his Castle
The man known as Death Valley Scotty proved to be one of the most enduring and skilful conmen the world has ever seen. He started out small of course, as all con men must. The main reason Scotty started small, was because he was small – just eleven years old when he left his old Kentucky home.
At the age of 12 he made his first foray into the Valley of Death, as part of a work crew surveying the California/Nevada border. Young Scotty kept up this work for four years until joining the Buffalo Bill Wild West Show as a stunt rider. He spent 12 years in the saddle for Bill Cody before leaving the show with his new bride Ella. They struck out for Cripple Creek, Colorado in search of gold.
They didn’t fnd any gold in their little mine, but that didn’t stop young Walter Edward Perry Scott from striking gold in a different way. He simply claimed that he had struck a massive vein of gold and he conned a wealthy New York businessman into investing $5,000 in the worthless mine.
For two years Scotty kept sending letters to the New Yorker about the excellent state of the mine, but he never shipped any ore. When the backer finally became suspicious, Scotty told him he was going to board a train from Colorado, bound for New York City and he’d be carrying $12,000 in gold dust. As ill fate would have it, Scotty informed his patron, he was robbed of the gold before he reached his destination. Gullible newspaper editors ate up the story and gave it substantial press coverage across much of the nation.
This happy result for Scotty led him on a whirlwind spree of self-promotion schemes. In 1904, he was able to bring two new investors, Ed Shedd and Al Johnson, who poured $4,000 into the bogus operation.
The following year Scotty became a national sensation by claiming that he was going to make the fastest transcontinental train crossing ever. On July 9 his train, The Scott Special, left Los Angeles bound for Chicago. The combination consisted of the engine, a baggage car, a Pullman sleeping car, and a dining car.
The only passengers on the flyer were Scott, Jack Holman, and Charles Van Loan, a writer for the Los Angeles Examiner. The journey was completed in 44 hours and 54 minutes – a whopping ten hours faster than the previous record!
Van Loan’s flamboyant account of the adventure was at the top of the front page of every broadsheet in the nation and made Scotty the talk of the town in every settlement from Boston to Sacramento. He was so popular that his old boss, Buffalo Bill, hired a Scotty impersonator for the Wild West show.
For the next few years investors ran up to Scotty like geese and chickens offering their feathers for plucking. He kept taking the investments and paid out dividends of gaudy promises, but no cash.
Ever the showman, in 1906 Scotty took the leading role in a play about, not surprisingly, Scotty himself. With Scotty strutting around the stage like P.T. Barnum and probably thinking that there was indeed a sucker born every minute, the show opened in Seattle to an overflow crowd.
“Standing room only!” Scotty chuckled as he walked off the stage, buoyed by thunderous applause.
His mirth was cut short when he walked into the arms of a policeman who had an arrest warrant with a flock of charges related to his bilking his investors for an amount in excess of $20,000.
He stuck to his guns with aplomb, never admitting any wrongdoing.
When the play finished, Scott was arrested on assorted charges for his involvement in fooling investigators earlier that year. The charges were dismissed on a technicality, but the trial had made it clear that Scott was a fraud. However, he refused to admit anything and somehow managed to keep Albert Johnson interested in his “mine”.
Scotty continued over the next decade to sell his phoney stocks and somehow this seemed to amuse Mr. Johnson who not only kept pouring money into the conman’s coffers, but even gave him a five room house on a ranch he had bought in Northern Death Valley.
When Al Johnson constructed a two story palatial home on the property, Scotty began using that dwelling as his residence and it became known as Scotty’s Castle. He lived in it until his death in 1954 and it has since become one of the biggest tourist attractions in the valley of death.
Scotty’s Castle as it stood in 2013.
Severe flooding damage in 2014 forced the closure of the dwelling and repairs may not be completed until 2020. The building and utilities were heavily damaged and both access roads were completely wiped out. According to National Park officials Lack of funds are slowing the repairs.
The villa, though a remarkable piece of architecture for the location and the time that it was built, is not a castle – and yet like the epic medieval castles of Europe it has a network of underground tunnels below it. There’s even an underground tour, separate from the castle tour that takes 15 people at a time into the depths below the main structure.
The caves below the castle were built in the 1920s. But in 1931, some other tunnels and caves were said to have been discovered that were the dwelling places of giants.
Sixteen years later the find was first brought to the attention of the public in a story in a San Diego newspaper that was distributed around the world by the Associated Press. Here, word for word, is the complete text of the article:
San Diego Union August 5, 1947
LOS ANGELES, Aug., 4 (AP)- “A retired Ohio doctor has discovered relics of an ancient civilization, whose men were 8 or 9 feet tall, in the Colorado desert near the Arizona-Nevada-California line, an associate said today.
Howard E. Hill, of Los Angeles, speaking before the Transportation Club, disclosed that several well preserved mummies were taken yesterday from caverns in an area roughly 180 miles square, extending through much of southern Nevada from Death Valley, Calif., across the Colorado River into Arizona.
Hill said the discoverer is Dr. F. Bruce Russell, retired Cincincatti physician, who stumbled on the first of several tunnels in 1931, soon after coming West and deciding to try mining for his health.
Not until this year, however, did Dr. Russell go into the situation thoroughly, Hill told the luncheon. With Dr. Daniel S. Bovee, of Los Angeles – who with his father helped open up New Mexico’s cliff dwellings – Dr. Russell has found mummified remains, together with implements of the civilization, which Dr. Bovee had tentatively placed at about 80,000 years old.
“ These giants are clothed in garments consisting of a medium length jacket and trouser extending slightly below the knees ,” Hill said. “The texture of the material is said to resemble gray dyed sheepskin, but obviously it was taken from an animal unknown today.”
Hill said that in another cavern was found the ritual hall of the ancient people, together with devices and markings similar to those now used by the Masonic order. In a long tunnel were well preserved remains of animals, including elephants and tigers. So far, Hill added, no women have been found.
He said the explorers believe that what they found was the burial place of the tribes hierarchy. Hieroglyphics, he added, bear a resemblance to what is known of those from the lost continent of Atlantis. They are chiseled, he added, on carefully polished granite.
He said Dr. Viloa V. Pettit, of London, who made excavations around Petra, on the Arabian desert, soon will begin an inspection of the remains.”
The story of the Death Valley Giants created a short term buzz and aroused some interest, but was soon forgotten. Dr. Pettit, if there ever was such a person, did not present evidence to support the original claims. Today, the existence of the vast tunnel network and of the giants is highly doubted by the scientific community.
Each year more than a million tourists visit the nearly 3.5 million acre Death Valley National Park – the largest National Park in the 48 ‘united’ states. For most people the experience will be pleasant and positive – but on every turn though the calendar, an average of six unlucky souls will come to a sad, tortuous end – joining the hundreds of corpses who before them had to face the grim reality that they were going to end up as another victim of The Valley of Death.
Bill Russo, retired on Cape Cod, was educated in Boston at the Huntington School and at Grahm College in Kenmore Square. He was editor of several newspapers in Massachusetts as well as a former disc jockey, news writer/presenter, and broadcaster for various outlets in New England.
His sighting of a swamp creature just before the turn of the century, led to appearances in the Bridgewater Triangle Documentary Film, America’s Bermuda Triangle, and on Destination America’s Monsters and Mysteries series.
In addition to his radio and newspaper work, he held management positions in logistics and warehousing as well as a stint as an ironworker and President of Boston Local 501 of the Shopmen’s Ironworkers Union.
Contact Bill at All e-mails are personally answered
Bill’s Blog is called Adventures in Type and Space:
He also shares news and videos on his Youtube Channel:
3.4 million acres - a massive swath of the hottest, lowest, driest, and most barren landscape on Earth. It's a place so desolate and forlorn that the first people to venture into it, called it 'The Valley of Death'. And yet it has an unmatched, mystical beauty that tempts even the meek to set aside their fear and walk upon the sun baked trails leading to ever more danger and intrigue. Join me now for a virtual tour of The Valley of Death.