Imagine yourself feeling fancy in your brand new 1937 Ford Model 48.  You’ve got the top down and your long white scarf is flapping in the breeze.  You’re zipping west across Death Valley to get a glimpse at Mt. Whitney.  This desert traverse seemed like an hilarious lark last night over champagne in Las Vegas, but after several hundred miles across desiccated, desolate landscape and hunkering down in a half-day-long sand storm, your pincurls are sagging and your paramour’s Erol Flynn style mustache is caked with sweaty dust.  You stop for a gas at Stovepipe Wells where they inform you that in order to proceed west you must pay a toll to cross the Panamint Valley 60 miles to the tiny town of Darwin where the next services are located.  Then it will be another 40 miles to Lone Pine to view Mt Whitney. You’re in it now.  Turning back is as painful a prospect as following through.  You flash your man the brightest fakest fire engine red smile you can muster and say, “We’re going to hell in a fast car so keep on drivin’!”

Agnes & William Reid had seen it all before and just that year decided there was money to be made from desperation.  Having access to water from Darwin Creek, the rarest most precious commondity in the California desert region, the Reids opened a restaurant and motel called Panamint Springs Resort at the western edge of Panamint Valley before the pass between the scary spires of the Inyo and Argus mountains.  Its not a new story.  You know who was capitalizing most from the great westward migration of the American people?  It was no doubt the purveyors of supplies and comfort at way stations located in placid oases at the base of horrendous mountain passes.  Its just smart business.


Panamint Springs Resort has only moderately evolved since the 1930’s.  It now has a general store, a bar with a world class beer selection, a 15 unit motel, a gas station, and a campground, but it is as rustic as you can imagine it was all those years ago.  There is no town surrounding the resort.  The resort is still the only civilization for dozens of miles.

Today’s generator at Panamint Springs Resort

There is no electricity beyond what the store’s generator provides.  There is no telephone and you will not get cell service in this remote outpost.  Water is piped into the resort via an hilarious hodge podge of leaky pvc piping along Darwin Wash. At one point the piping is secured to the side of the wash with a nylon strap tied to a boulder.  Absolutely priceless.

Oasis at Darwin Falls
Darwin Falls

Panamint Springs Resort is desert living in the modern day.  Just enough amenities to bring comfort is all you need and to a weary traveler a cold drink and a shower can be paradise. What’s even more fun is the museum of retired generators that stand sentry in the front yard of the general store.  Every generator used by Panamint Springs resort (the only source of electricity) over the years has been retained and placed on display.

I give you the fascinating gallery of Panamint Springs generators and retired machinery. Click any one of these images to enlarge it.

My husband and I (the weary travelers sans Erol Flynn mustache and fire engine red lipstick) at Panamint Springs Resort watching a snow storm roll in over Telescope Peak in the Panamint Mountains.

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