Death Valley doesn’t sound very welcoming, but for thousands of years, Native Americans inhabited this land, believing it to be a sacred and nurturing home. The tribe that has lived there for the past millennium, the Timbisha Shoshone Indians, always knew the valley under a different name, Tümpisa. (The name, meaning ‘rock paint,’ referring to the paint color made from the clay in the valley).
The California Gold Rush would bring the land its new name. In the winter of 1849-1850, over 100 wagons filled with pioneers attempted to cross the valley in pursuit of a shortcut. Many of them turned around, but the ones that continued the trek across the barren valley ended up being lost for weeks, struggling to find fresh water and food. Even though it is suggested that only one person died, most of these 49ers were sure they would meet their end in the valley. When they finally found their way out, one of the men reportedly turned around and said “Goodbye, Death Valley,” giving the land its new name.
Other miners continued to come to the valley, though. Borax – a natural resource used to make soap – became heavily mined. Between 1883 and 1889, the area became famous for its ’20 Mule Teams.’ The animals embarked on ten-day journeys, pulling wagons of borax the 165 miles from the mines to the railway near Mojave. Silver and gold mining were also popular, and between 1900 and 1907, many boomtowns – now ghost towns – sprung up.
On February 11, 1933, Herbert Hoover declared Death Valley a National Monument. Later that year in the midst of the Great Depression, Franklin D. Roosevelt formed the Civilian Conservation Corps (the CCC), a popular work relief program for men. Some of these formally unemployed men were moved to Death Valley to build roads, wells, campgrounds, trails and telephone lines.
With increased accessibility, the valley soon developed resorts, including the famous Scotty’s Castle. Now it was no longer just miners and CCC workers that came to Death Valley. Tourists – attracted to the natural sites and the popular winter getaway – started to make their way to the valley.
For decades, the valley has attracted visitors, but it wasn’t until 1994 that Death Valley was deemed a National Park. Now it is no longer just Americans that flock to the valley. People from all over come to walk this historic and eerily beautiful land.