Sunday, April 06, 2008

Shoshone's Cave Condos

It wasn’t easy building a place to live in the mining town of Shoshone.

Founded in 1910 by Death Valley prospector, Ralph “Dad” Fairbanks, the area had little in the way of building materials.

So residents got creative—they built homes into the stone walls of nearby Dublin Gulch.

The small stone cubicles—which resemble latter-day pueblo dwellings—included square window holes and even shelves carved in the walls.

The homes are just another example of the unusual building materials used in Nevada's mining camps. Because of the scarcity of brick and wood, prospectors were forced to use unusual materials such as empty bottles, metal scraps, cardboard, canvas, sod and, in the case of Shoshone, sandstone.

Wandering through Shoshone's rock condos is interesting. Inside, the homes are surprisingly roomy and cool. Most have stovepipe holes cut into the ceilings, showing that stoves were common. A few still have the rusted remains of bed frames.

One of the apartments was built on two levels, kind of a two-story stone townhouse. Cut steps lead from the lower level to the upper floor.

The miners weren't much for cleanliness. The center of the gulch is littered with the rusted remains of cans and other assorted garbage. Rather than develop a garbage area away from their homes, the miners used to toss their trash out the front door into the sagebrush and locals have kept the site in its original condition.

The stone quarters were used as housing for miners (and, later, vagabonds) until the 1970s. Several famous folks have been rumored to have stayed in them, including miner “Shorty” Harris, who founded the mining town of Rhyolite, Nevada.

A quarter-mile from the miner's housing development is a frontier cemetery with the remains of a handful of Shoshone pioneers.

The actual town of Shoshone is located 33 miles west of Pahrump via Nevada State Route 372 and California State Route 178. The miners' stone homes sit west of the main part of the town.

The rest of Shoshone, which sits near the southern edge of Death Valley National Park, consists of some half dozen buildings, including a motel, convenience store, restaurant, real estate office and a local museum.

The latter offers a glimpse into the community's past. Originally built in 1906 in another mining town called Greenwater, the building was moved in 1922 to Shoshone by Charles “Charlie” Brown, “Dad” Fairbanks’ son-in-law.

Over the years the whitewashed wooden building served as a garage, gas station and general store before being converted into a museum. Inside, about a dozen exhibits and displays describe the history of Shoshone and the local mining industry.

Adjacent to the museum is an adobe building that was once a boarding house for the Tonopah and Tidewater Railroad, which had a station in the town in the early part of the 20th century. The railroad, in fact, was the reason the town was originally settled.

Charles Brown and his wife, Stella, eventually bought the town from her father and are largely responsible for its development. The town remains owned by members of the family.

Brown, who served as a California State Senator for more than 24 years, died in 1962. He is buried in the local cemetery.

For a nice Website photo tour of Shoshone, go to or for more information, visit

1 comment:

World Ag News;Sustainable Commerce;the rise of earth conscience said...

HI Rich - I am a nature/Ag freelance writer, living for now in Pahrump and came across the caves you write about by Shoshone, CA. Great piece.

It's a good time to scout around now in January and it appears that there are now some inhabitants. Not surprising given the present economic situation and so many more people looking for alternatives. Scary though. Best wishes this new year! Kathleen McKevitt