Historical Notes — Amargosa Days

Amargosa Day (Now DEATH VALLEY FALL FESTIVAL) is celebrated annually in Shoshone by the citizens whose fortune it is to live on the banks of the Amargosa, more or less, in settlements such as Amargosa Valley, Death Valley Junction, Shoshone and Tecopa. Folk from all around also come to celebrate. By around, I mean from a few homesteaders sprinkled among various mining camps, a remote valley and perhaps a lonely gas station. These are my roots. I have an aunt and a cousin living in the area who have seen all Amargosa Days—since the first one in '49 if my reckoning is right.
Visiting the region for the first time, the visitor might come to understand that like their brethren the Plainsmen and Mountainmen, the Amargosa Valley Desert Rats share a fierce loyalty to their particular life style. But there the similarities appear to end. The Desert Rat has no game to hunt, no crops to grow, not even moonshine to distill. He has no cultural activities, not even a local high school anymore. Each town has a restaurant, motel, water supply, electricity, telephones, and also satellite and repeater TV. But sewage treatment is a maybe thing, and so is crossing the Amargosa. So also for a dentist, doctor or fire department. No supermarket or regular police patrols either. But crime by resident citizens is rather rare.

For many, life on the desert means no neighbors within miles nor visible means of support—like the wild rats (and other animals) of the desert. And desert folk seem to like it just that way.

Several years ago, an author of the desert asked me to share some of my memories. I have considerable trepidation about adding more here. So much time has passed, can I possibly have all my facts straight? Will I offend someone or someone's memory? Since most of the characters I recall have passed on to that great whirlwind in the sky, surely they would want their memories kept alive—one way or another.

I remember the countless evenings shooting the breeze with passersby (with entertainment hard to come by, we made our own). Visitors heard wild, impossible tales of hardship and danger in the desert, but at the same time how these were nothing alongside the deceit, thievery and mayhem of the big cities we Desert Rats were all supposed to be "refugees" from. Visitors would usually laugh. Only the thoughtful might not, and there were few of them.

Only in recent times have I come to realize the range of the complexities that drove the early desert-rat personalities. Many were hardy frontier-type characters; others were simply mild but antisocial introverts; some claimed to be on the lam from the law and found the desert waste a feasible place to hide; others undoubtedly were looking for peace and quiet; still others were fiercely independent and needed the room for self expression; still others felt that they could not compete in fast company and opted for the simple life; and to be sure there were some true misfits or ne'er-do-wells; a final type came to find a bonanza, and maybe to become rock hound but never rich. Whatever his/her reason for choosing a lonely lifestyle, each desert rat assumed a persona which became his/her identity. But some of us were born there. Our personas were more in-born, than self-made.

But those were the days and I feel some urge to write about them, recalling some adventures and maybe describing some antics and characters I knew or heard of. Are all those stories literally true? Probably not—distorted by: the "distance" of memory time, my biased observational ability and probably some untrue hearsay in the first place.

Chapters go here — if I ever get the time.
Chapter on T&T line in building.

Leaving The Amargosa Country

Needless to say it was not easy. Not so much for the emotional ties which were real enough, but for the difficulties in going to school full time while raising a family. Courageous? Maybe. Foolhardy? That too. Am I sorry? No. Do I ever go back? Occasionally and when I do a camera goes along to capture what I can of my past. Along the way I learned something of Mentorship.