Death Valley Ghost Towns in California

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20-mule team Death Valley, 1890

20-mule team Death Valley, 1890

Amargosa Borax Works – Located on the west side of Death Valley, Amargosa Borax Works was a smaller version of the Harmony Borax Works, which kept the borax production going year-round. The summer months were just too hot to process the borax at the Harmony Borax Works so the operations and workforce were moved to this site for several months a year. During its four years of operation, 20-mule teams were used to transport borax to the railroad. It closed in 1888 and all that’s left today are two tiny adobe walls, pieces of the mill foundation, and a sign.  It is located about five miles south of Shoshone on State Road 127. The highway runs right through what was once the mill complex and remnants are on both sides of the road.

Arrastre Spring – Situated within the Gold Hill Mining District, this site is better known today for its historic petroglyphs than for its mining activity. Located on the Eastern slope of the Panamint Mountains overlooking the inhospitable salt flats of Death Valley, Native Americans obviously spent some time here in this high elevation years before mining was ever considered.

In the 1890’s, Arrastre Spring was the scene of some activity, for Indians working in the mines at Gold Hill were reportedly carrying the ore by burros the  2 ½-3 miles to the arrastra at the spring for reduction. When Louise Grantham and associates took over ownership of the Taylor, Treasure, and Gold Hill mining claims on Gold Hill, it included the patented Taylor Mill site at Arrastre Spring.

Exactly how long a period of activity might have been involved here is unknown, although newspaper reports indicate that by the early 1900s enough mining was being pursued in the area that one arrastra would not suffice to process all the ore being found. On the other hand, no other mill or reduction plant is mentioned in the area until Mrs. Grantham built the ore-processing plant at Warm Spring around 1937 to treat ore from her Gold Hill Mine.

At an elevation of 6,000 feet, the spring is reached via a steep, rough road branching to the northwest about ¼ mile north of the junction of the Gold Hill and Butte Valley Roads. This road ends on a slope below the spring, requiring a walk of about one-half mile to reach the willow grove in which the spring is located. Somewhere in the general vicinity of the spring was the Taylor Mill site, but its exact location is unknown.

A trek to the spring will provide glimpses hundreds of prehistoric petroglyphs on boulders around the spring, extended about 1/8th of a mile above and below the spring. Most of the petroglyphs are simple, including lines, circles and zigzag lines, but others represent stick figures and animals.

Ashford Mill Ruins, Death Valley, California

Ashford Mill Ruins, Death Valley, California

Ashford Mine and Mill – Also called the Golden Treasure Mine, this gold mining operation was founded in 1907. Never a big producer, it is located in southern Death Valley and requires 1.25 mile difficult hike up and 1,100 feet canyon to reach the mine itself. However, for the hiking enthusiast there are several standing buildings, an ore chute and other mining remains, as well as a spectacular view of Death Valley. The ruins of the Ashford Mill are 3,500 feet below on the floor of Death Valley. See full article HERE.

Ballarat – A virtual ghost town today, Ballarat was founded in 1896 as a supply point for the mines of the Panamint Range. The main mine supporting the town was the Radcliffe in Pleasant Canyon just east of town. Between the years of 1898 and 1903, the Radcliff produced 15,000 tons of gold ore. Today, this lonely ghost town still sports a couple of full-time residents. Some crumbling walls and several foundations can still be seen, as well as a number of old miners’ cabins and other tumbling shacks. See full article HERE.

Barker Ranch before the fire in May, 2009.

Barker Ranch – Famous for being the hideout of the Charles Manson and his followers, it is located in a rock and boulder filled valley in the Panamint Range. In October, 1969, the Inyo County Sheriff’s Department, California Highway Patrol, and National Park Service law enforcement were searching for persons responsible for vandalism within Death Valley National Park, when they stumbled upon the group hiding out at the cabin. Manson was caught hiding under the bathroom vanity. Arresting them, they were not immediately aware of who they had captured. A fire destroyed most of the main structure in May, 2009, leaving only the cement and rock portions of the cabin still standing. There is a small one room guest house located to the side of the main house. Twenty miles from the nearest paved road, a four-wheel drive is recommended to access the sandy, rugged roads.

Bend City – One of the first townsites on the east side of the Sierra Nevada range, the area was first settled by a few families taking advantage of the fertile Owens Valley. Before long, prospectors were also climbing the hills and in April, 1860 the Russ Mining District was formed. Bend City was established on a large bend in the Owens River. It was the site of the first bridge spanning the Owens River. Never having a very large population, the settlement was destroyed by the 1872 Lone Pine earthquake, which also changed the course of the river away from the townsite. Today there are no remains of the town which was located near present-day Kearsarge.

Beveridge – A small mining camp on the east side of the Inyo Mountain Range, mining occurred in the isolated Beveridge Canyon from the 1860’s through the 1930’s. Amazingly, the extremely remote site had a post office from 1881 to 1882. At an elevation of more than 5,500 feet, the camp was very remote and requires a back-pack trip to access it. Today, there are the remains of various small pieces of mining equipment, several small mining operations, and the partial remains of several rock structures. Access to the site is on the Beverage Canyon Trail, and it is recommended only for very experienced hikers.

Cartago – Not a complete ghost town, Cartago, located on the west side of Owens Lake about three miles northwest of Olancha, still supports about 100 people. Formerly called Carthage, Daniersburg, and Lakeville, the first post office opened in 1918. During the mining days of the 1870’s, Cartago was a steamboat port for the shipment of wood and ore. After bullion bars from Cerro Gordo were hauled across Owens Lake on the steamerBessie Brado, to the Cartago boat landing, Remi Nadeau’s 14-mule teams then hauled the gold to Los Angeles, before returning with freight.

Cerro Gordo CA

Cerro Gordo in its heydays.

Cerro Gordo, California – Located in the Inyo Mountains of California, the Cerro Gordo Mines produced high grade silver, lead and zinc from 1866 until 1957. The production on the mountain led to the creation of the towns of Swansea and Keeler and transportation hubs below. See full article HERE.

Chrysopolis – Located on the east bank of the Owens River south of Aberdeen, the settlement was founded in 1863. Along with Black Rock, San Carlos, and Bend City, it was one of the earliest towns in the area. The name is Greek for “City of Gold.” Situated on the arid side of Owens Valley the town flourished briefly and a post office operated from 1866-67. Nestled among the footwall of the imposing Inyo Range, it soon was abandoned due to isolation and constant Indian troubles which continued until Fort Independence was established. However, by that time, a number of settlements had sprung up on the more fertile and pleasant western side of the Owens Valley. Mining continued in the area, but the town of Chrysopolis was dead.

However, at the turn of the century, a prospecting and mining craze swept the entire region and interest revived in the  old Chrysopolis mining district.

By 1910; however, the district was mostly quiet again, though miners have continued to work the area on a small basis for years. Today, the remains include mostly loose stone walls and mine tunnels. A mill site can be found on the west side of the Owens River, but is inaccessible by road. The old townsite is located about 18 miles north of Independence, California. Take US-395 north for 14.2 miles, then right at Aberdeen Station Road for four miles.

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