Death Valley - Folklore, History and Local Legends

Death Valley—the name alone doesn’t exactly conjure images of curling up next to the fire and staying a while, does it? Yet for hundreds of years, a small percentage of visitors to the valley have set down their packs, put down roots and sworn their loyalty to this corner of the globe. What is it about Death Valley that gets such a hold on people and inspires them to live in what might be called the most inhospitable place in our nation? 


Preview Hikers exploring dunes in Death Valley


For many, it is a long-term love affair with the mesmerizing qualities of the valley: intricately folded mountains, lush oases, multi-colored landscapes and the promise of riches waiting in the hills. These may be some of the reasons you chose to join us here this week. Regardless of the motivation, those who stay tend to be just as colorful, complex, and elusive as the landscape itself.

Most permanent residents eke out a living on the natural resources and their own creativity. Other residents, like Death Valley Scotty in the early 1900s, have sweet-talked their way into the pockets of investors. Scotty was smart and lucky enough to find a source of water at Grapevine Canyon and a source of funds in his friend Albert Johnson. Most people weren’t thinking to find a vacation home—let alone a kingdom and castle—in Death Valley, but Scotty and Johnson used their ingenuity to create a private luxury oasis.



Other colorful characters, like Shorty and Shady, used their noses for valuable ore to sniff out great riches. Not that they were always able to hold onto them.  Frank “Shorty” Harris had a love for gold and an equal love for hitting the bottle.  No sooner did he discover bullfrog gold (called “bullfrog” because of the copper green color of the ore) at Rhyolite than a local bartender cadged the claim out of him for $1,000 and a steady stream of whiskey.



Francis Marion “Shady” Myrick was dubbed The Godfather of American Rockhounds—a gem prospector with an uncanny sixth sense for finding gemstones and minerals.  His former home in an old mine tunnel may have inspired this lucrative ability. For 25 years his colorful, gregarious nature and glittering touch made him a media favorite.  Many credit his eccentric notoriety as one of the main factors for bringing the influx of mining and tourist attention to Death Valley. His success with gems even engendered the naming of “myrickite” a beautiful black and red stone that even Tiffany’s carries these days.


Preview Twenty mule team wagon at the Harmony Borax Works in Death Valley


Today, there are still desert lovers scraping together an existence in Death Valley.  For over 40 years, Marta Beckett, a star of the New York ballet scene, danced her way into people’s hearts with her self-choreographed musical odysseys at the historic Amargosa Opera House.  The theater, complete with Beckett’s murals, is on the National Register of Historic Places—and we pass it en route to Las Vegas on our Death Valley Weekend Getaway Bike Tour!

When you visit this unique place, the magic of Death Valley will get a grip on your senses, and you might just feel compelled to return and dig deeper into this rocky gem. Of course, with Backroads, you’ll always have a spot in the van when you want to head back to the hotel!


Preview Bikers in Death Valley


Share This Article
Related Tags

Get a Free Catalog

Find your perfect trip at Backroads today. Search through over a hundred unique adventures.

Get a Free Catalog

Find your perfect trip at Backroads today. Search through over a hundred unique adventures.