Wednesday, October 17, 2007

The Ghost Town (Or Caves) Of New Dublin, California

At the south end of Death Valley is Shoshone, a little bump in the road with a couple of gas stations and a run-down motel. Most people hang a left in Shoshone for Pahrump, NV, which is 30 miles away and offers life-giving diet soda, casinos, and wireless internet access; others continue straight ahead for (again!) 30 miles to where the road connects with Interstate 15. Most ignore a poorly graded dirt road on the right just past an Inyo County road maintenance equipment storage yard. And in so doing, they miss one of the most fascinating ghost towns in the country.

New Dublin was established (or "excavated") in the late nineteenth century and hit its peak about a century ago. Lead and borax deposits were discovered in the area, and miners arrived to work them. Most were recent immigrants from Ireland, thus the name "New Dublin." And they needed a place to live. In other desert ghost town sites, rock and adobe were the prime construction materials at hand. But the site of New Dublin was in the dry lake bed of Lake Tecopa, a large lake that existed in a wetter age when mastodons drank from it. After the lake dried, it left behind tufa deposits; the tufa had a hard "cap" and relatively softer rock underneath. The miners had a brilliant idea: why not just "hollow out" living quarters in the tufa, much like a set of artificial caves? The result is what you see below.

Here's a view of another set of "dwellings" at New Dublin:

Exploring the interior of these dwellings is a bit like touring the interiors of "The Flintstones" movie. Some of the caves are separate from the others, while others are interconnected in a maze-like fashion. Here are a couple of looks inside:

The accommodations may have been spartan, but they were practical; like natural caves, their interior temperature varied little from season to season. Given Death Valley's wild temperature extremes----from below freezing night temperatures in winter to 110+ summer days-----this was no small benefit.

There is a small cemetery at New Dublin, and it's heartbreaking. Any indications of the miners' identities have long been lost to the elements, and only piles of rock or circles of stone remain to mark their final resting place. Imagine what it must have been like for those miners, to have left green, beautiful Ireland for such a desolate, godforsaken place, so far from their families and anything familiar (I suspect there was more than a little bitter irony at work when they named this place "New Dublin"). . . . . . . and then to die there, alone and to be forgotten. When I visited New Dublin, it was one of those glorious winter days in the Mojave desert that I loved: temperature in the sixties, no clouds, no humidity, no wind, and a silence so deep you become conscious of the sound of your own breathing. And despite that perfect day, I felt a deep, penetrating sadness in that cemetery and, indeed, at the whole site. New Dublin is eloquent testimony to the lengths desperation can drive people.