This is only one of the many posts relating to our Death Valley adventure. If you would like to see more of what we did on that trip please visit our main Death Valley page.
After our first long, hard day in the park getting through Goler Wash and up and over Mengel Pass we were relieved to end up at a cabin, any cabin. The fact that it wasn’t our main objective, the Geologists’ Cabin, was besides the point. We were in Death Valley, camping at Striped Butte Valley in a free, first come, first served historic cabin. This was great! Hantavirus warming at the front door notwithstanding, the place looked livable, if we were desperate, which we weren’t.
We unloaded all our gear from the back of the Tacoma and brought it into the cabin. On the table inside was a plastic bag filled with guest books that all had “Stella’s” written on them so…kind of a hint that this was, in fact, not the Geologists’ Cabin.
As we were getting situated we got our first taste of what was to be an hourly occurrence for the next two weeks…noisy burros.
So, what is the difference between a donkey and a burro? Glad you should ask. Mere semantics. They’re the same animal, Equus asinus. The domesticated version is called a donkey, and the feral version that roams the west is called a burro. A mule is a different creature altogether. It is the non-fertile offspring of a horse and a donkey or, in dog terms, a mutt. Willow and I spent a year on a farm in Oregon that had two donkeys. They were actually calm and friendly animals. The sounds they made were exactly what you think of when you think of a donkey’s “bray” or “Hee haw.” The sounds the burros here made had a passing resemblance to those donkeys on the farm but, if you can imagine, add a large dose of chuffing, roaring and growling lion on the savanna and double the volume of any donkey you might have ever known. Even though we could see several baby and juvenile burros about it must still be mating season because there were hourly dustups where one burro would abruptly sound off with this amazingly loud, plaintive, “Oh woe is me that cute girl burro wants nothing to do with me” and, in immediate response, another burro would answer back “That’s okay sweetie, I am receptive to your needs” or “Damn right you little pipsqueak because I AM the man” and then come galloping over, ears pinned back, screaming his indignation that someone else would DARE look at his girl(s)and then proceed to chase and bite and kick the wannabe interloper out of the area.
The main house is not in great shape with some of the window plexiglass panels broken and missing large chunks, window screens looking like they barely survived a long-fingernailed zombie attack and many of the rocks and mortar of the walls in serious need of repair. The galvanized panels on the roof have issues as well. They are held down and in place against some of the brutal winds that rip through the valley by a simple, yet effective system that has thick wires attached to the panel’s leading edges and then trailing down to be wrapped around substantial rocks at the base of the wall.
I’m sure that back in the day this was an easily livable spot but now it is not really fit for human habitation. The smaller guest “house” next door is in even worse shape. There are pictures and old newspaper articles plastered on the walls in the main house showing a glimpse into the life that used to be lived here.
After some research it seems that this was at one point the home of famous Death Valley prospector Carl Mengel who the pass we came over to get here was named after. After a bit of research we think that before 1944 when Carl Mengel died this was considered his cabin and referred to as such. After he passed it went through a few hands until, in 1962, it was granted to Clinton and Stella Anderson who worked mines in the immediate vicinity and called Mengel’s old cabin their home. Our guess is that these days the cabin is referred to as Stella’s Cabin as she was the last person to legally own the place and use it as a home. Clinton Anderson died in 1973 and Stella stayed on with the help of friends in the area and continued to live at her remote cabin until she finally had to move away to Trona back in 1978. She passed away on Jul. 30, 1984. She is buried not too far from her old home at the Searles Valley Cemetery in Trona.
The inside of the cabin gives many clues about what life must have been like here back in the early 20th Century.
A non-electrical icebox to keep perishables as long as possible.
A few steps up the hill from where we ended up parking the Tacoma in the shade was the remains of a holding tank for the spring.
Water still comes out of the spigot at the sink although at a slow rate. When we talked to the rangers at Furnace Creek they said that, if we were planning on using the water at this or any spring in Death Valley, it would be a good idea to treat it by any means before use. Since we brought 30 gallons of water with us that would not be an issue but it is good to know for future reference.
When you are looking back down the entrance way towards the valley there is an outhouse over to the right. It is getting full (we’ll leave that picture to your imagination – you’re welcome) but we did notice that it is one of the more well constructed, professionally welded, steel-framed outhouses we have ever seen.
A couple of pieces of galvanized sheet that were used for the roof seem to have blown off and were sitting on the ground nearby. We, at first were amazed at the quality construction done by Carl Mengel in the 30’s or 40’s or Mr. Andersen in the 50’s – 70’s but have since come to learn that it was constructed by a group of men calling themselves The Men In Black that do allowed upkeep and improvements on these cabins in the park. The outhouse they built at the Geologists’ Cabin is another quality building that they felt proud enough of to put their moniker on.
For whatever reason the two vehicles that came over Mengel Pass on the same day we did and told me they wanted to stay at Russell’s Camp instead ended up at the Geologists’ Cabin for two days. During a hike we took on the second day we were at Stella’s Cabin we crested a hill and saw their vehicles parked next to what was, in retrospect, the Geologists Cabin.
Just so you know the road between the two cabins is all of 3/4 of a mile each way. Knowing that this was where we really wanted to be but not wanting to disturb the other travelers we held off until early the next day to take a closer look. The next morning it was just a little after sunrise when we crept over that same rise. Being as quiet as if we were native Americans back in the day going to teach the white invader a lesson we were thrilled to see that they were early risers as well and were in the process of loading up their vehicles. Great! We ducked back down and headed back to Stella’s and began the process of loading up all our gear. Knowing that we were not going to travel far we left efficiency and elegance at the roadside and just piled our stuff in. Around 10am we saw a line of dust heading out towards Warm Spring Canyon and our pretty good binoculars proved to us that they were on their way out and we could go claim the Geologists’ Cabin which we immediately set out to do.
We enjoyed our time, however brief, at Stella’s/Mengel’s Cabin as it was our first introduction to life as it used to be in Death Valley back in the day. If you ever get an opportunity to visit the Striped Butte Valley in Death Valley National Park you would do well to make this cabin a planned stop our your trip.