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  1. Swansea Grade 4x4 Trail, Inyo Range, Inyo County, California October 8-9, 2003 INTRODUCTION The so-called Swansea Grade 4x4 Trail [also often referred to as the Swansea to Cerro Gordo 4x4 Trail] is an off road trail on public lands that allows the explorer to examine closely the rugged and historic southern Inyo Range, in eastern California. The route, which is an approved BLM 4x4 trail, is steeped in beauty and history all throughout its path. The route starts at Swansea, a California historical landmark site, and ends at Cerro Gordo, a semi-ghost town with a long and often wild history. Midway along the route, the summit station of the historic Saline Valley salt tramway, running between Saline Valley and Owens Valley, makes a great place to rest and enjoy lunch. The route generally poses no problems for experienced off roaders with trail ready 4x4s. However, due to elevations up to 9,200 feet, snow is a factor during late autumn through mid-spring. Summertime flashfloods often take a toll on the lowest portion of the route and the alluvium fan that runs down to the state highway. The route has its origin in the construction of the Saline Valley salt works tramway. Mules hauled supplies, machinery and building materials to tower sites utilizing this road on the western slopes of the Inyo Range and to reach the summit station. I’ve taken this trail many times over the years. Generally, I could make the trip easily in one day. However, on October 8th and 9th, 2003, railroad historian John McCulloch ( http://www.ttrr.org/ ), and Graham C. and I took two days to complete this trip, camping at the historic salt tramway summit station. John also brought along his standard poodle, named Shadow. At the time, I lived in Big Pine, California, in the northern Owens Valley near Bishop. The entire trip we took totaled only 185 miles round trip from my home and return. Graham lived in the San Francisco Bay Area, John was from Las Vegas. It was the first time that either had been over the trail. My truck was a 2002 Toyota Tacoma extended cab TRD 4x4 pickup, which I had bought new in June, 2002 (I still own and drive daily this truck). The truck is well equipped, has a V6 engine and 5-speed manual transmission. It was equipped with the TRD OFF ROAD package, which added more suspension travel, larger wheels and tires, extensive skid plate coverage and included a switchable locker on the rear differential. At the time, the truck was still shod with its OEM B.F. Rugged Trail T/A tires, which are passenger car rated with single ply sidewalls. The tires suffered some stone sidewall damage on this trip, but never lost air. Shortly after this trip, I spooned on a set of B.F. Goodrich All Terrain T/A tires with light truck rating, 10-ply sidewalls and 3-ply sidewalls. John McCulloch also owned a 2002 Toyota Tacoma TRD OFF ROAD 4x4, his being a double cab model, equipped with an automatic transmission. Graham at the time owned a 1990 Chevrolet ¾ ton pickup with a low profile, collapsible camper. It being a large truck, he elected to leave his truck behind at my home and rode with me on the trip. This video will be in two parts, one part for each day of the trip. A photo slide show will be included at the end of each video.
  2. Recently, I’ve been going through my old VHS video tapes and digitizing them to DVDs. These tapes contain my travels and explorations between 1995 and 2009. I thought I’d start releasing some video shorts of my early travels on this forum. The back story for this particular video is as follows. On March 30, 1996, I made a short hike of about a mile and a third up the lower third of Surprise Canyon, on the western slopes of the Panamint Range, Inyo County, California. This canyon is just outside of Death Valley National Park. This canyon has running water running year round through the stretch shown, fed by substantial Limekiln Springs, and the canyon is a water wonderland. For those not familiar with the area, refer to the two maps. The first one shows the canyon in relation to the region, the other a close up of the canyon and the ghost town of Panamint City. The blue line in the close up image shows the route that was taken. I made the trip with author/publisher Alan Patera, of Oregon. I had been this way several times previous, but this was Alan’s first time. Alan publishes the WESTERN PLACES series of monograph publications, centering on the history of locations now ghost towns. He and I have collaborated on several published historical writings over the years, and have traveled to and have camped in many historical locations. On this hike, we drove up and parked at what is shown on the topo maps as Chris Wicht Camp. Chris Wicht was a colorful character, businessman and prospector who lived in the region in the late 19th century and early 20th century; who was a barkeep at Ballarat, now a ghost town a few miles away on the Panamint Valley floor. He is buried in the nearby community of Trona. At the time of the hike, Chris Wicht Camp was inhabited by father and son George and Rocky N.; George has since died and Rocky has since been operating the seasonal general store down at Ballarat. Alan and I then hiked upstream, through an increasing flow of water, topping out at the top of what is locally known as the falls, about a third of a mile below Limekiln Spring. At that point, there are found in the copious overgrowth of willows mining equipment and a vehicle or two. Above this point, the road the remaining way to Panamint City has been left alone by the elements and is still in drivable shape but now out of bounds. Since Alan and I weren’t prepared and it was too late in the day to continue up to Panamint City, we returned back to my vehicle. Believe it or not, this byway used to be a maintained road, accessing historic Panamint City, one of the region’s early mining booms, founded in 1873. The remains of Panamint City are high up the canyon, at an elevation of about 6,350 feet. Though Panamint as a town was a ghost town by the 20th century, a few hardy souls have often lived in one or other of the structures that stood up there thereafter. There was always some mining activity going on up there, thus Inyo County kept the road maintained. Severe flashfloods of 1984 totally destroyed the road in the lower canyon. Inyo County didn’t have the funds, nor did the few who worked their prospects and mines and who lived in one of the few shacks provide the tax base to undertake such a major rebuild. The route above the high point that Alan and I reached is still in very good shape and could be taken by most vehicles. The route that we walked was the goal for hard core off road enthusiasts with extremely modified rigs and big winches to about the year 2000, when a large environmentalist group sued the U.S. government and the road has been closed to vehicles since. Protests and lawsuits were made by land owners and those who had patented claims at Panamint City, without success. At the time Alan and I walked the road, there were still occasional groups who made it up this canyon with their vehicles, as the closure was still about four years in the future. There were owners of patented mining claims who drove as far as they could then hiked in to do their annual assessment work. Death Valley had changed from National Monument to National Park status the year previous. Alan and I didn’t make it to Panamint City that day, which is several miles further on up the canyon. But we did make a hike up there the following year and camped overnight, along with two other people, which is another video I’ll add in time. In the days I took this video, I was using a Sony Hi-8 video camera. In those days, most of my video editing was simply dubbing video off the camera and onto the VHS tape in the VCR, using the pause button on the VCR to edit out unwanted video. This particular tape was edited using a complex, cumbersome, old style video editing system, which utilized the camera, a monitor, a VCR and a box that contained an archaic computer. All editing took place by archaic and hard to use on screen menus. That is why the video begins with some graphics and text indicating some of the details of the trip. This video segment is just over 10:38 long. Put on your waders and enjoy! NOTE: There is a blank section midway that is about five seconds long and doesn’t show anything. Don’t worry, the video will come back and continue. Surprise_1996.mpg Surprise_1996.xmp [Note: This file is a corresponding file to the video file above and will not do anything of its own if clicked.] Surprise_1996.wmv UPDATE: A retry of the original video, plus the same video in two other formats attempted to see if I can get any to work. This will also help me to determine what video file format works best on this board.
  3. Exploration Field Trips: May 1-3, 2000 Trip with Alan Patera and Alan Hensher into Death Valley What do you do with three authors, two 4x4’s, two two-way radios, three cameras, and camping supplies? Send them to Death Valley, of course. For three days in the first week of May, 2000, fellow authors and historical researchers Alan Patera, Alan Hensher and myself explored Death Valley north and south. Alan Patera writes and publishes the WESTERN PLACES series of monograph books. Alan Hensher has been published in several periodicals as well as authoring several books, centering primarily on the history of Mojave Desert sites. Alan Patera, who hails from Oregon, came south to California and picked up Alan Hensher; then the two came my way. At the time I was living in Ridgecrest, California. After overnighting with my wife and I, the three of us took off for Death Valley. Alan was busy researching and photographing for a future edition of WESTERN PLACES, this time centering on the camps of the Funeral Range, which forms the eastern border of east central Death Valley. Circumstances and changes of our journey lead Alan to plant the seeds of two more future books, this time centering just outside the northernmost section of Death Valley. Below is a thumbnail sketch of the trip, based upon transcripts of my verbal notes on microcassette and photos. There will be a video and narrative for each day of the trip in this thread. -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Day 1 - May 1, 2000 The first video in the series covers our travels on May 1, 2000. The video is 37:19 long. The video link to Part I is at: trip-2000_pt-1.wmv This time around, at the end of the video I added a photo slide show of my favorite images taken during the day, along with a little mood music. To maintain context in the video and give details not seen in it, a narrative is given below. I rose early Monday morning, May 1st, the two Alan’s did not. The three of us had stayed up until well past midnight talking history, swapping files, photos and notes. I made last minute checks and additions to my gear and food while they slept in. An hour after we had planned to leave, we still had not yet done so. Our trip started at Denny’s in Ridgecrest, California, six blocks from my home. I had purchased an additional FRS radio for Alan Patera to use to keep us linked while traveling. However, it turned out that Alan Hensher often sat on it much of the first part of the first day; prompting me to jokingly request he not do so because I was tired of anal transmissions from him. A bit after 9:00 AM, we left Denny’s and pointed our grills toward Reilly ghost town site, located at the foot of the Argus Range in west-central Panamint Valley. The weather was clear with thin high clouds, a good day to go exploring. Entering Trona, we passed a number of bicyclists, loaded with camping gear, obviously going to Death Valley. Passing out of Searles Valley and into Panamint, our first stop was to be Reilly. Not knowing where Reilly was but having some idea of where to look and a pair of binoculars, we made a few false starts up some desert roads before finally finding the right one. The two Alan’s and I were impressed with our tour of Reilly. Stone ruins, tin cans, water pipe and other detritus lay everywhere the eye could see. Reilly was a minor mill camp, an outgrowth of the mining activity that centered on several Panamint Range canyons to the northeast, as well as the Darwin boom to the northwest in the 1890s. Mineral was found in 1875, but languished due to its location for another seven years until Charles Anthony interested a New York capitalist by the name of Edward Reilly in buying claims. Reilly formed the Argus Range Silver Mining Company and sold stock. Charles Anthony took care of daily operations at the growing camp. Soon a 10-stamp mill was built as well as a camp to house employees. A post office was opened in January, 1883. The camp had no water of its own, so the company built a pipeline southward and then westward up a nearby canyon. Other hurdles soon created dull times in camp and the post office closed even before the mill began operations. However, late in 1883 and early in 1884, the mill – which took up the name of the Anthony Mill – began crushing ore. Mines on nearby hillsides eventually petered out, but the Anthony Mill was kept running by doing custom work for nearby mines. The three of us enjoyed touring the fairly extensive ruins of Reilly and the Anthony Mill. At the time of our trip, my plans for later in the month was to be part of an archeological dig at the site conducted by the BLM. We left Reilly as it was beginning to warm up, being close to 90º, yet snow still lay on the shady slopes of the Panamint Range. Running up Wildrose Canyon, I noticed that a patch of Panamint daisies were still in bloom. Panamint daisies grow only in this and a couple nearby canyons. Unlike its far more common cousin, the Mojave daisy, the Panamint variety has a far larger flower and blooms very infrequently. On this trip, we would find cactus and wildflowers blooming above about 3,000 feet. Our two vehicle caravan continued to climb Wildrose Canyon, then crossed over the Emigrant Pass and Harrisburg Flat country and then dropped into the head of Emigrant Canyon. There stopped at an unmarked spot to view a set of petroglyphs that are invisible in plain sight, if you know where to look. On a nearby rock face is a faint, chisled inscription of a name and a date that appears to be made by somebody named Haworth or Hayworth in 1855. Weathered and difficult to read, the three of us studied and debated. I had pondered it several times in previous years, this was the first time for both Alan’s. Reaching Death Valley, we stopped at Furnace Creek. There, the official thermometer at the visitor center read an even 100°. Alan Patera had an order of WESTERN PLACES books to drop off. I also wanted to meet with Death Valley National Park ranger, Dave Brenner, an acquaintance of mine; with whom in the past I’ve had the enjoyable experience of riding along with him on his patrol rounds. The Park Service was having service awards and knew he’d be around somewhere. I also wanted to meet Mark H., who was an employee of the park also; Mark being quite prolific on the Internet Death Valley bulletin boards under the handle "Tumbleweed." I found both at the same time and we stood outside the visitor center in the warm afternoon. I spent over a half hour talking with Dave about the recent controversy over the "Death Valley Bunk Trunk," in which an individual claimed to have found a trunk left behind by the Jayhawker part on their ill fated trek of 1849. That made nationwide attention and was ultimately proven to be a hoax. While we were talking, Alan Hensher came out of the visitor center with a bag full of books, among them PROCEEDINGS FOURTH DEATH VALLEY CONFERENCE ON HISTORY AND PREHISTORY - FEBRUARY 2-5, 1995; PROCEEDINGS FIFTH DEATH VALLEY CONFERENCE ON HISTORY AND PREHISTORY - MARCH 4-7, 1999. He made a gift of copies for me and Alan Patera. While at Furnace Creek, we took the opportunity to top off our gas tanks at the Chevron station. We paid a high price of $1.91 per gallon. After visiting with Dave and Mark, the two Alan’s and I found a shady spot on the side of the road near the Furnace Creek Ranch and fixed ourselves a late lunch. Then it was off to our first ghost town to prowl, the Inyo Mine, located in Echo Canyon in the southern Funeral Range. Also part of the Funeral Range mining boom in the early years of the 20th century was the ghost of Schwab, not far from the Inyo Mine. Alan Patera and I had a year previous visited the camps on the eastern side of the range, which is chronicled on this website in my series of videos dealing with Keane Spring, Chloride City, the Capricorn Mine and the townsites of Lee, California and Lee, Nevada; with Lee Annex in between. Echo Canyon winds its way easily up into the Funeral Range. It’s easily passable by any truck based 4x4. On our trip, a two-wheel-drive vehicle could have made it, except for one spot at the mouth of the canyon where the road dropped into a hole with a couple of bedrock boulders in it. Just enough to cause the chassis to flex, lifting up each tire off the ground as our vehicles passed by it. Along the way is the Eye of the Needle, a triangular hole in a large thumb of rock projecting up from the canyon floor. Continuing up the canyon we started driving through swarms of wasps or hornets that flew with their abdomens downward as if they were flying straight up. They came in through my open windows, making driving and swatting at the wasps an interesting exercise in dexterity. Just below the Inyo Mine complex the canyon splits into two forks. Our road took us up to the Inyo Mine, where there is a substantial group of photogenic ruins. The Inyo Mine, as well as most mining activity in this section of Death Valley, was an outgrowth of the fabulous southern Nevada mining phenomena initiated by Tonopah in 1900, Goldfield in 1902 and Rhyolite in 1904. With activity further north at Keane Wonder, prospectors eventually made their way into Echo Canyon by early 1905. In early March, two prolific prospecting partners, Chet Leavitt and Moroni Hicks, staked off 20 claims that became the Inyo Gold Mine. By October, the Echo Mining District was formed, which later merged with the Lee district to the northeast (see also my video taken at Lee elsewhere on this site). By December, the Inyo Gold Mining Company was formed. In 1906, the towns associated with Lee on the other side of the range created so much energy that Echo Canyon also flourished, including the Inyo Mine. A substantial camp formed below the mine, which included a boarding house, store, and other accommodations for its employees. The financial panic of 1907 put a damper on the mining boom. The Inyo sputtered off and on with development and production, but that was far better than other nearby towns and mines. Though quiet and idle during much of the 1910s and first half of the 1920s, by the Depression years work began again with enough vigor to keep a small population at the camp until it was shut down for good in 1941. The two Alan’s and I explored and photographed the Inyo Mine complex. Then we set up our camps. Note, currently, camping is prohibited at the Inyo Mine. At the time of our visit, we were ignorant of any regulations of camping at the site, if indeed there was any prohibition, and our written literature stated that camping was prohibited only along the first four miles of the road. Since we made the Inyo Mine at a relatively early hour with plenty of sunlight left in the afternoon, we explored the site. The temperature was far more moderate than down in the valley floor, my thermometer reading only 82° and a pleasant breeze coming up the canyon. Alan Patera hiked up to the top of the canyon above the mine camp to investigate the main mine complex and structures up there. Alan Hensher, dressed only in shorts, T-shirt and sandals, stayed with me down at the mining camp. We found numerous buildings in various stages of decay and collapse, plus machinery. It was our understanding that one of the larger structures still standing at the mine, one with a cupola on it, had just collapsed in the months previous to our visit. Alan and Alan teamed up to set up Alan’s tent (Alan Hensher’s), I set about setting up my camp in the back of my truck. Our camp was along the road at the edge of the Inyo Mine camp. Alan Patera set up his camp in his Explorer, parked a few dozen yards further up the road. I prepared my meal on the tailgate while the two Alan’s talked history. While doing so, I enjoyed a couple of cold cans of beer. Clouds built up in the west as the sun was setting, but then suddenly parted and the most wonderful glow of the last rays of sunlight created some of the most exciting coloring I’ve laid my eyes on. I was in the middle of eating my dinner when this light show suddenly descended upon us, I was compelled to grab my video and digital cameras to record it. As darkness descended upon our camp, a horrible swarm of gnats then later moths descended with the night. Liberal amounts of Cutters repellent helped, but the gnats were still irritating. We found that lighting my Coleman lantern and Alan Hensher’s florescent lantern and placing it away from us attracted the gnats to it and they left us alone to enjoy conversation about everything from our location to the history of lynching in California. At 9:30 PM, I took a sponge bath and crawled into the back of my truck to read before turning out the light at 10:45 PM and going to sleep at the Inyo Mine Camp, Echo Canyon, Funeral Range, Death Valley National Park.
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