Old Spanish Trail

The Old Spanish Trail is a 700 mile long historical trade route that connected the northern New Mexico settlements near Santa Fe, New Mexico with those of Los Angeles, California. The trail’s rugged terrain discouraged the use of wagons. It was always a pack route, mainly used by men and mules.

The routes and trails link California, Nevada, Arizona, Utah and Colorado. The Old Spanish Trail consists of a series and different trails and routes some of which are in service today.

The Told Spanish Trail BLM Sign
The Told Spanish Trail BLM Sign

Old Spanish Trail Routes

All routes came together at Fork of Roads, east of present-day Barstow in the Mojave desert, and then crossed Cajon Pass between the San Gabriel and San Bernadino Mountains to Coastal California. After negotiating the pass, traders had an easy two to three days travel to the San Gabriel Mission and beyond to Los Angeles.

Armijo Route

Exterior, south facade of Mission San Gabriel Arcangel - 1878
Exterior, south facade of Mission San Gabriel Arcangel – 1878

The first complete trip across the trail began in Abiquiú, northwest of Santa Fe. The Armijo party followed well-known trails northwest to the San Juan River, then nearly due west to the Virgin River. They used the Crossing of the Fathers, cut into rock canyon wall some 75 years earlier by the Domínguez-Escalante party. Armijo’s caravan went down the Muddy River and across
the Mojave Desert to the Amargosa and Mojave Rivers, through Cajon Pass and down to Mission San Gabriel.

Main Northern Route

First blazed by William Wolfskill and George C. Yount in 1831, this route veered northwest from Abiquiú through Southern Colorado and central Utah. It avoided the rugged canyons of the Colorado River that the Armijo party had encountered and took advantage of the better water and pasture resources across central Utah before returning to the Colorado River and Armijo’s route not far from Las Vegas.

Northern Branch

This route followed well-known trapper and trade routes north through the Rio Grande gorge to Taos and into southern Colorado. It then went west through Cochetopa Pass, largely open during the winter when other passes were snowed in and up the Gunnison River valley, rejoining the Northern Route near present-day Green River, Utah.

Mojave Road

The Mojave Road is a 188-mile crossing of the Mojave Desert long used by area Indians and by Spanish explorers and missionaries, it was first traveled by Jedediah Smith, an American trapper, in 1826.

Old Spanish Trail Locations

Government Holes in the central section of the Old Mojave Road.

Old Mojave Road

The Old Mojave Road (Government Road) is an east-west route that enters the Mojave National Preserve off the highway 95 in Nevada, and Afton Canyon…
The Told Spanish Trail BLM Sign

Old Spanish Trail

The Old Spanish Trail is a 700 mile long historical trade route that connected the northern New Mexico settlements near Santa Fe, New Mexico with…

Old Spanish Trail – Mountain Springs Pass – Nevada State Historic Marker

Old Spanish Trail - Mountain Springs Pass is located along highway 160 and Nevada State Historic Marker No. 142. The Old Spanish Trail is a…

References

Carl Mengel – Panamint Valley Miner

Carl Mengel was a prospector and miner in Panamint Valley, located in Death Valley National Park, California. He lost a leg in a mining accident, and continued to mine. He is the namesake for Mengel Pass in the Panamint Range. His ashes and prosthetic leg are buried on top of Mengel Pass in Death Valley National Park.

Carl Mengel with dog "Whitey at his home in Butte Valley, April 1940. Photo courtesy of DEVA NM.
Carl Mengel with dog “Whitey at his home in Butte Valley, April 1940. Photo courtesy of DEVA NM.

Carl Mengel was born in San Bernardino, California, in 1868. After various attempts at mining, farming, and fishing for a living, Mengel moved the Butte Valley region of Death Valley in the early 1900s. He is said to have purchased the Oro Fino Claim in Goler Wash in 1912, and later found even richer deposits there

Mengel was an early prospector in the Butte Valley area and contemporary and friend of such well-known Death Valley personalities as Shorty Harris and Pete Aguereberry. The site is located about one-half mile south of Anvil Spring and commands a grand view over Butte Valley toward the Amargosa Range on the east side of the salt pan.

.In October 1924 Mengel filed on several claims south and west of Anvil Spring: Topah Numbers. 1-4, Topah Extension, and Mah Jongg Numbers. 1-6. He died in 1944 and his ashes were put in a stone cairn atop Mengel Pass approximately fifty feet outside the boundary of Death Valley National Monument.

After his death the claims located by Mengel in Butte Valley underwent numerous resales through the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s. The Topaz (Topah) Extension, Topaz (Topah) No. 1, and part of the Topaz (Topah) Extension claims were later amended and located as the Greater View Springs, Greater View Springs No. 1, and Greater View Springs Millsite, respectively.

References

Charles Ferge “Seldom Seen Slim” – A Ballarat Prospector

Charles Ferge "Seldom Seen Slim"
Charles Ferge “Seldom Seen Slim”

Charles Ferge “Seldom Seen Slim” is the last of the known prospectors who lived in the town of Ballarat located in Death Valley National Park, California.

Seldom Seen Slim, named Charles Ferge, was born in Illinois on October 21st 1881. Slim came to Ballarat sometime between 1913 and 1917 not long after the town was abandoned by the miners seeking their fortunes elsewhere.

Ferge became the last resident of Ballarat and had a reputation as a recluse with a cantankerous side. He survived in one of the harshest landscapes living on his own in his town of Ballarat. It is said that he lived in every remaining building of the ghost town. His focus was mining and he just needed enough money to survive as a desert prospector. Slim only needed enough money to buy necessities of food, tobacco for his pipe, water, gas for his car and clothes.

When the water source in Ballarat dried up due to a dropping water table, Slim would haul water into the town using jugs from other sources miles away. The scarcity of water would only allow the man to bathe a few times per year.

While is is the sole citizen of Ballarat, the town had no running water, no electricity or any other services He became an unofficial curator for the ghost town. Slim would often tell stories to visitors and sell them souvenirs of gold ore.

Seldom Seen Slim died of cancer in 1968 in Trona, California. He is buried on “Boot Hill” in Ballarat and his greave is a popular place to stop.

Me lonely? Hell no! I’m half coyote and half wild burro.

Charles Ferge “Seldom Seen Slim”

References

Leadfield California – A Death Valley Ghost Town

Leadfield California is a ghost town located in Inyo County and Death Valley National Park and found on the Titus Canyon Trail. The town boom in 1925 and 1926, however, Leadfield is a town that was started on fraud and deceit.

Leadfield Gost Town, Death Valley, California
Leadfield Gost Town, Death Valley, California

According to Legend and an article in Desert Magazine, and shameless promoter C. C. Julian wandered into Titus Canyon and started blasting tunnels. He then discovered lead ore which he purchased and brought down from Tonopah, Nevada. Julian then produced maps and other promotional materials and found investors from the East coast. The town of Leadfield was born and died on the imagination of this one man.

Photograph of an exterior view of the Leadfield Hotel in Death Valley's Titus Canyon, [s.d.]. The hotel is a simple wooden structure with a slanted roof and a rectangular façade. The upper left corner of the façade is missing, revealing the interior of the building. Three large rectangular windows and two doors alternate across the front of the building. There are three people standing on a caved-in porch in front of the hotel. A large rocky mountain rises up behind the hotel. The hotel was part of C. C. Julian's Leadfield boomtown, the hey day of which was in 1925. Photo Credit “University of Southern California. Libraries” and “California Historical Society” as the source. Digitally reproduced by the USC Digital Library.
Photograph of an exterior view of the Leadfield Hotel in Death Valley’s Titus Canyon, [s.d.]. The hotel is a simple wooden structure with a slanted roof and a rectangular façade. The upper left corner of the façade is missing, revealing the interior of the building. Three large rectangular windows and two doors alternate across the front of the building. There are three people standing on a caved-in porch in front of the hotel. A large rocky mountain rises up behind the hotel. The hotel was part of C. C. Julian’s Leadfield boomtown, the hey day of which was in 1925. Photo Credit “University of Southern California. Libraries” and “California Historical Society” as the source. Digitally reproduced by the USC Digital Library.

The truth of the tale is not quite as interesting or spectacular. According the the National Park Service, Leadfield ore was first worked in 1905. During the Bullfrog boom, which took place outside of Beatty, prospectors worked the land looking for the next big hit. In the fall of 1905, nine mine sights were identified and claimed by W. H. Seaman and Curtis Durnford. The ore from these sites was assayed in Rhyolite at $40 per ton. The men bought out a local consortium and the Death Valley Consolidated Mining Company was incorporated which released promotional material and sold shares for 2.5 cents each.

The mine and its ore did produce, however the Death Valley Consolidated Mining Company soon discovered that the expense of hauling the ore to Rhyolite and then the frieght costs to ship the material to smelters further off caused the ore to be not profitable. After six months of operation the Death Valley Colisidated Mining Company disappeared.

C. C. Julian
C. C. Julian

Despite early failures, in March of 1924 three prospectors wandered into the canyon and staked several claims. Ben Chambers, L. Christensen and Frank Metts worked their claims of lead ore for over one year before selling the claims to John Salsberry. Mr. Salsberry saw enough promise to form the Western Lead Mines Company and started to raise capital via stock sales at $0.10 per share. By the end of 1925, the Western Lead Mines Company was working 50 claims in the valley and soon began in invest in infastructure in the form of a compressor plant. A long steep road was constructed for LeadField to the Beatty Highway.

In early 1926, the Western Lead Mines Company build a boarding house and piped in water from a nearby spring. The town of Leadfield was named officially January 30th, 1926. Stock from the Western Lead Mines Company went on sale in January and within a 24 hour period, 40,000 share of stock were sold at $1.57 per share.

In February 1926 it became known to the public that C. C. Julian purchase shares and was now President of Western Lead Mines Company. Almost immediately the California State Corporation Commission began an investigation into the stock sale because a permit was not granted for the stock sale. The promoter went to work, along with several other mine operations, raise interest and money for the town. City plans were filed with Inyo County, however the spectre of investigation loomed.

Julian at the Western Lead Mine located in Leadfield, California - Photo Los Angeles Times
Julian at the Western Lead Mine located in Leadfield, California – Photo Los Angeles Times

Despite the arrival of a post office, investment into the location, and hundreds of feet of tunnel, C. C. Julian was ordered to cease sale of stock by the California State Corporation Commission. Around the same time, the primary tunnel of the Western Lead Mines Company penetrated to the ledge which experts predicted the highest quality ore. This ore was assayed at 2% and far too low for profit considered freight costs.

"The Last Days of C. C. Julian," Los Angeles Times, 29 Sept. 1935
“The Last Days of C. C. Julian,” Los Angeles Times, 29 Sept. 1935

Leadfield and the surrounding mines where gone months later. Mr. Julian was blamed despite the facts that he did not start the venture, there was ore at the location, and he invested money and time towards the venture. Once his Leadfield venture faltered, he moved onto to Oklahoma and was caught up in yet another scam. Julian later fled the country for Shanghai in March of 1933 m where he committed suicide in 1923 after several more failed schemes. Julian was buried in a beggers coffin and his funeral was attended by nine people.

Mr. Julian is responsible for the road through Titus Canyon, which many is a favorite route of visitors every year.

Leadfield Sign, Death Valley, California
Leadfield Sign, Death Valley, California

For a detailed history, the NPS offers a great article.

Leadfield Town Summary

NameLeadfield
LocationInyo County, Death Valley, California
Latitude, Longitude36.8466107,-117.0592307
GNIS1658952
Elevation4000 feet
Newspaper Leadfield Chronicle ( 192?-19?? )

Further Reading

Leadfield Map

Resources

Artist Drive

Artist Drive is perhaps one of the most popular and scenic drives through a colorful palette of geology, located in Death Valley National Park, California. Artist drive is a one way road about nine miles long which takes just about two hour to complete provided you take the time to hike a few of the short trails. The road is a popular destination for hikers and bikers as well as motor vehicles. From the drivers perspective, the road can be quite fun to drive and it twists and turns up and down the colorful hillside.

The hills which contain burst of color were formed by volcanic deposits of different compounds such as iron oxides and chlorite, which creates a rainbow effect of color. There is no bad time to visit, however, the photographer will appreciate the warm afternoon sunlight enhancing the natural colors in the soil. The best features are on a westward facing slope which really benefits from the late hours in the day.

While the colors of the location are amazing, do not forget to turn around the allow the scenic vistas of Death Valley to take your breath away. On a visit during a three day weekend in February 2022, I was surprised by the volume of people on the route. All of the parking lanes were full and it became quite difficult photographically due to the visitors. I will say, that during this time the COVID pandemic was relaxing and it was really nice seeing people enjoying themselves outside.

Prior to becoming a National Park, Assist’s Drive and some of the nearby valley’s were a filming location for the movie Star Wars.

Artist Drive Map

References