Family With Long Ties to Death Valley National Park Takes over Stovepipe Wells Concessions

A family-run business with long ties to Death Valley National Park has taken over the concessions at Stovepipe Wells, where it'll run a hotel, saloon, and restaurant.

Ortega Family Enterprises, which also has operations at Muir Woods National Monument, Carlsbad Caverns National Park, White Sands National Monument, and Bandelier National Monument, will open the Stovepipe Wells operations on January 13.

According to a release from the company, "Stovepipe Wells Village was originally built by Bob Eichbaum in 1927, and decades later was purchased and operated by Amelia Earhart’s widower."

"This location means a lot to us," company executive Shane Ortega said. "It’s one we’ve always been very excited about because it’s part of our family history.”

The Ortega family has long ties to Death Valley, as the following narrative explains.

As a child in the Great Depression, the Ortega’s grandfather, Walter 'Kay' Tinnin, was caught up in the exodus to California to explore the scrubby played-out mines of California for gold, silver or whatever could be got for a few cents to help his family survive. Originally from Colorado, his miner parents dragged he and his sister, Babe, all over the Southwest on all these desperate journeys from mine to mine.

Finally, they found themselves stranded in the blistering summer heat of Death Valley. At the legendary Keane Wonder mine, Kay’s parents found work at last. They lived around Death Valley for many years, struggling to survive these very lean years. His parents would take Kay and his baby sister down the old mine exploring gold veins that they hoped might lead to riches. They often camped in the darkness with only canned sardines and day-old baked potatoes for eats. (Later these would be the staple and favorite of the grown Kay Tinnin when he was running cattle through the New Mexico and Arizona deserts or trading with Native Americans throughout the tribal reservations of the Southwest.)

Only 6 years old and grateful for an opportunity to make a shiny penny or two, and with no child labor laws to stop him, he went from tent to tent (where the miners lived) and asking for any laundry that needed to be washed, a rough and almost impossible job in the land of Borax and no water. He used the small amount of lye and tarrow soap he would “borrow” from his mother’s daily wash.

After a year, he had graduated to not only the wash but to bringing the miners provisions throughout the day while they were underground. Navigating the narrow passages of Keane’s Wonder mine, he was the gopher and trusted child page for not just his father but all the miners. He spent years running up and down the gold shafts of the mine, helping the miners with anything they needed.

“We have a genuine appreciation of the incredible beauty that is on display here in Death Valley National Park," said Tanya Ortega. "We think that Death Valley National Park is one of the great places on the planet!”