Most people driving through Stovepipe Wells in Death Valley National Park probably give the name very little thought. They might be surprised to learn the site earned its name from an actual groundwater well located on the other side of the Mesquite Dunes:
Apparently the “well” was originally two shallow pits dug in the sand. The “stovepipe” refers to a pipe that was used to mark the location so that weary travelers crossing the harsh desert would be able to find it more easily in the midst of the dunes. (The current iron pump was added in 1933 when Death Valley was designated as a National Monument.)
It’s hard to imagine what a life-saver the drinking water might have been to travelers crossing the area. However, it apparently was not the cool, refreshing drink that one might have hoped:
My canteens were exhausted when I arrived there [old Stovepipe Wells], and I disregarded the admonition and drank. The water is very low in the spring, is of a yellowish appearance and intensely nauseating in taste. Its odor is very disagreeable, and it can be smelled for half a mile away. Nevertheless, I filled my canteens, and drank of it while there. As I proceeded on my journey my legs became unsteady and I found it difficult to continue my usual pace. I lay down thinking to gain strength, but no improvement was noticeable. The distance between Stove Pipe and Hole-in-the-Rock is about 14 miles, and I fully realized that it was by all odds a case of make this or die . . . . I struggled forward, my legs becoming more and more uncertain… [Source]
If you visit the Park, it’s a nice spot to explore the dunes from — quiet with few visitors.
The site is now California Historic Landmark 826:
Resources and References
Greene, L.W., 1981, Death Valley Historic Resource Study – A study of mining:Volume 1, Section III: Inventory of Historical Resources the West Side: U.S. Department of the Interior National Park Service, Denver, Colorado. Accessed on 13 March 2012 at http://www.nps.gov/history/history/online_books/deva/section3d2.htm