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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.
One ghost town I have always wanted to visit is Panamint City. Has anyone been out there lately? Anything left of the old ghost town?