This former mining town, with its healing waters, incredible landscape, abandoned treasures and rich mining history, is a great place to explore on your way to Death Valley National Park.
I had driven through Tecopa before but never stopped long enough to get a feel for the place.
We had just spent the morning and afternoon exploring mines in the Salt Creek Hills and Ibex Springs areas in nearby Death Valley National Park and still had some time to kill before checking into our tipi in historic China Ranch. Less than 10 miles outside of where Tecopa presently sits, you’ll find the original site of the town and the mining district that surrounded it..
Brothers William D. and Robert D. Brown founded the town in 1875, and named it Brownsville. When Jonas Osborne bought out the Browns, he renamed the town after Paiute leader Chief Tecopa.
Eventually a post office was established and a stage began bringing in passengers and deliveries from San Bernardino. By 1878, the settlement included over 400 people, three saloons, three stores, a boarding house, a livery stable, and various adobes, shacks, and tents.
Today, there are approximately 115-150 people that live in Tecopa, CA. There’s no hospital, only modest lodging, a restaurant, art gallery, cemetery, church, library, brewery and post office. Water and groceries are brought in from Pahrump, the nearest gas station is nine miles away and the school is closed because there aren’t enough kids in town to keep it open.
You can still find Tecopa’s rich mining history in the hills east of town, so we decided to do some exploring.
What I had originally thought was the War Eagle Mine ended up being the Donna Loy Talc Mine. The War Eagle Mine is the best known mine in the Tecopa Mining District and it’s usually the first stop for underground explorers traveling to the area. The mine, discovered in 1910, began commercial operations in 1912. It operated fairly continuously, passing through a number of hands, until 1957. It was mined for iron, gold, silver and zinc. It’s a massive mine with up to six levels running about 2,500′ along the orebody, with a 1,200 foot cross-shaft. The main workings are thought to be 150′ to 200′ deep; accessed by a series of raises and an inclined shaft.
First worked in 1948, the Donna Loy Mine was a small producer of talc. The site consisted of four claims.
We explored one of the adits that led to short, underground workings…
…and found the following words written on the cross timbers (possibly by the original miners) as we exited the mine, “The more you sweat in peace, the less you bleed in war!” True dat.
After exploring the mines, we only had a couple more hours of daylight left and went to go check into our tipis in China Ranch. Once that was completed, we realized how hungry we were and headed into Tecopa to grab a bite to eat. We decided to try our luck at the the Death Valley Internet Cafe, which is located in a former gas station in the middle of town. Hmmm, looks like we have a little more time to kill.
As we made our way to the nearest store in nearby Shoshone, we decided to check out one of the little known public hot springs located in the mud hills on the outskirts of town.
The famous hot springs located in the actual town of Tecopa are mostly developed, charge a fee for soaking, and usually come with some amenities such as RV camping and massage. Those bath houses are gender segregated, require a shower before entering and are nude only (in order to keep the detergent in everyone’s clothing from mucking up the water). So what about the ‘mud mites’ at this location? We were told they were mostly active from March to April, which was when we were there, so no mud pools for us.
We still decided to take a little peek though.
The mud baths consist of a large, long pool that is about 3 feet deep with temperatures ranging anywhere from 104-112F. The locals say the soft mud is bentonite, which helps to draw the toxins out of the body and leaves your skin feeling silky and moisturized. Looks like we’ll have to make a return trip when its not mud mite season.
After grabbing a few necessities (okay it was mostly alcohol) at the store in Shoshone, we made our way back to the Death Valley Internet Cafe to pick up some pizza.
Just look for the pink wagon parked out front….
…you can’t miss it.
Paintings of American television shows and titles fill the interior of the cafe. The paintings were created by Alex Gjestvang who came here with his older brother Robert Surdel, a former sous chef at STK at the Cosmopolitan in Las Vegas. Robert opened the cafe last May (2015) with another chef, Eric Scott. The pizza we ordered was rather tasty after a long day of hiking in the desert.
Across the cafe is an old abandoned laundromat…
…with a rusty 1951 Ford pickup parked out front.
He must’ve had a V8.
U * We Wash looks like it’s seen better days…
…but I’m sure it was the place to be back in the day.
The snowbirds probably loved it.
Sure, the machinery may have been a little outdated…
…but at least it got the job done.
The color scheme sure was lovely…
…and at least the birds have been able to make some use of it.
Matt Choo (or is it Manchoo?) may heart Kate, but I heart the quirky little town of Tecopa more. You will also love it and should definitely check it out the next time you visit Death Valley National Park. Just make sure to avoid going during the hot summer months and mud mite season. Good night, sleep tight, and don’t let the mud mites bite.