Borax (HM1J42)

Location: Furnace Creek, CA 92328 Inyo County
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Country: United States of America
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N 36° 28.789', W 116° 52.526'

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Harmony Borax Works

— Refining Borax —

These panels deal with how borax was mined and refined at the Harmony Borax Works in Death Valley.

Borates - salt minerals - were deposited in ancient lake beds that uplifted and eroded into the yellow Furnace Creek badlands. Water dissolved the borates and carried them to the Death Valley floor, where they recrystallized as borax.

Borax - blacksmiths used it, as have potters, dairy farmers, housewives, meat packers, and even morticians. For centuries humans have exploited borax for many important uses.

Harmony Borax Works

San Francisco businessman William T. Coleman built this plant to refine the "cottonball" borax found on the nearby salt flats. The high cost of transportation made it necessary to refine the borax here rather than carry both borax and waste to the railroad, 165 miles (265 km) across the desert.
Refining Borax

Workers refined borax by separating the mineral from unwanted mud and salts, a simple but time-consuming process.

The Process:
Workers heated water in the boiling tanks, using an adjacent steam boiler.
Winching ore carts up the incline, they dumped the ore into the boiling tanks.
Workers added carbonated soda. The borax dissolved, and the lime and mud settled out.
They drew off the borax liquid into the cooling vats, were it crystallized on hanging metal rods.
Borax will not crystallize at temperatures above 120 degrees, so Harmony Borax Works stopped operating during the summer. To keep the crystallizing vats cool the rest of the year, workers wrapped them with water-soaked felt padding, visible in the photograph.
Lifting the rods out, they chipped of the now refined crystallized borax. To produce "concentrated" borax, the repeated the process.
For later transport, the workers bagged and stored the refined or concentrated borax in a barn that stood behind you.
Living at Harmony

Crude shelters and tents once dotted the flat below you. Chinese workers slept and ate there; other employees lived at what is now Furnace Creek Ranch. This 1892 photo - taken after the works closed - shows the borax works in the center of the view and the company village on the flat to the left.
HM NumberHM1J42
Placed ByNational Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior
Marker ConditionNo reports yet
Date Added Tuesday, February 10th, 2015 at 9:03pm PST -08:00
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Locationbig map
UTM (WGS84 Datum)11S E 511158 N 4037176
Decimal Degrees36.47981667, -116.87543333
Degrees and Decimal MinutesN 36° 28.789', W 116° 52.526'
Degrees, Minutes and Seconds36° 28' 47.34" N, 116° 52' 31.56" W
Driving DirectionsGoogle Maps
Area Code(s)760
Which side of the road?Marker is on the right when traveling East
Closest Postal AddressAt or near Mustard Canyon Dr, Furnace Creek CA 92328, US
Alternative Maps Google Maps, MapQuest, Bing Maps, Yahoo Maps, MSR Maps, OpenCycleMap, MyTopo Maps, OpenStreetMap

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