Amargosa River Canyon


By: Bob Greenawalt


Up north of Baker California lies a delightful canyon unknown to most desert devotees. I have found it to be one of the most unusual of our wild desert troughs since it has what may be termed the western hemisphere's lowest river, being the Amargosa which floes directly flows directly into Badwater within Death Val1ey's 1ow point.

This 12-mile canyon is wild since it is near no major highway, though from 1905-1940 there were trains running through daily. This canyon was the former route of the old Tonopah-Tidewater RR, that road of the colorful borax king, Francis Marion "Borax" Smith. The rails were put down not only to reach the colomanite deposits at the Lila C. mine near Death Valley(old Ryan) but also to tap the gold and silver deposits of the boom towns of Goldfield, Tonopah, and Rhyolite in Nevada. The track was taken for war scrap in 1943 and few people have been through the meadowed passage since.

The main purpose of this trek was to explore the possibilities of a traverse for a future Sierra Club outing. The results are most favorable. While impassable to all forms of machines, excellent hiking prevails. There is adequate water all the way, not all amorgosa(spanish=bitter). The Palisades remind one of Red Rock Canyon, and several swimming holes exist enroute. The trail is practically level since it is the old RR roadbed, still full of ties and spikes. Only one trestle still stands, making numerous side trips off the RR embankments. Many cattle leisurely pasture in the lush meadows. The cat-tail groups are infested with red-wined blackbirds and two coyotes (a pair) were spotted by the group. The Canyon begins at the south about two miles south of the ghost station of Sperry, and ends at the hot springs town of Tecopa. The San Bernardino-Inyo County line lies about halfway up the canyon. A mile short of Tecopa, gushing sweetwater cool springs still exist but no longer do they plague the old railroad. A special tunnel structure was built to prevent the springs from doing damage to the trackage. Acme, a siding within the canyon, provided loading facilities for a nearby talc mine. To reach the canyon, which used to be served by an oiled road to 8perry, one drives 4 mi1es north of the Saratoga Springs turnoff on Hiway 127 north of Baker. At this point, turn east and go about 6 miles until the adobe ruins of Sperry station are seen. Begin the hike here. It is about 9 miles to Tecopa and highly worth the hike. Just two miles to the south lie the high sand dunes near old Dumont.

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