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Exploring Shoshone’s unique cliff dwellings

Richard Moreno
For the Appeal
Richard Moreno/Nevada Appeal One of the unusual stone dwellings found in Dublin Gulch, near the former railroad and mining town of Shoshone.
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It wasn’t easy building a place to live in the mining town of Shoshone. Founded in 1910 by Death Valley prospector, Ralph “Dad” Fairbanks, the area had little in the way of building materials.

So residents got creative by building homes into the stone walls of nearby Dublin Gulch.

The small stone cubicles – which resemble latter-day pueblo dwellings – included square window holes and even shelves carved into the walls.

The homes are just another example of the unusual building materials used in Nevada’s mining camps. Because of the scarcity of brick and wood, prospectors were forced to use unusual materials such as empty bottles, metal scraps, cardboard, canvas, sod and, in the case of Shoshone, sandstone.

Wandering through Shoshone’s rock condos is interesting. Inside, the homes are surprisingly roomy and cool. Most have stovepipe holes cut into the ceilings, showing that stoves were common. A few still have the rusted remains of bed frames.

One of the apartments was built on two levels, kind of a two-story stone townhouse. Cut steps lead from the lower level to the upper floor.

The miners weren’t much for cleanliness. The center of the gulch is littered with the rusted remains of cans and other assorted garbage. Rather than develop a garbage area away from their homes, miners tossed their trash out the front door into the sagebrush. Locals have kept the site in its original condition.

The stone quarters were used as housing for miners (and, later, vagabonds) until the 1970s. Several famous folks have been rumored to have stayed in them, including miner “Shorty” Harris, who founded the mining town of Rhyolite.

A quarter-mile from the miners’ housing development is a frontier cemetery with the remains of a handful of Shoshone pioneers.

The actual town of Shoshone is 33 miles west of Pahrump via Nevada State Route 372 and California State Route 178. The miners’ stone homes sit west of the main part of the town.

The rest of Shoshone, which is near the southern edge of Death Valley National Park, consists of some half-dozen buildings, including a motel, convenience store, restaurant, real estate office and museum.

The latter offers a glimpse into the past. Originally built in 1906 the mining town of Greenwater, the building was moved in 1922 to Shoshone by Charles “Charlie” Brown, “Dad” Fairbanks’ son-in-law.

Over the years, the whitewashed wooden building served as a garage, gas station and general store before being converted into a museum. Inside, about a dozen exhibits and displays describe the history of Shoshone and the local mining industry.

Adjacent to the museum is an adobe building that was once a boarding house for the Tonopah & Tidewater Railroad, which had a station in the early part of the 20th century. The railroad, in fact, was the reason the town was originally settled.

Brown and his wife, Stella, eventually bought the town from her father and are largely responsible for its development. The town is still owned by family members.

Brown, who was a California state senator for more than 24 years, died in 1962. He is buried in the local cemetery.

For a nice photo tour of Shoshone, go to http://digital-desert.com/shoshone-ca. For more information, visit http://www.deathvalleychamber.org.

• Richard Moreno is the author of “Backyard Travels in Northern Nevada” and “The Roadside History of Nevada” which are available at local bookstores.