Controversy Shadows a Pristine Desert Ghost Town

Controversy Shadows a Pristine Desert Ghost Town
By Jack Freer  |  Posted March 24, 2013  |  Death Valley, California

Ryan is what the Old West was all about. It was a mining town built on the side of a steep mountain on the eastern edge of Death Valley in a remote and rugged area. It had its own train, the Death Valley Railroad narrow gauge that ran from Death Valley Junction to Ryan. And it had its own mine train on top of that. The Baby Gauge ran from the terminus of the Death Valley Railroad in Ryan south several miles along the hills to the borax mines.

It was a company town that was built in 1914 to serve several borax mines. In 1928 the mines were shut down and part of the town was converted to a hotel in hopes of attracting tourists to Death Valley. The hotel and the town were closed in 1930.

Ryan would sit idle for the next 78 years and remained private and used little. But it had a grand view of some things that did occur.

During those 78 years President Herbert Hoover signed a proclamation creating Death Valley National Monument. The newly organized San Jose State University Field Studies in Natural History started to use Ryan in 1952 as their base of operations for their spring time study session Two years later those same students partnered with Ranger L. Floyd Keller in Ryan and created the Death Valley Natural History Association.

Ryan also saw its founder, Pacific Coast Borax, merge with United States Potash Company to become US Borax in 1956 . Then more changes came in 1967 when US Borax was acquired by the Rio Tinto Group.

Sixteen years later in 1983 through 1991 the U.S. Borax exploration department quietly staked mining claims and drilled exploratory holes on the basalt-capped plateau above Ryan.

Time marched on and Ryan watched as in 1994 Death Valley National Monument became Death Valley National Park. And in 2005 Ryan saw its neighbor, the newer and more modern Billie Mine, owned by American Borate Company, shut down operations.

Ryan remained quiet a few more years and then Ryan started to catch a lot of people’s attention. The National Park Service started to note in their plans and reports in 2005 that Ryan would make an excellent place for an educational center and expressed desire to partner with Rio Tinto.

In 2008 the park service and Rio Tinto started to discuss the idea of Rio Tinto donating Ryan to the park service. Senator Feinstein even included the transfer of Ryan to the park service in one of her bills, S. 138, California Desert Protect Act of 2011.

The Death Valley Conservancy was formed in 2009 and Rio Tinto decided that the best decision was to donate Ryan to the conservancy. Rio Tinto and the Death Valley Conservancy began the transfer process.

2012 starts to see a flurry of activity. Ryan is forced to say goodbye to an old friend when after 60 years the San Jose State University Field Studies in Natural History session is not allowed to return to Ryan. Rio Tinto and Death Valley Conservancy propose upgrades to a water collection system at Navel Spring inside Death Valley National Park. And a short time later a Fundraising Agreement is entered into between the National Park Service and Death Valley Conservancy.

Four years have elapsed since the process to transfer Ryan to the Death Valley Conservancy began. Ryan is still the property of Rio Tinto and has not been transferred. There are a lot of unanswered questions and Rio Tinto and the new conservancy are hesitant to provide answers.

Article – History’s Guardian Debated in Death Valley

Ryan Camp Photo Gallery
Death Valley Borax Mining Photo Gallery