Calgary Herald from Calgary, Alberta, Canada on December 28, 1991 · 40
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Calgary Herald from Calgary, Alberta, Canada · 40

Calgary, Alberta, Canada
Issue Date:
Saturday, December 28, 1991
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D6 CALGARY HERALD Sat., December 28, 1991 IV 1 1 L-1 Area's past filled with shameless scoundrels, dreamy eyes By Brian Lambert (Knight-Ridder Newspapers) By the time Bugsy Siegel started giving life to his dream of an oasis of risk, easy wealth and fast living, the stark mountain ranges and sprawling deserts surrounding present-day Las Vegas had already witnessed 100 years of shameless scoundrels and illusory, gone-by-dawn communities promising the very same thing. The excitement back then was based on gold and silver mined from the ground, not from a craps table. But it was enough to draw, thousands of hustlers, connivers and their dreamy-eyed prey into one of the least forgiving environments on the continent. From 1849, the time the first party of misbegotten pioneers blundered into the area of Death Valley and the Amargosa Mountains some 150 kilometres northwest of Las Vegas, until the late 1920s when most small-time mining stopped, the area played host to some of the most outrageous, amusing and beknighted adventurers imaginable. Fortunately, the tragicomic theatricality of the people, towns and mining camps of the area and era has been preserved in dozens of histories and biographies, all of which lure modern tourists onto the backroads and ' side canyons of the vast Death Valley National Monument. Within a three-hour drive of Las Vegas are the ruins of dozens of ghost towns and mining operations, all of which come with an inexhaustible supply of stories, some of them well-preserved lies but many rooted in fact. In most cases little effort has been made to preserve the physi cal ruins of these towns. Although good-to-passable roads bring tourists directly in to most of the sites, few people venture far off the usual path from Las Vegas to the Furnace Creek Ranch al the centre of Death Valley. This is great news for anyone who takes pleasure in the tranquility and exhilarating expanse of the southwestern deserts, and more precisely the enjoyment of simply wandering off the beaten track. In 1905, a fellow named Shorty Harris, a runty character who set off one of the biggest gold rushes in the region by chopping a bullfrog-colored piece of gold-bearing ore out of a site a few miles west of present-day Beatty, Nev. (and within days lost all rights to the claim in a celebratory drinking bout), met up with a Basque immigrant by the name of Jean Pierre "Pete" Aguereberry. Aguereberry had just been cheated out of a mining claim and was eager to get away from the cutthroats on the eastern side of the Valley. So, in July of that year, the two prodded their mules straight up the Panamint Mountains, looming over Death Valley's searing salt pan. On the way, Aguereberry haphazardly whacked away at a barren outcropping near what today is known as Wildrbse Canyon. Somehow he chipped out a few New course crosses line (Knight-Ridder newspapers) At a new golf course along the Swedish-Finnish border, golfers play nine holes in. one country and then play the second nine in the other country. The Green Zone Golf Course is billed as the northernmost 18-hole course anywhere in the world. At certain times of the year playing a round at Green Zone means going through multiple time zones. Bally's Reno Fun Packages Side Tours including Virginia City and $ m a Carson City Feb. 892 and Feb. 2292 pp dt PLUS two nights at Cactus Pete's Horseshu Feb. 1792 Mar. 1692 & April 692 Go for the jackpot. Join us for exciting first two nights 6 Days $279 Cactus Petes Tower p.p. DT I liVi Refill Featuring Cactus Petes Tower and the fabulous Holiday Inn on the Strip. $599 9 Days-April 1192 p p DT Call you local Travel Agent or for Free Brochure call 461-7834 Toll Free 1-800-262-9078 Calgary Pick Up at Crossroads Inn File photo, Calgary Herald WATCHING WILD BURROS: Off the well-beaten path, tourists can. find plenty to see in Death Valley National Monument flakes of gold. His mistake was sharing the discovery with the loose-lipped Harris. After staking their claims, the two went to register them at the boomtown of Ballarat (a ghost town since the late 1960s, with a cemetery, a few buildings and adobe walls still standing). On the way Harris spewed news of "the biggest strike ever made in the Southwest" to every prospector they met. By the time they made the round trip of a few days, their claims were overrun by 300 frenzied prospectors. Since the story Shorty Harris told mentioned very little about Aguereberry, the town that sprung up virtually overnight was eventually named Harris-burg. As was most often the case, virtually no gold was found. But before anyone realized that, Shorty's strike had attracted so much activity that another "motherlode" was discovered, spawning another couple of towns. Thirty kilometres northwest of the Furnace Creek Ranch, on the west edge of Death Valley's sand dunes area, is the tourist service stop of Stovepipe Wells. Head west, up California Highway 190, and signs will direct you off the asphalt, on to entirely adequate, oil-pan safe gravel roads and into what's left of Harrisburg and Skidoo. Free n.iiifriiiL..To - Avis features GM cars. Geo Metro 1 I Wfcw , , The latter bloomed the spring following the Harris-Aguereber-ry "strike." It was so named for the then-popular expression "23 skidoo," and the decision of the town's founder, Bob Montgomery (one of the very few men to get rich off gold and silver mining in the region), to plan exactly 23 blocks in his instant city. While no buildings remain at either Harrisburg or Skidoo, remnants of the mining operations are there; tin cans, nails, old signs and gaping holes in the sides of the valley abound. The Skidoo site in particular, at the end of a 15-kilometre drive, is especially desolate. Located above Death Valley on a small saucer-shaped plain, the area offers relief from the inferno-like heat of a Death Valley summer, and, with help from pamphlets or books available at the ranger station-museum at Furnace Creek Ranch, the silence and landscape evoke wispy imaginings of human energies spent there nearly nine decades ago. A favorite Skidoo story involves the exhumation of the wild-eyed gunslinger named Joe "Hootch" Simpson. Simpson tried robbing the Skidoo bank one day in 1908, failed, but returned three hours later and for no good reason gunned down well-liked prospector Jim Arnold. The sheriff arrested Simpson, mi i j j ii i .i : 1 i il o 1 . , . ; . v.n fnfn A Special Offer For American Express Cardmembers From Avis... Double Upgrade Lowdown Rates. i 3 J fllUil 1 1 5JJf kill vi $89 99 U.S. DOLLARS PER WEEK U.S. DOLLARS PER WEEK ARIZONA, FLORIDA CAUSwOT Subcompact 4-door. Optional LDW $12 day or less. Limited availability ?t these rates. Rates available through February 13, 1992, except in California through February 29, 1992. Ask for Rate Code SF. , and Pontiac Bonneville. ' " but the Skidoovians had no taste for the slow wheels of justice. A couple of nights later they hauled Simpson out of the jail and lynched him from a telephone pole. Simpson would have remained in his grave if the media and a chance for Skidoo to achieve a little international notoriety hadn't appeared a few days later in the form of a reporter from the Los Angeles Herald. Obliging townspeople gladly dug up Simpson's body, ran a noose back around its neck and hung it from the pole one more time so the newspaperman could have a photograph to go with his story. A starting reminder of the desert's ability to preserve its own history is Pete Aguereber-ry's shack, located a few kilometres south of the Skidoo site. It stands just off the gravel road that winds up to the point that bears his name, a point that offers one of the most spectacular views of Death Valley short of Telescope Peak itself. Before dying broke and isolated in 1945, Aguereberry survived brief periods of modest wealth and an episode in which one of his partners bit out a chunk of his face for making a pass at his wife. By the look of his shack, you'd swear they pulled Pete out of there only last month. The period from the mid 1992 1890s until 1913 in many ways marked the glory days of Death Valley-area mining. Without question the best-known ruins of any area ghost town are those at Rhyolite, 10 kilometres east of Beatty on Highway 58. Shorty Harris' bullfrog strike and the townsite that grew up around it formed a kind of twin-city arrangement with Rhyolite, although the latter, fuelled by Bob Montgomery's ample supply of money, embodied the apex of the region's boom. At its peak, around 1910, Rhyolite was home to 6,000 people. Today, located adjacent to a huge modern gold mining operation that is literally grinding down an entire mountain, Rhyo-lite's remains include the skeletal shell of the three-story John S. Cook Bank Building (something of a skyscraper for the turn-of-the-century desert but so ornate and costly the bank folded within a year of opening), the mission-style Las Vegas and Tonopah railway station, the school and, perhaps most famous of all, miner Tom Kelley's Bottle House, constructed with 50,000 liquor bottles and mortar in 1906. Perhaps the most emblematic ruin is Leadfield, halfway up a rugged, one-way road that starts six kilometres west of Rhyolite, off Highway 58. Leadfield was one the last and Don't leave 6 This wintpr Avis has Express Cardmembers. rental to the American txpress Card, Avis will give you an exclusive free double upgrade on low weekend and weekly rates in the Sunshine States and U.S. "Ski West" destinations. So you can drive off in a car two groups higher and enjoy free unlimited mileage. An advance reservation is required. To request this upgrade, you must ask for the "Exclusive American Express Card Upgrade". Double ups?rade is available on weekly and weekend rentals at participating locations in Florida, Hawaii, Arizona, California and "Ski West" locations in Colorado; Utah; Reno, NV; Lake Tahoe, CA and Boise, ID through 29292. Valid on Subcompact 4-door through Full Size 2-door cars. Maximum upgrade to Premium, excluding Station Wagon. Cars and upgrades subject to availability at time of rental. In addition, Avis is featuring special weekly rates available only at participating airport locations. Rates require 3-day advance reservation and are nondiscountable. Holiday and other blackout periods apply. 5-day rental and Saturday night overstay required. Cars must be returned to renting location, and maximum rental period applies. Renter must meet Avis age, driver and credit requirements. Minimum age is 25 but may vary by location. Taxes and optional i'.ems, such as additional driver fee and refuelling, are extra. Call Avis at 1-800-TRY-AVTS (1-80OS79-2847) for reservations, or call your travel consultant today. Service offert en frangais 1-800-321-3652. AVIS. We try harder. Avisrar nc. j tm American express compvw. most naKea scams run on investors in the entire history of Death Valley. In 1925 a fellow named C.C. Julian sold 2.4 million shares at 10 cents apiece in an operation he called the Western Lead Mining Company. In order to keep investor money flowing, Julian spent some of what he reaped on a road from the spectacularly sheer mouth of Titus Canyon in Death Valley. Julian laid a water pipe line, bribed mineral "experts" for some of the most absurdly overstated assay claims ever heard, hired 100 men to dig a couple bogus shafts, threw up some buildings and started work on the rest of the road toward Rhyolite and Beatty. Then, in March 1926, Julian led 1,200 potential speculators on a massively publicized trip to the city. The sham drove stock prices up to $3.30 a share (90 per cent of which were in Julian's hands at virtually no cost to him). It was the ultimate Death Valley strike, a complete fraud, and it lasted exactly 48 hours, until California mining officials announced a rare investigation into possible improprieties. Julian later estimated he made $900,000 off the scam, but Leadfield, tucked away in a spot so remote that big horn sheep are its most frequent inhabitants, quickly disintegrated into the ruin it is today. It is best visited by high clearance vehicles or drivers with little regard for whatever they're driving. . As with so many of the ghost towns, the payoff of a visit to Leadfield is not so much the mine shafts or metal artifacts as its natural setting Titus Canyon. Less than seven metres wide in places with sheer walls rising 200 metres and more on each side, the canyon is the scene of tremendous flash floods after one of the valley's rare rainstorms. After 50 vertebrae-compressing kilometres, Julian's road from near Rhyolite leads to Grapevine Canyon and Scotty's Castle. The castle, a kind of Hearst mansion of the desert, was where Walter "Scotty" Scott, Death Valley's most famous character, occasionally hung his hat and regaled his hosts, Albert and Bessie Johnson, with hundreds of lies and legends of the people, towns and ghosts of Death Valley. IF YOU GO: Death Valley National Monument is about 2 V hours northwest of Las Vegas. Take U.S. Highway 95 to Lath-rop Wells, Nev., 373 to Death Valley Junction then California 190 to the Furnace Creek Ranch. The Ranch has year-round accommodations, services, swimming pool, 18-hole golf course and a ranger station-museum where most of the guides to area ghost towns and histories of the region are available for sale. Of the histories, by far the most illuminating and well-written is Richard E. Lingenfelter's, "Death Valley & The Amargosa, A Land of Illusion". f home without it. anad news for American Now when you charge your Rr i n Copynp """" . .... . o i. irmnAM 1992

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