Chapter 6

Costs for Ryan Camp increase as floods devastate Scotty’s Castle.

The Death Valley Conservancy met with Death Valley National Park staff Jan. 27, 2015, at the Death Valley visitor center. Mallory Smith, acting park superintendent, had taken over since Kathy Billings retirement Dec. 31, 2014, and led the meeting. Representing the conservancy was Preston Chiaro, Kari Krusmark, Henry Golas, Sandra Moore and conservancy employee Scott Smith.

Mallory Smith started the meeting by noting that the park didn’t yet have a budget for the year, but it was expected to be like last year less some increased costs. The park staffing levels remained very low and open positions were not filled due to sequestration. The park was also starting a two-year project to document early research activities, management, conservation and recovery actions of Devils Hole. It was also noted that the Death Valley Natural History Association offered to fund an additional four episodes of the Death Valley explorer video series.

AmeriCorps in Death Valley. Courtesy NPS.

The AmeriCorps and other volunteers were also working with the NPS Cornerstone group to make adobe bricks and rebuild the Civilian Conservation Corp wall that was crumbling around the Cow Creek Maintenance area in Furnace Creek. A 12 person crew from AmeriCorps arrived Jan. 15 and was in the park until March 6. Scott Smith with the conservancy had been in touch with the park to determine if there is a project AmeriCorps could do in Ryan.

The conservancy told the park staff that recent activities consisted of engineering planning and small projects and maintenance. The conservancy had also worked with the University of Southern California as an academic partner. The University of Southern California was the only university that offered a master program in historical preservation. The conservancy had also worked with Nels Roselund. Roselund was the owner of the structural engineering company, Roselund Engineering in California.

Jessica Smith, the wife of conservancy employee Scott Smith, had worked on the national historic register nomination for Ryan Camp. The conservancy planned to propose the main Ryan area initially and add other areas later. A tour of Ryan scheduled for March was already booked full and another tour was planned for April. The conservancy hosted a Boy Scout group in April and the group did a service project. Scott Smith related that the Navel Springs water tank was installed, and the new water line buried. Scott planned to start the tunnel work soon and hoped to be finished in March.

For the 20-mule team wagon project it had been determined that the wagons at the Harmony Borax site in the park were the best examples to use as a template for reproducing the wagons. The conservancy worked with experts Bobby Tanner and Dave Engel on the project. Tanner was the primary consultant and had over 30 years of experience assembling and operating 20 mule teams. Engel had been restoring horse-drawn vehicles and wheelwrights for 38 years and contributed his experience to build a full-scale, authentic, working replica set of the 20 mule team wagons.

The conservancy agreed to host the next park partners dinner in the Fall of 2015 and again expressed their desire to use the Billie Mine site for storage by the conservancy. The conservancy planned to submit their ideas on the storage to the park for consideration.

Death Valley National Park announced April 17, 2015, that Rio Tinto Minerals donated $50,000 to produce a documentary video series on the unique beauty and history of the park as part of the National Park Service Centennial anniversary in 2016. Rio Tinto’s gift was made through the nonprofit Death Valley Natural History Association to support the park’s video project produced by Bristlecone Media based in Bishop, California.

Dean Gehring, President and CEO of Rio Tinto Minerals said, “Our hope is that this video series inspires a new generation of Americans to appreciate Death Valley’s one of a kind geology and history that has been so important to our employees and the local community.” Acting Superintendent Mallory Smith started “We hope this series will strengthen the connection between the American people and Death Valley National Park, and build a sense of ownership and pride, inspiring a commitment to its stewardship.” The Death Valley Natural History Association (DVNHA) is the official nonprofit partner of Death Valley National Park since 1954. In that time the DVNHA had donated over $3.5 million to the National Park supporting education, preservation and scientific research.

Mike Reynolds started his new assignment as superintendent of Death Valley National Park May 31, 2015, replacing Kathy Billings who had retired. Reynolds managed a staff of 125 full time employees and an annual budget of $9 million. Reynolds had worked for the park service for more than 18 years. Reynold’s previous assignments included Big Bend, Great Smokey Mountains and Yellowstone national parks. He recently served as superintendent of Lava Beds National Monument and had previously worked in Death Valley National Park.

Another new assignment involving a prominent Death Valley personality was announced June 21, 2015, by Westminster College in Salt Lake City, Utah. Preston Chiaro, president of the Death Valley Conservancy, was elected as the new vice chair of the college. Chiaro joined the Westminster College board of trustees in 2011.

The Death Valley Conservancy met with Death Valley National Park staff July 24, 2015, in Ryan Camp. Superintendent Mike Reynolds led the meeting and representing the conservancy was Preston Chiaro, Henry Golas, conservancy employee Scott Smith and his wife Jessica. Reynolds reported that staff was still the lowest it had been for many years, but budgets were constant. Positions were being filled strategically and the park was able to restructure if needed.

The park offered condolences to Golas for the passing of his friend, Paxton Offield. The Offield Family Foundation had supported the park and its efforts with the pup fish at Devils Hole. The Offield Family Foundation had also donated $70,000 to the conservancy between 2011 and 2013. The Devils Hole management history project had completed several chapters and a presentation on the history was planned for the Death Valley Natural History Conference in November 2015.

It was also noted that AmeriCorps liked the park-conservancy partnership as it offered unique opportunities to work with other facets of the community and acquire new skills and learn about other management goals. It offered a different type of experience that what the park alone could offer. The park also related that they were not ready to work on the rails to trails project from Death Valley Junction but agreed that sites along the route of the Death Valley railroad should be recorded. For the Scotty’s Castle fountain project ideas were being explored to use small pumps to recirculate the water to accommodate Mary Liddicott’s bequest.

Harmony Borax site Death Valley National Park.

The conservancy reported that they had $10,000 for interpretive signs at the Harmony Borax site in the park. The conservancy had also produced a full color fold out reptile brochure “Reptiles of Death Valley.” The Navel Spring water tank and pipe project had been completed and some work done on the adit. More work on the adit would be done in the fall.

An architectural group had been secured for work on the structures at Ryan and there were access road improvements done at Ryan Camp. Tax records for the conservancy showed asset No. 37, land development – Ryan road project in the amount of $107,086. The conservancy was still interested in using the Billie Mine site for their storage and superintendent Reynolds asked the conservancy to submit something in writing for the park to consider.

Also, on July 24, 2015, as the Death Valley Conservancy met with park staff, U.S. Borax for Rio Tinto Minerals filed the notice of intent to hold mining claims and mill sites for the assessment year beginning Sept. 1, 2015, in Inyo County, California. A maintenance fee of $155 was paid on each of the 231 claims and sites.

The notice of intent to hold mining claims was again signed by Rio Tinto/U.S. Borax Land Manger Nathan Francis. Besides his work with Rio Tinto Francis had been a board member of the Death Valley Natural History Association for three years. Last year Francis served as treasurer and this year he was now the vice chair of the association.

Sept. 23, 2015, the Shoshone Museum Reader published its fall 2015 newsletter for the members of the Shoshone Museum Association. In the newsletter was an article by Jessica L.K. Smith, Ph.D., “The Story of Ryan – Death Valley’s Best-Preserved Mining Camp.” Jessica Smith was listed as the director of archaeology for the Death Valley Conservancy and was in the process of nominating Ryan to the National Register of Historic Places. Smith lived full time at Ryan with her husband, conservancy employee Scott Smith and three children.

The article discussed the history or Ryan and included several lesser-known facts about the camp. The article reminded the reader that Ryan is private property and trespassing is strictly prohibited. But it was also noted that the Death Valley Conservancy offered several public tours during the spring and fall. Information on the tours was posted on the Ryan Facebook website.

The Death Valley’s Conservancy 2014 Internal Revenue Service Form 990 for the return of organizations exempt from income tax, was signed by Henry Golas Nov. 13, 2015. The conservancy reported a net asset or fund balance of $24,101,473, an increase of $541,643 over the previous year. The total program service expense was $485,325 which was an increase of $120,772 from the previous year.

The conservancy provided $71,777 to Death Valley National Park to study and protect the endangered Devils Hole pup fish and educate the public as to the importance of the endangered species. The park also received $45,950 to support the Death Valley ROCKS (Recreation Outdoors Campaign for Kids through Study) program which brought inner city students to the park for three days of camping and field science experience.

The expense for the Ryan Camp preservation, maintenance and interpretation of the historical mining camp and to restore it for an education and research center was $367,598. The expense was an increase of $10,337 from the previous year.

The conservancy reported receiving a noncash contribution for $254,000 Oct. 31, 2014, for water rights and infrastructure, which was believed to be the donation of Navel Spring by Rio Tinto to the Death Valley Conservancy.

There were also two cash contributions from a person in the amounts of $5,000 and $10,000. Tax records for the Elisha-Bolton Foundation, EIN 34-1500135, in 2014 showed a contribution to the Death Valley Conservancy for $10,000.

Persons listed as officers, directors, trustees and key employees remained as the previous year with Preston Chiaro as president, Kari Krusmark as vice president, Henry Golas as secretary and treasurer and Sandra Moore as a director.

Henry Golas also showed reportable compensation from the organization in the amount of $40,313 and an estimated amount of other compensation in the amount of $20,513. The combined compensation amounts came to $60,826 which was an increase of $8,207 over the previous year. The explanation on the tax form indicated that Golas volunteers four hours a week as a board member and in the management of the organization he also works 20 hours a week in the Ryan Camp program and his compensation was related to this 20 hours worked. Golas was also working 20 hours a week in the previous year.

Jan. 8, 2016, the San Jose State University’s Field Studies in Natural History program started a campaign to upgrade their new spring camp since they left Ryan Camp. In the donation campaign bulletin Field Studies related that for the last 80 years San Jose State made the annual trek to Death Valley to learn about natural history of the extraordinary desert ecosystem. Since 2011 San Jose State had a new home at the Death Valley Natural History Association’s facility in Cow Creek close to Furnace Creek.

The Field Studies program was making upgrades and improvements to better serve students and participants. The most pressing need identified had been to upgrade restrooms and add shower facilities. The new ecofriendly shower and restroom duplex addition needed $40,000 in donations and they planned to start construction February 2016. The donations were being accepted through the Death Valley National History Association.

Scotty’s Castle flood damage. NPS Photo by Kurt Moses

The Death Valley Conservancy met with Death Valley National Park staff Jan. 22, 2016, in Furnace Creek. Superintendent Mike Reynolds led the meeting and representing the conservancy was Preston Chiaro, Henry Golas, Sandra Moore, conservancy employee Scott Smith and his wife Jessica.

Superintendent Reynolds started the meeting with an update on the record breaking floods that devastated Scotty’s Castle October 2015. The park was working to identify funding sources for Scotty’s Castle and road repairs that had an estimate of $50 million in damages. The park had a multistep plan for restoring Scotty’s Castle over the next several years.

Visitation numbers were also up in the park and the park received additional funding for Centennial projects. The Devils Hole management history project had 10 chapters completed and the pup fish counts were stable and recovered from dwindling numbers in 2014. The conservancy asked the park for a summary of past contributions from the Offield Family Foundation and the results and benefits of their assistance.

The conservancy told the park that they were still interested in supporting the oral history of Pauline Esteves life. Esteves was a tribal elder with the Timbisha Shoshone Tribe in Death Valley. The Rock Art project, which the conservancy agreed to fund in previous meetings appeared that it would not be moving forward.

The full color reptile brochure which the conservancy discussed in the previous meeting would be sold in the Death Valley Natural History Associations bookstore. The park had also received a proposal from filmmaker Ted Faye for the Scotty’s Castle virtual tour and $10,000 was available from the Dial Corporation for the Harmony Borax interpretive signs.

The conservancy related that on the Navel Springs project there was additional work necessary to finish the adit and the water rights transfer from Rio Tinto should be transferred in 2016. The conservancy continues to pursue relationships with university partners for historic renovation and had also been offered additional pro bono legal work. The 20-mule team wagon replication project was going well, and the conservancy had secured donations and matching funds from various partners.

Regarding the conservancy’s request to use the Billie Mine for storage, the park had questions regarding liability and compliance. It was suggested that a memorandum of understanding implemented in phases as compliance was necessary. Additional review was need and appropriate language added in addition to schematics and maps.

Laser scanning in Ryan Camp. Courtesy Epic Scan.

In another project, the Ryan property had undergone extensive laser scanning to produce images accurate enough to use for construction. In addition to sewer system work the church and recreation hall would be stabilized. The Architectural Resources Group in Pasadena, California and Epic Scan, with offices across the country, both did scanning work in Ryan.

March 22, 2016, a quit claim deed for water rights was recorded in Inyo County, California. U.S. Borax granted the Death Valley Conservancy the water rights for Navel Spring which included all tanks, pumps, pipes, valves and related equipment and appurtenances. This deed referenced the donation agreement dated March 27, 2013, in which U.S. Borax granted the Death Valley Conservancy the property commonly known as Ryan Camp.

The deed was signed by Dean Gehring, president of U.S. Borax Inc., and Henry Golas, secretary of the Death Valley Conservancy. The 2014 tax documents for the Death Valley Conservancy listed a noncash contribution in the amount of $254,000 for water rights and infrastructure.

The May 2016 newsletter from the Laws Railroad Museum and Historical Village, in Bishop, California, announced that the full-size replica 20 mule team borax wagons were under construction in Montana. When the wagons are not out in parades they would be a featured exhibit at the Laws Railroad Museum. The museum was conducting fundraising to build a special addition to the wagon barn to house and display the wagons. The newsletter also displayed an artist rendition of the new wagon barn which would house the borax wagons.

Engels Coach Shop in Joliet, Montana, also posted a newsletter on their website announcing that “The Borax Wagon adventure has begun” and went on to explain that after several years of planning, searching, drawing and calculating, the reproduction of the borax wagons that hauled borax out of Death Valley from the Harmony mine were about to begin.

The Nevada Silver Trails, part of the Nevada Commission on Tourism, featured a 20-mule team press kit on their website. The three-page color brochure provided the history of the twenty-mule team and that the giant wagons and big team of 20 mules was available for demonstrations and events. The wagons would be delivered at a venue from their home at the Rio Tinto Minerals borax mine in Boron, California. The information indicated that the wagons are original and dateed back to at least 1888.

The brochure explained how the mules were delivered, how the mules were hitched up and how the wagons were driven. Throughout the event Bobby Tanner, the professional 20 mule team operator from Bishop, California, would offer presentations on the operation of the mule team. Filmmaker and 20 mule team historian Ted Faye would also present his movie and book, “The Twenty Mule Team of Death Valley.”

The Death Valley Conservancy met with Death Valley National Park staff July 21, 2016. The meeting was held at the historic Wildrose facilities built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s. Superintendent Mike Reynolds led the meeting and representing the conservancy was Preston Chiaro, Henry Golas, conservancy employee Scott Smith and his wife Jessica.

Scotty’s Castle flood damage. Photo KCET Osceola Refetoff.

Reynolds provided park updates with the current estimate for flood damage from the October 2015 flood at about $30 million. Down from the $50 million estimate thought at the last meeting. The collections at Scotty’s Castle would be removed for the next several years while repairs were made, and limited tours would take place. Another flood in the park June 30 caused a 38-hour power outage and forced park staff to be evacuated.

The parks strategic plan identified filling staff vacancies as the highest priority for the park. Staffing was still down 15 positions. The park had also invested in keeping current staff on-site to reduce the elevated level of turnover. There was also discussion about the Death Valley School and the lack of students and teacher. Other models of education were being considered and the idea of a charter school was presented.

All 10 chapters on the Devils Hole management history had been completed and the final product will be published in a book. In a recent vandalism crime at Devils Hole the suspects had been identified and the case referred to the U.S. Assistant Attorney’s Office in Las Vegas, Nevada. The oral history interviews with Pauline Esteves had been completed and transcribed by the contractor.

The park had a proposal for a two-day event with speakers and activities for the anniversary of the National Historic Preservation Act and the conservancy expressed interest in funding the event. Review and edits were being done on filmmaker Ted Faye’s virtual reality project at Scotty’s Castle. When complete the project would be posted on the park’s website.

The conservancy provided updates on their projects with one that looked into using virtual reality tours for compliance with the Americans with Disability Act. The sewer work had been completed and electricity had been restored to other buildings. The Navel Springs water rights transfer from Rio Tinto had also been completed.

Preliminary work had been completed on the submission of Ryan Camp to the National Historic Register. The scanning project helped in identifying existing structures and current conditions. The 20-mule team wagon replication project was going well and was scheduled to be completed in the fall. The wagons and mules were also scheduled to be in the 2017 Rose Parade in Pasadena, California.

The proposal for the conservancy to use the Billie Mine for storage and staging was briefly discussed. The park and the conservancy explored the idea of a lease instead of a memorandum of understanding and the park needed additional time to review the proposal and lease agreement to decide on terms and conditions. Donald Hardesty’s report on the Historical Evaluation of the Billie Borate Mine, Death Valley, California, was to serve as a determination of eligibility for the property.

Aug. 1, 2016, U.S. Borax on behalf of parent company Rio Tinto Minerals, filed the notice of intent to hold mining claims and mill sites for the assessment year beginning Sept. 1, 2016, in Inyo County, California. A maintenance fee of $155 was paid on each of the 231 claims and sites. The notice of intent to hold mining claims was signed by Rio Tinto/U.S. Borax Inc. Land Manager Nathan Francis. Besides his work with Rio Tinto Francis had at this time served on the board of the Death Valley Natural History Association for four years. Last year he served in the position of vice chair and this year he was now the chair of the association.

The fall 2016 edition of the Telescope, the official newsletter of the Death Valley Natural History Association was published Nov. 8, 2016. Nathan Francis, Board Chair of the association and land manager with Rio Tinto, wrote the front-page article “Sustaining the Legacies: Mining and Death Valley.”

In the article Francis related that he became aware of Death Valley five years ago when he moved to the region to work for Rio Tinto Minerals (U.S. Borax). He admitted that Death Valley had not been on his bucket list of places to visit. But as his experience for the area grew so did his passion for all that it has to offer. Francis related how people outside of the mining industry were surprised at how intertwined Rio Tinto was with that of America’s national parks and particularly Death Valley, and that they are very closely aligned.

The Death Valley’s Conservancy 2015 Internal Revenue Service Form 990 for the return of organizations exempt from income tax, was signed by Henry Golas Nov. 9, 2015. The conservancy reported a net asset or fund balance of $22,950,639, a decrease of $1,150,834 from the previous year. The total program service expense was $615,205 which was an increase of $129,880 from the previous year.

The conservancy provided $10,934 to Death Valley National Park to study and protect the endangered Devils Hole pup fish and educate the public as to the importance of the endangered species. There was also an expense of $13,519 for the Death Valley Fund. This was to support projects around the park in conjunction with the National Park Service. Projects included an archeological survey of the Greenwater rock art site. This expense section also listed the park partners gathering.

The conservancy also listed an expense for $126. This was apparently for the 20-mule team borax wagon reproductions. The conservancy spent $14,359 to develop and build the wagons and the items had been capitalized and would be depreciated over their life.

The expense for the Ryan Camp preservation, maintenance and interpretation of the historical mining camp and to restore it for an education and research center was $590,626, an increase of $223,028 from the previous year. During 2015 the conservancy spent $215,179 to develop and build assets related to Ryan Camp and the items had been capitalized and being depreciated over their life span.

Ryan Camp.

In general, the program service expenses to the park were decreasing while the expense to preserve and maintain Ryan Camp was increasing.

The conservancy reported receiving a noncash contribution for $254,000 Oct. 31, 2014, for water rights and infrastructure believed to be the donation of Navel Spring by Rio Tinto to the Death Valley Conservancy.

There were also two cash contributions from a person in the amounts of $10,000 and $15,000. Tax records for the Elisha-Bolton Foundation, EIN 34-1500135, in 2015 showed a contribution to the Death Valley Conservancy for $15,000.

Persons listed as officers, directors, trustees and key employees remained as the previous year with Preston Chiaro as president, Kari Krusmark as vice president, Henry Golas as secretary and treasurer and Sandra Moore as a director.

Henry Golas also showed reportable compensation from the organization in the amount of $113,638 and an estimated amount of other compensation in the amount of $26,913. The combined compensation amounts came to $140,551 which was an increase of $79,725 over the previous year.

The explanation on the tax form indicated the same as the previous year in that Golas, as secretary/treasurer volunteered four hours a week as a board member and in the management of the organization. Golas also worked 20 hours a week in the Ryan Camp program and his compensation ass related to this 20 hours worked. Golas also worked 20 hours a week in the previous year.

As the number of hours Golas worked on the Ryan Camp program remained the same at 20 hours, the reportable compensation and estimated amount of other compensation from the organization and other organizations was steadily and sharply increasing.

Comparing the Death Valley Conservancy’s combined compensation amounts for Henry Golas of $140,551 for 2015 to its closest nonprofit neighbor, the Death Valley Natural History Association, the executive director for that organization received $60,364. The executive director for the Amargosa Land Trust received $48,934, and the director and business manager for the Bishop Museum and Historical Society, which includes the Laws Railroad Museum, received $30,194. There was no director compensation for the Amargosa Opera House Inc., the Death Valley 49ers Inc. or the Friends of the Eastern California Museum nonprofit organizations.

The start of this period was not good for Rio Tinto as the Sydney Morning Herald reported March 28, 2015, that Rio Tinto was to ax the highly paid mergers and acquisitions team as cutbacks deepen. Rio Tinto’s austerity campaign at that time was to force departures from mergers and acquisitions and business development areas as the company tried to move some of the largest salaries off their books.

Rio Tinto had been steadily reducing staff since 2012 when the market turned bad, and the cuts in 2015 were part of the same shake up. The plan to cut the mergers and acquisitions team signaled reduced interest in making sales at the world’s second largest mining company, which had rebuffed a takeover by rival Glencore in late 2014.

In November 2014 various business new organizations were reporting that Glencore buying Rio Tinto was “inevitable. Several hedge funds had been told by a prominent London mining banker to prepare for an all but inevitable takeover of the Rio Tinto Group by Glencore Plc., according to people familiar with the meeting.

The Sydney Morning Herald reported Nov. 26, 2014, that Glencore chief executive Ivan Glasenberg’s second attempt to force a merger with Rio Tinto would involve an attack on Rio Tinto CEO Sam Walsh over dwindling hopes of substantial capital returns.

The takeover by Glencore did not happen but early 2016 found that Rio Tinto had frozen all salaries including the CEO’s salary. News organizations were reporting that Rio Tinto had frozen the salaries of all its employees and urged staff to cutback on all nonessential activities to save cash during a protracted slump in commodity prices.

The London shares of the Angle-Australian mining company, the world’s second largest by market value, had fallen nearly 40 percent over the past year after the price of iron ore and copper dropped to multi year lows in the recent weeks. [link to market watch Jan. 14, 2016, article]

Rio Tinto CEO Sam Walsh. Photo: Bloomberg

An internal email written by chief executive Sam Walsh revealed Rio Tinto’s increased focus on cost saving measures, indicating there would be no annual salary increases for anyone from the CEO down. Walsh said he anticipated 2016 would be an even tougher year than the last, with commodity prices at 2005 levels or lower, and some down as much as 80 percent from their highs and nearing long term historic averages. Walsh added that the situation was not temporary, and the mining industry was moving into the new normal which meant Rio Tinto must continue to be one step ahead.

March 2016 Rio Tinto announced that CEO Sam Walsh would retire in July and would be replaced by Jean-Sebastien Jacques. Walsh joined Rio Tinto in 1991 and had been the CEO for just over three years. Jacques joined Rio Tinto in 2011 and headed up the copper and coal division. The changeover occurred as Rio Tinto posted an annual net loss of $866 million in 2015 because of tumbling commodity prices. Rio Tinto had cut capital spending and further cut costs by $1 billion in 2016 and planned to cut another $1 billion in 2017.

(Please notify author on the website contact page for errors, omissions or suggestions.)

Information Sources and Credits:

  • Copies of reports, documents and electronic media provided by the National Park Service.
  • Copies of emails, reports, documents and electronic media obtained from the National Park Service under Freedom of Information Act requests.
  • Reference document directory
  • Architectural Resources Group
  • Australian Mining
  • California Office of the Attorney General
  • California Secretary of State
  • Death Valley Natural History Association
  • Engle’s Coach Shop, Joliet, Montana
  • Epic Scan
  • Equilar Board Edge
  • GuideStar
  • Internal Revenue Service
  • Inyo County Clerk-Recorder Office
  • Laws Railroad Museum
  • Linked In
  • Nevada Silver Trails
  • Rio Tinto
  • San Jose State University
  • Shoshone Museum Association
  • The Sydney Morning Herald, Australia (www.smh.com.au)
  • Westminster College, Salt Lake City, Utah

Chapter 7 (In development)

Timeline of Current and Historical Events

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