Marble Bath – Inyo County, California - Atlas Obscura

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Marble Bath

This desert oddity hides in plain sight thanks to a cartographic error and a desert explorer with a punny sense of humor. 


A quirky sliver of bath time luxury hides within plain sight off a stretch of desert road. Thanks to a cartographic mixup and one desert explorer’s cheeky sense of humor, this cast iron bathtub remains buried in a wash and filled with blue marbles.

The story behind this tub goes something like this: There’s a location shown on various topographical maps called Marble Bath. The actual location marks a set of shallow decompressions in the bedrock near the Last Chance Mountains. The dips fill with rainwater and become a rare, precious source of water within an otherwise arid stretch of desert.

But on some older maps, Marble Bath isn’t quite where the cartographers say it is. This false location is shown closer to Steel Pass Road and has fooled many a hiker on a quest to locate the ephemeral pools of water.

Before the area became part of Death Valley National Park, to validate the erroneous maps in a good-natured way, a desert explorer, research chemist, inventor, mountaineer, and an all-around good guy named Wendel Moyer decided to prank the unknowing. Moyer recruited a few friends and rounded up an old bathtub and many, many boxes of blue marbles.

They installed the tub in the bogus location that was misidentified as Marble Bath on the erroneous maps. Moyer’s Marble Bath remains where he installed it the early 1990s. Hikers continue to keep it stocked with a sea of blue marbles, and sometimes even throw in a rubber duck or two for good measure.

Moyer sadly died just after climbing Chile’s 22,000-foot-tall Ojas del Salado in 1995, though were he still alive, he’d no doubt be pleased at the whimsical joy his prank has brought so many travelers.

Know Before You Go

This is a very remote area of Death Valley and you are on your own with no services for close to 100 miles. You must plan ahead with a high ground clearance 4x4 vehicle, plently of water, fuel, food, and proper clothes. Also check with the park service for road conditions, weather, and backcountry maps of the area. Don't attempt this road in hot weather or on your own. It is best traveled with other vehicles. The bathtub full of blue marbles is hidden in plain sight to those on Steele Pass going southbound, as they're looking right at it if they know where to look. It's about 100+ yards off the road in the canyon wash. You can look right down on it from the closed road that branches off at the summit, the one that climbs into the Last Chance Range. Please leave these wonders of the desert for others explorers to discover. And hey, why not plan ahead and bring your blue marbles to add to the tub. When you have lost all your marbles then you are a true desert rat.

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April 23, 2018

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