Ryan, Death Valley, California

Ryan, 2012

Ryan, 2012

Death Valley View Hotel, Ryan, 1937

Death Valley View Hotel, Ryan, 1937
County of Inyo, Eastern California Museum

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 very 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.

16 years later in 1983 through 1991 the US 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 2007 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 2008 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 says goodbye to an old friend when after 60 years the staff of the San Jose State University Field Studies in Natural History program decides to hold the session in Furnace Creek. 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.

May 6, 2013 the Death Valley Conservancy announced the transfer of ownership of Ryan Camp from Rio Tinto to the Death Valley Conservancy.

I started my independent research of Ryan in 2011 and I quickly discovered that the information on Ryan for the last 75 years is scarce, incomplete and difficult to obtain. There are several stories on Ryan from its beginning in 1914 through its close in 1930 but only random pieces of information can be found after that. This project will attempt to tell the complete story of Ryan Camp.

Ryan, California. Passengers arriving on Motor Coach from Death Valley Junction - 1929. Courtesy National Park Service, Death Valley National Park

Ryan, California. Passengers arriving on Motor Coach from Death Valley Junction – 1929.
Courtesy National Park Service, Death Valley National Park

Ore train arriving at Ryan from the mines - 1916. Courtesy National Park Service, Death Valley National Park

Ore train arriving at Ryan from the mines – 1916.
Courtesy National Park Service, Death Valley National Park

The timber tram at the Window Mine, Ryan, California. Courtesy National Park Service, Death Valley National Park

The timber tram at the Widow Mine, Ryan, California.
Courtesy National Park Service, Death Valley National Park

Table of Contents

Chapter 1