Sunday, February 19, 2012

Boron and Borax

Yesterday turned out to be far more interesting than I had anticipated. I had figured that we would drive to the town of Boron, maybe take a picture of the 20 Mule Train, and that would be our day. Our first stop was in the town of Boron where there is a very good historical museum. There we learned that from 1883-89 there were 20 mules which hauled two wagons containing a total of  22 tons of borax from Death Valley to the Mojave Desert (without one breakdown). The 20-day round trip involved crossing over the Panamount Mountains, so it required one very skillful driver and some intelligent mules. There was also a "swamper",  a man who worked the brakes on the downgrades and encouraged the mules on the upward climbs. In 1913 borax was discovered in the Mojave Desert, outside of the town of Boron. The Borax mine was started in1925. It has since become one of the biggest and richest deposits of borax on the the planet. From Boron we drove to the Borax Mine to see the mining operations in action. Here 12 thousand tons are daily hauled out of an above-ground pit. Now railroad cars carry the final product out to be distributed worldwide.
 The museum at the visitor center of Borax is filled with information and displays on the mineral; how it has been used through the centuries (the Romans made glass with borax and the Egyptians used it in mummifying), how it is mined, and processed. The mineral's main use initially here was primarily as a cleaning agent. The museum has a large display showing its many uses. In case you are wondering, carrots also need borax!
  As usual, John took a long time going through the museum so I sat down in the gift shop to watch an episode of the western television series Death Valley Days. Its' sponsor was the Borax Company and from 1965-66 the show's host was President Ronald Regan. How strange to see him hold a box of Borax soap in his hands and to hear him extol the benefits of using that laundry soap! On our way home we drove through the town of Hinkley. The museum in Boron had some displays in regard to the movie Erin Brockovich. Boron was chosen to represent the town of Hinkley in the movie for a more "authentic look" . If you may recall, the movie is about how Hinkley became contaminated by chromium 6.  Erin Brockovich took on the legal battle with a California power company to seek redress for its citizens. The town now has many abandoned homes.


  1. Great post about the borax story and the 20 Mule Team. Just one note - they didn't haul 20 million pounds in the wagons. It was 11 tons in each wagon for a total of 22 tons or 44,000 pounds of borax. For more information and details on the entire story there's a nice little film available at

  2. Hi - since the link above didn't publish as active go to and look up Twenty Mule Team of Death Valley.

  3. Okay I'm figuring this blog out. I didn't want to publish anonymously. This is me. Thanks for your patience. Ted