Death Valley Ghost Towns & Mining Camps in California

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Clair Camp – A short drive up Pleasant Canyon from Ballarat, Clair Camp was near the site of Henry Ratcliff’s Never Give Up Mine and the Montgomery brothers’ World Beater Mine, both of which began in 1896. The South Park Mining District was formed the same year. The two mines set up a camp at Post Office Springs about a quarter of a mile south of where Ballarat would soon be established. The camp soon became a town, complete with a Blacksmith, assay office, and other businesses. Before long, the two mines employed about 200 men and the small camp could no longer accommodate so many people. It was then that Ballarat was established. However, by 1905 the Ratcliff Mine suspended operations and the Montgomery brothers moved on to other mining successes at Skidoo. In 1930, a man named W.D. Clair bought the Ratcliff Mine and began to work the tailings, successfully bringing out another 60,000 in gold ore. At that time, the site took the name of Clair Camp.

Clair Camp is located on the Pleasant Canyon Loop Trail about six miles east of Ballarat. Here, are the mill site and living quarters for the Radcliffe Mine. The mine itself is located on top of the hill to the southeast. The tram towers and cables leading to the mine are still visible. When the camp continued to have a caretaker, it was very well kept. However, since then the area has been damaged by vandals.

Coso Junction –  Also called Coso and Oasis, this place got its start in March 1860 when Dr. Darwin French and companions began to explore the area of Coso Springs. Though were trying to find the Lost Gunsight Mine, one member of the party, a prospector named M.H. Farley found rich silver and gold ore instead, which assayed over $1,000 per ton in silver and $20 per ton in gold. Soon Farley and others established the Coso Gold and Silver Mining Company. A second group of prospectors, led by Dr. Samuel Gregg George. W. I. Henderson, discovered and named Telescope Peak, and was among the first white men to view the hot mud springs at Coso By June, some 500 men had stormed the area and a number of claims were staked with some mines assaying ore at $2,000 or more of silver per ton. The Coso Mining District was born and before long, a number of companies were promoting stock to raise capital. However, the district was plagued from the start by unfriendly Indians who had long visited the hot springs. After several battles with the Indians, the white miners eventually abandoned Coso. The districts were reorganized by Mexicans in March 1868 and sporadic production would continue through the 1890s. In the 1930s another flurry of activity took place when mercury ore was minded for about a decade taking out about $17,000 in ore. Today, there is nothing left of the settlement and the Coso Hot Springs lies a boundary fence of the United States Naval Weapons Center at China Lake.

Cottonwood Charcoal Kilns

Cottonwood Charcoal Kilns – The incredibly rich silver and lead deposits at Cerro Gordo not only created the need for the kilns near Olancha, California, but also created many of the historic towns around Owens Lake, including Swansea, Keeler, and Cartago. In June, 1873 Colonel Sherman Stevens built a sawmill and flume on Cottonwood Creek high in the Sierras above Owens lake. The flume connected with the Los Angeles Bullion Road and the lumber from the flume was used for building the mines and buildings in the area. More wood was turned into charcoal in these kilns, before being hauled to Steven’s Wharf on Owens Lake. There, it was put on the steamers the Bessie Brady or the Mollies Stevens and hauled across the lake before being loaded into wagons. Hauled up the Yellow Grade Road to the Cerro Gordo Mine high in the Inyo Mountains above Keeler, the charcoal was then used in M. W. Belshaw’s furnaces for production. The wagons then took the bullion out by the reverse of this route on Remi Nadeau’s Road headed to Los Angeles. Located near the west shore of Owens Lake, two kilns continue to stand after all these years. They are fenced off to keep the vandals away. They are located 14.4 miles south of Lone Pine on US Highway 395.

Darwin, California – Sitting on the western outskirts of Death Valley in Inyo County, California, tiny Darwin, a semi-ghost town today, was once the largest city in the county. The settlement got its start in early 1860 when a prospecting expedition led by Dr. E. Darwin French set out from Visalia, California in search of the Lost Gunsight Mine and a place that had long been referred to as “Silver Mountain.” .

Death Valley Junction, 1935

Death Valley Junction, 1935

Death Valley Junction, California – First called Amargosa, meaning “bitter water” in the Paiute language, this tiny town situated in the Mojave Desert, is today home to less than a half dozen people. Getting its start as a borax mining community, several historic buildings continue to stand today including the Amargosa Hotel and Opera House, which still caters to visitors today.

Dolomite, California – Located at the southern tip of the Inyo Mountain range, a high-quality deposit of dolomitic limestone was first discovered in 1862, but its remote location delayed development until 1883 when the Carson & Colorado Railroad was constructed. Two years later, Drew Haven Dunn filed a mining claim and the Inyo Marble Company opened a quarry. Soon a settlement grew up around the mine, named for minerals that were mined in the area. The marble continued to be mined and in 1959, was purchased by Premiere Marble Products. It sold again in 1992 to F.W. Aggregates, which continues operations to this day. Surveys reveal that the dolomite deposit is approximately seven miles long and 1,400 feet deep, giving it a virtually unlimited supply for many years to come. It is the largest dolomite marble mine in the United States. Producing marble in several colors, its final product is used in terrazzo flooring, roofing, landscaping, and chemicals. The mine is located on private property off of California State Route 136 between Lone Pine and Keller, California at the north end of Owens Lake. A few buildings from the old townsite still remain, but the property is posted “no trespassing.”

Dublin Gulch, California – Located in Shoshone, California are old carved residents and cave-dwelling in the clay cliffs, which have been used throughout the mining days of Death Valley. In the early 1900s, building materials and money were in short supply, so a number of carved dugouts on both sides of Dublin Gulch. Warm in the winter and cool in the summer, some of these dugouts have chimneys, doors, split levels, and one even has a garage. The gulch is thought to have been named by a former resident for an area near Butte, Montana where he once lived. Many famous people in Death Valley history were said to have used these cave dwellings including Shorty Harris and the Ashford brothers. A graveyard can also be found here. It is located just off Highway 127 and Highway 178 toward Pahrump.

Dunmovin, California – Located south of Olancha, just three miles north of Coso Junction along California’s Scenic Highway 395, Dunmovin was first called Cowan’s Station in the early 1900’s after homesteader, James Cowan. It first served as a freight station for silver ingots being transported from the Cerro Gordo Mines to Los Angeles. In the early 1900s, the Los Angeles Department of Water & Power piped in water from springs located in Talus Canyon, which sit on the property. However, the department was also in the process of constructing an aqueduct, which was completed in 1913. When the pipeline was abandoned by the water department, Cowan’s partner, Charles King filed on it. Later, Charles and Hilda King bought out Cowan in 1936 and changed the name of the town to  Dunmovin’. Soon, there were enough settlers in the area to justify a post office, which opened in 1938. However, it lasted just three short years and closed in 1941. However, the town sported a roadside service station, store, tourist cabins, and a cafe, situated in an old cookhouse. The property was sold in 1961 and the new owners continued to operate the cafe and store for many years. Situated along what was then the main route between Los Angeles and Reno, the site, no doubt, served travelers along the highway well. Today; however, all of the businesses are closed and the site is abandoned.