Point Source

Quaquaversal musings on the geosciences and public information.

Category: groundwater Page 1 of 3

Stovepipe Wells, Death Valley: What’s in a Name?

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:

Stovepipe wells actual well

The actual well behind "Stovepipe Wells" in Death Valley National Park, CA. (March 2011) (c) CBDawson

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:

Stovepipe Wells historic marker.

Stovepipe Wells historic marker. (click for full-size view to read the marker)

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


Soda Springs (Devils Postpile National Monument)

Last summer I finally had the chance to visit Devils Postpile National Monument in California. While everyone shares their photos of the iconic columnar basalt at the park, a different location caught my attention on the park map: “Soda Springs.”

Driven by curiosity, I wandered to where the Middle Fork of the San Joaquin River passes through Soda Springs Meadow.

View of Soda Springs Meadow.

View of Soda Springs Meadow, looking north. Devils Postpile National Monument, CA. (August 2011) Image (c) C.B. Dawson

View of gas escaping at groundwater spring

Bubbles are caused by gas escaping at mineral spring where groundwater discharges into a gravel bar in the River. Devils Postpile National Monument, CA. (August 2011)

While there, I overheard a tour guide explaining that water levels were too low to see the bubbling springs typically visible at the edges of the river. I wandered down to the edge (in the photo above, on the left bank where people are walking around), and what a treat!

In this area, groundwater discharges into a gravel bar on the west side of the River. The mineral springs occur where gas and water vapor from deep, hot volcanic areas below the Earth’s surface rise up and combine with groundwater.  I took some video, since still images really don’t effectively capture the experience. (Warning: I clearly am in need of a tripod!)

This is not a boiling pool: the water is not hot. The bubbles are primarily carbon dioxide (CO2), similar to the bubbles you see in a carbonated soft drink.  Hence the name “soda” springs! The orange staining visible in some areas is caused when iron in the spring water oxidizes when it is exposed to the air.  I haven’t found any detail on the overall water quality of these particular mineral springs. (There has been  great deal of research into CO2 emissions in the Long Valley Caldera region in general, and a large tree kill-off in the late 1980s nearby on Mammoth Mountain was attributed to elevated CO2 emissions.)


References and Resources

Devils Postpile National Monument – National Park Service official site

Sequoia Natural History Association, 2002, The Story of Devils Postpile – A Land of Volcanic Fire, Glacial Ice, and an Ancient River: Sequoia Natural History Association, 42 p.

U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) California Volcano Observatory, Long Valley Caldera web site:  http://volcanoes.usgs.gov/volcanoes/long_valley/


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All text and images copyright CBDawson unless otherwise specified.