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Hwy 49 - The Mother Lode Highway in California - Road Trip Vlog 25

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    • By LexandNeek
      Driving along Highway 49 was definitely one of the highlights of our road trip.  I loved riding with the window down to breathe the fresh mountain air and listen to the Yuba River crashing by!  One destination that Neek, Sar and I really wanted to check out along this stretch of road was Downieville, which has a very interesting history.
    • By David A. Wright
      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:
      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.

    • By David A. Wright
      Swansea Grade 4x4 Trail, Inyo Range, Inyo County, California
      October 8-9, 2003

      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.
    • By David A. Wright
      Reconnoitering Trips
      Northern Nevada, Southwestern Idaho
      (and a Blip of Southeastern Oregon Thrown in for Good Measure)
      June 19 - 28, 2001

      This is the trip that I consider to be my favorite trip I have ever undertaken.  It had been in the planning stages since the previous December.  Originally, quite a number of people were invited and had semi-committed themselves to come along.  Over time, however, eventually the number of people whose semi-commitments became firm commitments to this trip narrowed to four.  And I was one of them.
      Between June 19 and 27, 2001, I undertook a trip throughout northern Nevada, southeastern Oregon and southwestern Idaho in search of ghost towns, adventure and to enjoy the wide open spaces that the Great Basin is known for. Beside myself, there was Alan Patera, of Oregon; Graham, of the California Bay Area; and Gil, of southern California. Since we were coming from different points on the map, we elected Midas, Nevada - located in the far western side of Elko County northeast of Winnemucca, as a meeting point. Gil was originally going to drive to my primary home, then at Ridgecrest, California, and ride with me.  However, at the last minute, he changed his mind and drove his car the entire trip.  Graham and I chose to meet at Hawthorne, Nevada or at Mono Lake, depending on the circumstances of our first morning travels.  Alan was to meet Graham and I in the evening at Midas on our first day out.  Gil planned to meet us at noon the following day at Midas.
      My 4x4 rig at the time was my 1996 Chevrolet S-10. It was bone stock, with standard suspension. It was powered by the 4.3 liter V6 with the higher power option; a 5-speed manual transmission; standard, lever activated 4x4 transfer case. The interior sported the LS option package, which included upgraded interior materials; but the truck still had manual crank windows, no tilt steering wheel; and had an aftermarket cruise control installed. Other options were bucket seats and console. The truck had nearly 100,000 miles on it when we started. It turned over the century mark during this trip, on a dirt road in the wide open spaces of north-central Elko County.
      Graham drove a 1990 Chevrolet ¾-ton 4x4 pickup with a low profile, pop-up camper. The truck is scarcely optioned, running a 350 cubic inch V8 and a 5-speed manual transmission. Graham has equipped the truck over the years for expedition and is well equipped to tackle everything.  However, his truck became problematic over the course of the trip.
      Alan Patera drove his bone stock 1997 Ford Explorer. It's the most stripped Explorer I've seen, virtually no options. It's well used off road and the lack of fluff has suited this rig well.
      Gill tagged along in his 1990 Pontiac Grand Prix. He slept in it, ate in it and drove it over miles of dirt roads. The car would have escaped unscathed, if not for his hitting a deer on the dirt road between Tuscaurora and Midas after he split from our group on the last day we all were together. He continued to drive his wrecked car for a couple more days, until he stopped to visit friends in Reno.
      My camera at the time was one of the original Sony Mavica digital cameras, with a resolution of 640x480. For storage of photos, it used standard floppy disks. The Mavica was in its dying stages at the time, I had owned it about three years. It started acting up on the second day of the trip; completely quit, inexplicably began working again, then died completely on the last day of this adventure. I took a 35mm Pentax camera along as a backup, but had taken along a roll of old film. None of the photos I took with the Pentax came out, I had shot one roll. When processing the many disks of digital photos, I found that about ten or eleven disks had been corrupted by issues with the camera, so that I was not able to extract the images from the disks, loosing around 200 images. Many of the lost images were of ghost towns, such as in the case of National, Nevada; so that I have no images whatsoever of that location, others few.
      My written documentation for each day of the trip will be in a rather paraphrased format, but includes all travel and most experiences.  You can gather the rest of the trip from the video and photos.  I will break the six plus hours of edited video taken and cut down to videos for each single day, along with a photo slide show at the end.  This thread will contain all content from this trip from start to end.
      In a break from my past custom when presenting video on this forum, and due to the volume and number of ghost towns visited, I will not write up a history for the ghost towns or historic places visited.  That is far too time consuming and labor intensive.  There are plenty of written and web resources if one wishes to pursue their quest for knowledge of these sites.
      Below, a list of historic locations we visited – in the order that we visited them:
      1. Bodie & Benton Railway, California.
      2. Stillwater, Nevada.
      3. White Cloud City (Coppereid), Nevada.
      4. Unionville, Nevada.
      5. Midas, Nevada.
      6. Spring City, Nevada.
      7. Paradise Valley, Nevada.
      8. Buckskin, Nevada.
      9. National, Nevada.
      10. Delamar, Idaho.
      11. Silver City, Idaho.
      12. Rio Tinto, Nevada.
      13. Pattsville, Nevada.
      14. Aura, Nevada.
      15. Cornucopia, Nevada.
      16. Edgemont, Nevada (from a distance – on private property)
      17. White Rock, Nevada (from a distance – on private property)
      18. Tuscaurora, Nevada.
      19. Dinner Station, Nevada.
      20. Metropolis, Nevada.
      21. Charleston, Nevada.
      22. Jarbidge, Nevada.
    • By nvexpeditions
      Pictures from yesterday's trip to Mentryville, an oil boom town in Los Angeles County. In 1875, Charles Alexander Mentry was hired by the California Star Oil Works Company to supervise drilling in Pico Canyon. In 1875 and 1876, three promising wells were drilled but the fourth, which was started in July, struck oil on September 26, 1876 at a depth of 370 feet. That well immediately began producing 25 barrels per day. In 1877, Mentry drilled the well to 560 feet, and 150 barrels were produced each day. After this success, California's first oil pipeline was constructed to connect Well No. 4 to a refinery in Newhall.

      Around this time, a town called Mentryville was established down the canyon from the wells. Here Charles Mentry built a 13-room mansion and lived until his death in 1900. Mentry apparently treated employees with incredible dignity, and upon his passing the entire town of 200 traveled to Los Angeles for his funeral, carrying with them a floral arrangement shaped like an oil derrick. Eventually, due to a change in oil production and the industry, Mentryville was abandoned. During the 1930s, most of the remaining residents left and took their homes with them - board by board. In 1962, only a caretaker remained, living in Mentry's old mansion.

      Today, historic Mentryville is a part of the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy and the Friends of Mentryville group works to restore and preserve what remains. Up higher in the canyon is old Well No. 4, which was finally capped in 1990 after 114 years of production - the longest continually operating oil well in the world. Well No. 4 was also declared a National Historic Landmark in 1966, one of the first in Los Angeles County.

      Just above Mentry's house, the Felton School remains next to scattered equipment. Remnants of another wooden building stood to the right until less than a year ago.

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