Amargosa Valley (formerly Lathrop Wells) is a town located in Nye County, Nevada. As of the 2000 census, the town had a total population of 1,176. An interim census report issued in August, 2002 put the town's population at 1,615. The state of Nevada estimated its population to be 1,435 in 2006.
The populated area of the Amargosa Desert is sandwiched between U.S. 95 to the north, and the California border to the south. Some of the residential streets in the town cross over into California. Much of the Nevada-California border in this area is contiguous with the boundaries of Death Valley National Park. The national park boundary extends into Nevada near Beatty, approximately 30 miles (50 km) northwest of Amargosa Valley. The town is located approximately 88 miles (142 km) northwest of Las Vegas, 35 miles (56 km) northwest of Pahrump, and 24 miles (39 km) north of Death Valley Junction, California.
Spanish, Indians, and mountain men first blazed a trail through the Amargosa Valley by 1800.
After the Donner Party's disastrous winter of 1847 in the Sierras which happened just before the news of California gold became public. A loose group arrived in October 1849 at the Great Salt Lake. They organized under the guidance of a Captain Hunt to head for the San Bernadino-Los Angeles area. The best alternative to risking the Donner route was to try an end run to the south of the Sierras. The Old Spanish Trail had long been used by Indians, traders, explorers, and mountain men as a convenient but rough route, confined to horseback and pack animals, to California. It ran north from Santa Fe to the Salt Lake area then back south along the edge of the mountains to San Diego, and had been used ever since the days of Cabeza De Vaca's journey through the country.
Leaving the Salt Lake area, they were overtaken by another party led by a guide named Captain Smith. He assured them that a more direct route across the southern deserts existed which was quite passable for wagons and showed them a copy of Stephen Fremont's map of his explorations. The map had a large portion, then known as "The Great American Desert", left blank with the word "unexplored" across it. On this Smith's friend Barney Ward had drawn in a trail which showed plenty of graze for the animals, and adequate water for all with a description of the clear cool waters of Owens river and Lake Owens. The route would take them north and west of the then unknown Death Valley. Then, over Walker's Pass into California.
The party led by William Manley, Rev. James Brier, and Asabel Bennett, all experienced outdoorsmen and farmers out of the Wisconsin farm country decided to risk it on the assurances that Smith with the map would accompany them. Hunt objected, but agreed to stay on as long as he was needed. Soon after their leaving Salt Lake, Smith's group split off as did their guide Hunt as the country got really rough for wagon passage with the main group of less adventurous emigrants and the map. Smith and Hunt both arrived with their parties in San Bernadino after tough but quick journeys around Death Valley. Manley, Brier, and Bennett led straight on into the Amargaso desert. They were followed by another small group, the Wade family party who stayed back one day. Not having to scout or break trail, the Wades had an easy journey compared to the others.
After leaving Ash Meadows, they drove over the Amargosa range down into the valley where they quickly bogged down in the valley floor. Their animals died from lack of food and they were immobilized. The Wades not so bad off, quickly turned south and drove themselves out of the valley and on to safety. The Manley, Breir, Bennett party sent Manley south out of the valley for help. The Briers made a heroic climb over the Panamints to safety, while the Bennetts waited huddled around their wagons with water but no food. Four weeks later Manley returned with help and the Bennetts walked and rode animals out of what they named, "Death Valley."
There appears to have only been one death of any of the '49'er emmigrants in the valley.
Interestingly, the granddaughter of Chief Winnamucca of the Piutes later wrote that the Indians at the time knew of both the Donner and Death Valley emmigrant parties disasters and could easily have saved them. But they considered the whites to be a cruel and a mean people.
While the main motivation of the emigrants was to join the California gold rush, the 49 rush wasn't nearly as profitable as the later silver rush of the Comstock Lode in Nevada.
Death Valley's true treasure was its borax and its natural beauty.
The first community in the Amargosa Desert was founded circa 1905 as the result of extensive borax mining in the area. In 1907, two railroads started to service the borax, gold, silver, lead and other important mineral mining and processing operations in the surrounding region. The Tonopah & Tidewater line ran between Ludlow, California and Gold Center (just south of present-day Beatty), Nevada. The competing Las Vegas & Tonopah line linked Las Vegas to Goldfield, Nevada. As mining yields and economics changed, the railroads became less viable. The Las Vegas & Tonopah line was abandoned in 1918, and the Tonopah & Tidewater was shut down on June 14, 1940. By mid-1942, all of the T&T's rails and scrap iron had been salvaged by the U.S. Department of War in support of World War II. Only sections of the graded railroad bed remain; the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) constructs and maintains hiking trails along some portions of the old railroad bed in California.
Modern development did not begin in the valley until the early 1950s. Electric power, other than that produced by private generators, was not available until 1963. Until the early 1990s growth in Amargosa Valley was minimal. More recently, intense growth in Las Vegas has led many new residents to settle in Amargosa Valley and nearby Pahrump. Amargosa Valley is served by the 775 area code, and most landline phone numbers in the area utilize the 372 exchange, following the format (775) 372-xxxx. The ZIP code is 89020.
An important factor in Amargosa Valley's future growth will likely be its close proximity to the controversial Yucca Mountain Repository, a U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) facility on federal land, designed for the storage of high-level nuclear waste. President George W. Bush signed House Joint Resolution 87 on July 23, 2002, authorizing the DOE to proceed with construction at Yucca Mountain, and the facility is not expected to accept its first shipments of radioactive materials before 2012. The facility's main entrance will be in Amargosa Valley, approximately 14 miles (23 km) south of the storage tunnels now under construction.
The principal highways serving the town are U.S. Route 95 which runs north-south connecting Las Vegas and Reno, and State Route 373, which runs east-west connecting Amargosa Valley to Death Valley Junction via California State Route 127.
Ash Meadows National Wildlife Refuge features approximately 23,000 acres (93 km²) of spring-fed wetlands and is managed by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service. The refuge provides habitat for at least 24 plants and animals found nowhere else in the world. Four fish (Devil's Hole Pupfish, Ash Meadows Amargosa Pupfish, Warm Springs Pupfish, and Ash Meadows Speckled Dace), one insect (Ash Meadows Naucorid), and one plant (Amargosa Nitewort) are currently listed as endangered species. Ash Meadows NWR can be accessed via SR 373 in Amargosa Valley, SR 160 near Crystal, Nevada or from Bell Vista Road west of Pahrump. Entrances to the refuge are marked with road signs.
Big Dune is a formation of sand dunes, cresting approximately 300 feet above surrounding terrain. The dune formation and surrounding land is administered by the BLM and is open to motorized and non-motorized recreational uses. Big Dune is accessible from Valley View Road, approximately 2.5 miles south of U.S. 95.
Cherry Patch Ranch II is one of Nevada's legal houses of prostitution (brothels). It is located near the corner of U.S. 95 and SR 373.
Longstreet Hotel and Casino is a full-service hotel and casino with restaurants and a RV park. The hotel is located on SR 373, just hundreds of feet inside the Nevada - California border. The hotel is popular with visitors to nearby Death Valley National Park.