Tuesday, November 13, 2012

A Surprise at China Ranch

"Well, I would say China Ranch."

And so China Ranch became our destination because of the campground manager's answer to the question: "What is a place that a lot of people miss during their time in the Death Valley area?"

So, one of our day trips took us via NV 172, CA 178, CA 127, and a short segment of the Old Spanish Trail to the turnoff to the Ranch.

The sign indicating the pavement would end was not unexpected, but it was an incomplete description of the road ahead.

Though not part of Death Valley National Park, the desert terrain here matched that of the Park.

In about three miles, we reached the road leading into Amargosa Canyon--or, more accurately, leading down into the Canyon.

And while the descent was not at all that steep, the road was marked by multiple curves. At first, we could see approaching traffic, but very soon the curves became tighter and the walls of the canyon closer and closer to the road.

As we descended the road into Amargosa Canyon in a truck that was wider and longer than the typical vehicles traveling the one-lane road, we couldn't help but think:"What if we met a tour bus heading up the Canyon road?"

To take my mind off the possibility of meeting oncoming traffic, I wondered out loud: "How did China Ranch get its name?"

Well, it seems that "During the fall and winters of 1849 and 1850 dozens of parties of 49'ers bound for California gold fields used the trail, and their journals contain numerous notes about the Amargosa Canyon. Although this route took them far to the south of the gold country, it was warm enough not to present the risk of freezing to death, as the story of the Donner party was already well known.

"Little is known about activities or people here at China Ranch from 1850 until the turn of the century. According to available sources, a Chinese man named either Quon Sing or Ah Foo came to this canyon after many years of work in the Death Valley borax mines.

"He developed the water, planted fruits and vegetables, and raised meat for the local mining camps. It became known as Chinaman's Ranch.

"Sometime in 1900, a man named Morrison appeared, and, as the story goes, he ran the Chinese farmer off at gun point and claimed the Ranch for his own. Morrison eventually sold out, but the name had stuck.

"Since then the canyon has had many owners and worn many different faces, including a fig farm, cattle ranch, hog farm, alfalfa farm, and others.

"In 1970, the property was purchased by Charles Brown Jr. and Bernice Sorrells, the son and daughter of area pioneer and long time State Senator Charles Brown of Shoshone. It remains in these families today" (chinaranch.com).

The hills that we passed had been mined over the years--lead, silver, gypsum, and talc. Therefore, we had expected to find signs of the area's mining history.

So, we were surprised at the scene that greeted us.

We would soon learn the meaning of what confronted us.

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