Way back in 1881, Borax was discovered near a ranch called Greenland in Death Valley, California. Soon after, Greenland was then converted into an outpost and mining camp for a few years, then the site changed its name to the Furnace Creek Ranch. Furnace Creek is an appropriate name, because the world record high temperature of 134ºF was set at this place. The daytime temperatures in this part of Death Valley usually range from 115ºF to 132ºF during the summer season, so needless to say, an average workday was not easy going in this place!
The extreme heat of Death Valley interfered with borax production, because the summers last so long in this region. Boiling borax ore in a large steel vat was the method used to produce a pure borax slurry, which could be gathered as it cooled. Because the average ground temperature index in Death Valley exceeds 165ºF, the slurry never cooled enough to solidify, which really caused problems. This was the reason why the borax processing industry came to an end in Death Valley after a short time.
The Harmony Borax Works was actually one of the first mining operations in Death Valley that processed the ore on site. This company produced only a few tons of pure borax per day, so the effort was not worth the money made. The Harmony Borax Works was sold after the owner suffered financial collapse and it later turned into a borax reserve for the Pacific Coast Borax Company. The Harmony Borax Works was shut down after the crew transferred to another site and it has slowly deteriorated in the harsh Death Valley environment ever since.
The remnants of the Old Harmony Borax Works and part of the old adobe walls from the mining camp still remain. This official National Historic Site actually is like an outdoor museum, because some of the original equipment is on display. Part of the old ore processing facility is still there and an old wagon train with a water cart is parked on the grounds. This equipment is so overbuilt that it looks as if it was engineered during the age of dinosaurs, which provides a clue as to just how tough the work must have been back in the old days.
The Harmony Borax Works is a great place to visit and the old adobe structures are very photogenic, so be sure to bring a good camera along for the ride! Visiting the Harmony Borax Works definitely is best during the short winter season, but many people actually do come to this place just to experience the extreme heat. Either way, the Old Harmony work site is a good place to learn a little something about the history of Death Valley, so be sure to mark this spot on the map!
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