The Truth About Shin-Au-Av, The Legendary Underground City In Death Valley

Though they may seem inhospitable, deserts have been home to humans for tens of thousands of years. Indeed, whole civilizations have sprung up in desert climates, and the people who choose to inhabit them have developed and perfected coping mechanisms that allow them to survive in the harsh environment. 

One of the most inhospitable deserts of all is California's Death Valley, where temperatures can exceed 130 degrees Fahrenheit, according to the National Park Service, and where decades can pass without a drop of rain falling. Nevertheless, Native Americans have inhabited the region around Death Valley for centuries if not millennia, and one legend holds that people once lived in an underground city beneath the desert. Further, a handful of accounts from settlers and explorers to the region appear to lend credence to this idea, although modern-day follow-up on those claims has been significantly lacking. Nevertheless, the truth is out there, as so famously postulated by "The X Files," and the day may yet come when an explorer stumbles upon evidence of the legendary underground Death Valley city of Shin-Au-Av.

Shin-Au-Av is a Paiute legend

According to History Daily, a local tribe known as the Paiute has been repeating legends of an underground city in Death Valley "for centuries." The city is called Shin-Au-Av, or something approximating "Ghost Land" in English, and supposedly it's a portal to the underworld. Further, the tribe even has an origin story for how the city was founded. 

The legend goes that the wife of a chief died and, grief-stricken, he decided to follow her to the land of the dead. Guided by spirits, to get there he had to battle his way through an underground city filled with various perils, until he reached the place where he was to wait for his wife. After several days, the chief was finally reunited with his beloved, and they were just about to cross a bridge and return to the land of the living. However, the chief looked back at the Spirit Land, and his wife disappeared, leaving him alone. He returned to his people and told them about the underground city that leads to the realm of the dead. The tribe named the legendary place Shin-Au-Av.

Explorers claim to have found evidence of underground tunnels in Death Valley

Legend is one thing, reality is another, and at various points in the 20th century, if secondhand accounts of various settlers and explorers are to be believed, more than one person found evidence of tunnels and other human activity underneath Death Valley. For example, according to History Daily, in 1931 Dr. F. Bruce Russell and his friend, Dr. Daniel S. Bovee, found underground catacombs while trying to dig a mine shaft. The men purportedly found the mummified remains of 8-foot-tall men wearing leather not from any known animal, as well as strange carvings on the rocks.

According to Ancient Pages, accounts of other men tell of similar things, like underground networks of caves or tunnels, people dressed in strange clothing, etc.

However, it seems that following up on those claims either never happened, or later explorers failed to make sense of the early adventurers' notes and thus couldn't find the entrances to the supposed lost city. Nowadays, poking about Death Valley with the goal of finding something that may or may not be there is inadvisable at best, and deadly at worst. Thus, Shin-Au-Av remains undiscovered.