During the week of May 19-21, 2008, the Inyo County Sheriff led a multiagency excavation at the Barker Ranch site, in Sourdough Canyon off Goler Wash in the Southern Panamint Mountains in Death Valley National Park. The junction of decades old myth and the newest forensic techniques and equipment led to enough evidence to bring about a dig for graves for what were alleged to be undiscovered victims of the Manson gang's killing spree, which ended with their capture at Barker Ranch on October 12, 1969.
The story, which was the darling of America's press wires for months, was originally broke in the Mammoth Times Weekly by Lara Kirkner. I had the pleasure of meeting Lara during my visit to the scene. Back in January 2008 she wrote about a Mammoth Lakes police officer and his K-9 partner that was trained in advanced, modern techniques for locating old and decayed graves rather than fresh cadavers.
For decades stories about additional Manson family victims at the Barker Ranch have circulated and been kept alive. Several visits by this specially trained dog, backed up by state-of-the-art soil tests by the nation's finest crime labs, yielded inconclusive evidence. After a couple of months of stewing over the matter, Inyo County decided to conduct an excavation of the suspected grave sites.
DeathValley.com has learned that Alan Stein replaced Richard Crowe as the Bureau of Land Management's lead on the Surprise Canyon EIS project. Stein is the Deputy District Manager for the BLM's California Desert District Office in Moreno Valley and has served in the past as Interim District Manager. As the signing officer for the 2002 Notice of Intent for the project Stein is well versed in the issues and history of the road that has been under a temporary closure since February 2001.
Crowe was replaced due to his recent retirement. Many members of the access community expressed concern over Crowe's service as the project lead once they learned that he owned property in the disputed area within Surprise Canyon.
Visitors to Death Valley are being especially rewarded during their March visit this year. Now in mid-month, the abundant fields of radiant Desert Gold flowers north of Furnace Creek have past their peak. However, the show spreading to other parts of the park ,such as along Highway 190 near the east entrance of Death Valley National Park. Higher elevations will see fine blooms into late Spring, but now is still the time to see the easiest-to-reach and best roadside shows.
Wildflower experts at Death Valley National Park caution us not to expect a spectacular recurrence of the flower seasons following the 1998 and 2005 El Niño winters. Nonetheless, we think this is the best flower season in at least the past few years, and we encourage you to get way for the weekend and come to Death Valley for a remarkable and colorful experience.
Death Valley National Park periodically updates a flower report on their web site: