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Geology of the National Parks - Death Valley


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Harmony Borax Works

Getting the borax out of Death Valley-
The parched path to Mojave

Mule team near Harmony Borax Works.
Mule team near Harmony Borax Works. Photo by Ed Derobertis, NPS

A major problem Coleman faced was getting the refined borax to market. It was an arduous, 165 mile trip from the heart of Death Valley to the nearest railroad at Mojave. Along parts of the route, salt pinnacles like those at the Devil's Golf Course had to be crossed. Workers braved the desert heat to grade the trail by hand with sledge hammers. Two of Coleman's workers designed giant wagons that could carry a load of up to 10 tons of borax. Teams of 18 mules and 2 horses, now famous as "20-mule teams", were required to move the huge wagons.

The teams averaged two miles an hour and required about 30 days to complete a round trip through this harsh desert land.

Harmony Borax Works today
Harmony today. Photo by Olson, NPS

After unloading the cargo of borax, the team loaded up with provisions for the return trip. It's no wonder that the romantic image of the "20-mule team" persists to this day and has become the symbol of the borax industry in this country.

In 1888, after only five years of production, the Harmony plant was shut down when Coleman's financial empire collapsed. It never reopened. On December 31, 1974, the site was placed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Harmony borax in time
geologic time scale
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