Emmett’s Camp A.K.A. The School Bus Place

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.

While in residence at the Geologists’ Cabin we had a few visitors stop by and tell us of other interesting places to go visit in Striped Butte Valley. One of the places mentioned was “the place with the school bus down thataway.” So on one clear, cool(er) day Willow and I decided to go find that place. None of our maps had anything on them referencing a place named that but we knew it was out past Striped Butte itself towards Redrock Canyon and so we made sure our tires were all aired down equally, had our recovery gear, compressor, water and food on board and headed out to go find it.

We turned up a few dead-end roads before driving up what was essentially the last road on the left before entering Redrock Canyon and soon came across the remains of a man-made rock something or another.

Rock Remains on the Way Up to Emmett's
Rock Remains on the Way Up to Emmett’s

After a few more turns in the road and us getting closer and closer to what must surely be the end of this little canyon we rounded a last corner and saw a building and a bus. This must be the place.

Rock Remains on the Way Up to Emmett's
Our First View Of Emmett’s

We parked the Tacoma at a nice parking and turn-around spot situated below the galvanized hut and school bus, hopped out and began our exploration. Since the school bus was mentioned prominently when we were told about this place we took a look at it first.

the bus from afar
This Is About As Close To The Bus As You Should Get

We imagined it might be a cool place to camp for the night kind of like Chris McCandless from John Krakauer’s Into The Wild but nope. Lots of nope.

Interior of the Bus at Emmett's Camp
Interior of the Bus at Emmett’s Camp

We almost caught Hantavirus just by looking at the thing. Anyone brave or foolish enough to actually choose to stay inside that wreck would probably be dead by morning from any number of nasty and fatal maladies.

Compared to the cesspool that was the dilapidated bus the cabin was really quite nice.

Exterior of Emmett's Cabin
Exterior of Emmett’s Cabin

It seemed well-built and was intelligently clad in shiny galvanized sheeting to reflect as much of the Death Valley sun as possible. The inside has a wood burning stove for the cold winter months as well as an old stove that was hooked up to a propane canister that was not empty and actually still worked! There was a sign next to the wood stove explaining how to use it because it was so effective you could burn down the cabin if you were not careful.

Willow in front of the Stove
Willow Blocking My Picture of the Stove
Cooking Stove With Propane Cylinder
Cooking Stove With Propane Cylinder

There was a small table and two chairs, some paperback books and a deck of cards as well as a sink whose faucet did still offer water. In the corner right by the door was a twin size, metal-sprung bed frame that only needed a pad and would have been a comfortable spot to sleep for a night or two.

twin bed frame in the cabin
Throw Down a Pad And This Would Be A Cozy Place To Sleep

We found some paperwork indicating who Emmett is/was and that he had claimed this site and was going to mine and mill on it all of 25 years ago.

Document Showing Mr. Harder's Claim on the Site
Document Showing Mr. Harder’s Claim on the Site
document stating that Emmett Harder had been inspected and found to have made mining improvements and actively using the site and paid his taxes on it dated 2008
Emmett Was Still At It In 2008

Another document showed that he had been inspected by the county and found to have indeed made improvements and been actively mining here up until 2008 at least. So this seems to be another of those places in Death Valley that carry the name of the last legal owner/operator as, apparently this place is legally known as the Lone Tree Mine Site but in recent, popular vernacular is known as Emmett’s.

After a bit of digging we found that this is the Emmett C. Harder who is a writer, lecturer, historian and researcher at Cal State University San Bernardino. He also spent some passing time at the Barker Ranch with the Manson Family. His most popular book and a quick, interesting read is These Canyons are Full of Ghosts: The Last of the Death Valley Prospectors. We have it in our Kindle app on our Android tablet.

Emmett C. Harder
Emmett C. Harder

After taking a look inside the cabin we walked out and up to the next small plateau to take a more broad look at the area.

Emmett's (Lone Tree Mill Site)12We found an essentially full pack of cigarettes on the ground that had been rained on a couple of days before.

full pack of cigarettes littered at Emmett's
We Picked Them Up. We Don’t Want The Burros To Get Cancer.

Across the way was a huge boulder with a thick steel cable wrapped around it and heading farther up the hill.

Boulder With Steel Cable Wrapped Around It
Boulder With Steel Cable Wrapped Around It

Being good adventurers we decided to follow that cable and see where it led. Walking up the hill we find evidence that burros have been here first. In fact, nowhere we have been to in Death Valley has ever not had signs that intrepid burro explorers had come, seen and conquered (a.k.a pooped here) before us. After about 10 minutes of slipping and sliding up the graveled hillside we reached the other end of the cable wrapped around a smaller boulder.

The End Of The Cable Up The Hill
The End Of The Cable Up The Hill

We’re guessing that Emmett was extracting ore from somewhere up here and then sending it down the cable in some container attached to some sort of contraption to then be processed down below at his camp. I would have loved to see that process.

shot of Cable Heading Back Down To The Camp
Cable Heading Back Down To The Camp

We decided to take a look for the old mine he was working and came across this small prospecting hole heading into the side of the hill all of 20 yards away across the hillside.

Old mine shaft into the hillside
Nice vein structures in the rock

It was probably 30 inches or so tall so Willow could fit in and I could crawl in if we had a death wish…which we do not. I didn’t bring a flashlight with me or we would have at least taken a better look. I’d hate to crawl in face first and disturb some creature with teeth and claws though so really had no desire to stick my face in there. I know zero about mine engineering but it would be interesting to know if, when he stopped working this, he completely covered the mine entrance and, over the years, the gravel has fallen into the hole or down the hillside to expose the entrance or if he just left it like this and called it good.

Before we headed back down the hillside I asked really really nicely for Willow to sit still on a rock so I could get a shot of her way up her and she begrudgingly complied. I know that she knows who gives her treats made of dismembered animal parts and that is an Achilles’s Heel of hers. Sucker.

Willow looking a bit thirsty up the hillside
Time To Head Back Down And Get A Drink

Once we got back down to the cabin we closed it all up so as to keep those intrepid burros from getting in and trashing the place. We took one last look/sniff around at some of the old mining or milling equipment left behind and found it interesting but un-picture-worthy before getting back into the Tacoma and heading back towards our base at the Geologists’ Cabin. When we got out to the end of the access road we first decided to turn left and see what there was to see down Redrock Canyon. It was relatively slow going across a “road” of well settled, softball-sized rocks for the most part. We took about an hour and went a bit over 2 miles down into the canyon before we decided that it was getting late and it would suck to break down way down here and then have to hike who knows how many miles to get an AT&T signal and then pay someone thousands of dollars to come tow us out. We parked and walked around the next corner and saw more of the same narrow and steep canyon walls and so took a picture back up towards our intrepid Tacoma before turning around and slowly crawling back up the way we came.

Down in Redrock Canyon copy
Down in Redrock Canyon

Another line item on our list of places to go and things to see during our Death Valley Adventure crossed off.

3 thoughts on “Emmett’s Camp A.K.A. The School Bus Place

  1. Dean O'Dean

    Thank you, ‘E’, I was reading about the mine claim holder here when I ran into your blog. Interesting to note that ‘Emmett C Harder’ made another claim here in 2018. He’s listed in the 1940 US census as being ‘about 7yrs old’, his mother is the house owner and newly divorced, looking after 5children and her own 87yr old father also. Emmett has lived all his nigh on 90yr life within about a mile from where he was born in San Bernardino Cal, and he’s still very much ‘active’ !

  2. David Fitzgerald

    If I read one more blog where someone says they were afraid to go into a mine I’m going to pull my hair out !

    1. E

      I do not use the word “afraid” anywhere in that post. So are you saying that abandoned mines, in general, are safe and people should go explore inside them? If I was going to explore an abandoned mine I certainly would not do it by myself, with my dog and having no proper exploration or self-rescue gear which is the situation we were in that day. Even in a group of experienced, well outfitted explorers abandoned mines are dangerous places to enter which is why federal, state and private entities regularly install barriers to keep people from going inside. The briefest online search turns up many sites explaining all the ways an abandoned mine can kill you: here, also here, and another one. If you would like to go explore an abandoned mine I frankly do not care enough to give it another thought but you might be safer simply pulling out your hair.

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