Point Source

Quaquaversal musings on the geosciences and public information.

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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

 

National Groundwater Awareness Week

Photo: well pump

(Image courtesy CDC)

When I was a child growing up in rural upstate New York, I passed the old green well pump in our yard multiple times a day.  Even though we didn’t use the hand pump, I knew that it stood over a groundwater well that provided all our water for drinking, preparing food, washing, irrigating the garden, and feeding the barn animals.

Most summers, the water took on a nasty odor, like rotten eggs. It stained fixtures. It made all the clothes washed in it smell bad. It tasted terrible. A few times a week we would drive to the nearby small town and fill up gallon jugs at a free municipal tap. We used this water for cooking and drinking. We hauled our laundry to a laundromat in town to avoid stains and smells.

For me, as a child, it was a minor nuisance. For my mother (responsible for the cooking, cleaning, and laundry), it meant that all the normal household tasks for our family were significantly more complicated and time consuming.

Groundwater Awareness

NGWA event logoBecause of these experiences, I learned about the importance of groundwater in my life at an early age. But these days, for many of us in the United States, groundwater is out of sight and out of mind. March 6 to 12, 2011, is National Ground Water Awareness Week, promoted by the National Ground Water Association and its many co-sponsors. It’s a good time to remind ourselves of the importance of groundwater for human health and the environment, and why we need to protect and conserve it.

Some Groundwater Facts

  • About 15% of people in the United States rely on their own private water supplies, which are not regulated under national water quality and health standards [Source: USEPA]
  • More than 1.5 billion people worldwide rely on groundwater for their drinking water [Source: USGS Circular 1308]
  • Nearly two-thirds of fresh groundwater withdrawals in the United States in 2005 were for irrigation. [Source: USGS Circular 1344]
  • Over 15.9 million water wells (of all types/purposes) serve the United States. [Source: NGWA]
  • In 2000, the High Plains aquifer provided 23% of the total U.S. withdrawals from all aquifers for irrigation, public-supply, and self-supplied industrial water uses combined [Source: USGS Circular 1279]

National Ground Water Awareness Week Links:

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All text and images copyright CBDawson unless otherwise specified.