Tiny Shoshone, Calif., near Death Valley, welcomes visitors to celebrate its heritage during its annual Old West Days, scheduled for Nov. 1 to 3. This fun-filled weekend appeals to history buffs, nature lovers and folks who enjoy country music, lively dancing and barbecue.
Shoshone is about 80 miles from Las Vegas, an easy 1½-hour drive. From Las Vegas, follow state Route 160 west through Mountain Springs Pass into Pahrump Valley. In Pahrump, turn onto state Route 372, which becomes California Route 178. Drive southwest for 26 miles to reach Shoshone at the junction with state Route 127. Shoshone can also be reach from Pahrump by turning off on the Old Spanish Trail Highway, the road to Tecopa, which junctions with Route 127 about eight miles south of Shoshone.
Shoshone was founded in 1910 along the route of the Tonopah and Tidewater Railroad, one of the now-vanished railways built to serve the booming mining districts in the region, including Rhyolite, Goldfield and Tonopah. Promise of mineral riches lured prospectors to the inhospitable Mojave Desert. Their stories are part of Shoshone’s history.
Shoshone was never a mining boomtown like other settlements in the region, now mostly ghost towns. Times were easier when the railroad existed, but the little crossroads village still gets by, now home to about 30 residents.
It remains a supply center and social focal point for the area. Its location makes it one of several portal communities for Death Valley. It offers more facilities than most towns its size, including an up-to-date motel, an RV park and campground, a cafe and saloon, a general store and visitor center and the museum housed in a repurposed gas station complete with vintage cars and colorful gas pumps out front.
Shoshone is near the course of that strange little river, the Amargosa. Just 185 miles long, this waterway, which often runs underground, starts in Nevada above Oasis Valley and its principal community, Beatty. It heads south through Amargosa Valley, picking up the drainage from springs in Ash Meadows, a National Wildlife Refuge.
The Amargosa cuts a canyon near Shoshone, where miners seeking relief from the desert heat tunneled into cliffs to shape dugout homes. Where it surfaces, the water fosters lush vegetation, such as wetlands near Shoshone and China Ranch, a date farm south of Tecopa.
The river picks up runoff from the lake and warm springs at Tecopa, then heads for Dumont Dunes. From Shoshone to Dumont Dunes, 26 miles of the Amargosa is protected as a National Wild and Scenic River.
Geology later changes its course, forcing the Amargosa west and then north into Death Valley. It ends its run at Badwater, the lowest point in North America.
Visitors to Shoshone will find the area offers many outdoor activities during the cooler seasons. The nearby wetlands trails invite exploration of natural areas along the Amargosa, and hundreds of bird species make the river a popular spot for desert birders, especially during spring and fall migrations. There are opportunities for mountain bikers, off-highway vehicle enthusiasts, rock hounds, stargazers, horseback riders and photographers. Hot spring pools and spas at Tecopa provide a place for a relaxing soak.
Shoshone’s Old West Days begin Nov. 1 with a 4 p.m. reception for a reunion of Death Valley residents and pioneer families at the local watering hole and eatery, followed by a program and speakers at the historical museum. The evening winds up with live music from a one-man band.
On Nov. 2, an 8 a.m. birding expedition explores Shoshone Wetlands trails, with a follow-up bird walk at 11 a.m. Throughout the day, visitors can enjoy live music from several bands and solo musicians as well as performances in a variety of dance styles.
On Nov. 3, speakers and authors will be available for a book signing in the museum. At 1 p.m., events close with a celebration of the Amargosa Conservancy’s Pupfish Habitat at the RV park.
Margo Bartlett Pesek’s column appears on Sundays.