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Ballarat: A California Ghost Town

Updated on October 17, 2014
Source

History in the Desert: Ballarat

A little known ghost town in California, Ballarat is a wonderful place to visit.

Located near Death Valley, the town is situated in the Panamint Valley in an ancient lakebed.

It originally started as a gold mining boom town, and Ballarat still has several buildings and is an interesting place to visit.

The remaining adobe buildings are weathered and ruined, but make for great pictures, and the area is frequented by feral burros, left wild after they were abandoned or escaped from the gold prospectors that once made this present-day ghost town a thriving hub of activity.

Ballarat California
Ballarat California | Source

Population, More or Less

Population of Ballarat Ghost Town
Population of Ballarat Ghost Town | Source

Location of Ballarat

Most people stop by Ballarat on their way to Death Valley National Park since Ballarat is located on the west side of the park.

It is fairly good 2-lane highways all the way to Ballarat, except the last mile or so, when you will have to turn off the main road and take a well-graded dirt road the rest of the way.

It is fine to take even in a car.

show route and directions
A markerBallarat -
Ballarat, California
get directions

B markerLos Angeles -
Los Angeles, California
get directions

Learn About the Other Death Valley Ghost Towns

Death Valley Ghost Towns: As They Appear Today
Death Valley Ghost Towns: As They Appear Today

The dry desert area helps preserve the surprising number of ghost towns in and around Death Valley. Learn more about all the neat places you could visit with this handy book.

 

The Remote Trona-Wildrose Road in the Panamint Valley, CA

The Remote Trona-Wildrose Road in the Panamint Valley, CA
The Remote Trona-Wildrose Road in the Panamint Valley, CA | Source

The Turn Off to Ballarat

The picture below shows the turn-off from the main highway onto the road to Ballarat.

It is just a few miles down this road to Ballarat and it is well-graded the entire way. You can drive there in a car without a problem.

Ballarat Turn Off
Ballarat Turn Off | Source

Ballarat Marker

Ballarat Sign
Ballarat Sign

Text from the Ballarat Marker

Ballarat 3 1/2 miles

Now a ghost town, Ballarat served nearby mining camps from 1897 to 1917. They produced nearly a million in gold. The jail & a few adobe ruins remain. Seldom seen Slim, it's last resident, was buried in Boothill in 1968. It had a school but no church. Post Office Spring 1/4 mi south is where the Brier Party, some JayHawkers & other 49ers came in their escape from Death Valley in Jan. 1850.

On Sunday morn at 3 AM, March 22, 1908, a car in the Worlds Longest Race, a Thomas Flyer, arrived in Ballarat. It won the New York to Paris race, covering 13,341 miles in 169 days. The car is now in Harrah's Museum in Reno.

Erected 3-72 by Death Valley Escape Trail Conf. Trona Chapter

Ballarat Sign Text

Learn About More Secret Places in the Mojave Desert

Secret Places in the Mojave Desert, Vol. II (Volume 2)
Secret Places in the Mojave Desert, Vol. II (Volume 2)

This small book tells about all sorts of neat places to be found in the Mojave Desert.

 

Visiting Ballarat

The Last Occupied Building in Ballarat

The last occupied building in Ballarat
The last occupied building in Ballarat | Source

City Hall, Store, and Town Center

The last occupied building in Ballarat was built years after the others.

Someone thought they could make a profit off the interesting history in the area, so built a store out of cinder blocks and opened it up.

Ballarat is just too far off the beaten track for most people to visit though, so while the building is used a sort of museum / store, it doesn't get enough business to stay open most of the time.

Occasionally cold sodas and other drinks are sold there, as well as a chance to camp at the barren campgrounds next to the town.

Hanging out in Ballarat Ghost Town

The Parson of Panamint and Other Stories

The Parson of Panamint and Other Stories
The Parson of Panamint and Other Stories

This book is a reproduction of an earlier volume and it features stories of the Panamint Valley and Ballarat.

 

Ghost Town Building

Old ghost town building
Old ghost town building | Source

An Old Adobe Building

Old adobe ghost town house
Old adobe ghost town house | Source

Ballarat Jail and Morgue

Ballarat Jail and Morgue
Ballarat Jail and Morgue | Source
Ballarat Jail Morgue and Motel?
Ballarat Jail Morgue and Motel? | Source

Collapsing Ruin

Collapsing ruin
Collapsing ruin | Source

Gravesite

Ballarat Cemetary
Ballarat Cemetary | Source

Camping at Ballarat

Ruined Building

Ghost town building
Ghost town building | Source

Inside One of the Ruins

Inside one of the ruins
Inside one of the ruins | Source

Be Wary in Ghost Towns

Underground Cellar in Ballarat Ghost Town
Underground Cellar in Ballarat Ghost Town | Source
Ballarat in the Panamint Valley
Ballarat in the Panamint Valley | Source

Wild Burros of Panamint Valley

Wild asses in Panamint Valley
Wild asses in Panamint Valley | Source
Feral donkey near Ballarat
Feral donkey near Ballarat | Source

Ballarat Geography

Ballarat sits in the Panamint Valley. The Panamint Valley parallels Death Valley and is divided from it by the Panamint Mountain Range.

The Panamint Range is dangerous and steep, and even experienced off-roaders should only attempt many parts of it in groups, if at all. The range contains Telescope Peak which has an elevation of 11,049'.

Ballarat sits tucked close to the Panamint Mountains in one of the last flat areas before they start their climb out of the valley.

Across the valley are the Argus and Slate Ranges, which are also fairly tall. Being caught between the two mountain ranges makes the Panamint Valley hot and dry.

The valley floor is mostly covered by a dry salt lake, which is mined for Borax and other minerals near the town of Trona. It is a remnant of the great Lake Manly that covered Death Valley and much of the area in the Ice Age.

Occasionally the weather will allow water to dampen the lake once again, and a thin layer of water will cover the lakebed. Because of the heat and dryness, this is a rare occurrence but beautiful when it does happen.

Panamint Valley and Panamint Range

Panamint Mt Range with Panamint Dry Salt Lake
Panamint Mt Range with Panamint Dry Salt Lake | Source
Ballarat Dry Lake
Ballarat Dry Lake | Source
Panamint Mt Range
Panamint Mt Range | Source
On Telescope Peak in the Panamint Range
On Telescope Peak in the Panamint Range | Source
Panamint Range and Telescope Peak viewed from Death Valley
Panamint Range and Telescope Peak viewed from Death Valley | Source

USGS Topo Map of Ballarat, California

USGS Topographic Quadrangle Map - Ballarat, California (Folded/Waterproof)
USGS Topographic Quadrangle Map - Ballarat, California (Folded/Waterproof)

This folded and waterproofed map would be a wonderful director of your travels around the area of Ballarat. Definitely a requirement if you plan to go off-road in the area at all.

 

More Information about Ballarat

Ballarat in California in the United States was named after Ballarat, Australia.

The Ballarat in Australia was also a gold mining town, though they managed to survive the boom to bust cycle that mining towns usually endure.

Get a Guide to Go Off-Roading

Guide to Southern California Backroads & 4-Wheel Drive Trails
Guide to Southern California Backroads & 4-Wheel Drive Trails

This is the best guide to getting out there onto the backroads of Southern California. Don't go out without it.

 

Charles Manson's Hiding Place

Bathroom vanity where Charles Manson hid
Bathroom vanity where Charles Manson hid | Source

The Manson Family and Ballarat

Many people pass through Ballarat to head into the mountains above to a notorious site called Barker Ranch.

Barker Ranch was the last hideout of Charles Manson and his "family". It is was where he was captured.

People in the area still tell stories of the Manson Family shopping in town for groceries and how they knew there was something wrong with them, even in an area known for eccentrics. They could not know just how bad the people were.

In 1969, the Inyo County Sheriff's Department, the California Highway Patrol, and the National Park Service went up to the Barker Ranch to arrest those they believed had vandalized Death Valley. The officers had no idea of what the Manson Family had done at that time, it was only after they had been hauled in that people realized they were the mass murderers and that they had ended their reign of terror.

They found Charles Manson hiding under the bathroom cupboard and arrested several of his followers as well, then a couple days later went in to round up the ones that had scattered.

Many believe Barker Ranch may still hide bodies buried around the area, but funding is scant to do adequate searches and it is difficult to get equipment and people to the site. Just a few years ago they attempted to do more thorough searches with modern equipment, but the tests were inconclusive. The Cadaver-Sniffing dogs seemed to sense something in the area but were not successful. And the sonar sensed several possible graves, but digging at four potential sites did not reveal any bodies.

People visiting the Barker Ranch were once able to go inside the house and see the furnishings and even where Manson hid, but after a fire in May 2009, the wood parts of the building and the furnishings burned down. So all that's left are the stone sections and ashes.

Barker Ranch

Barker Ranch
Barker Ranch | Source
Barker Ranch
Barker Ranch | Source
Barker Ranch
Barker Ranch | Source
Barker Ranch Porch
Barker Ranch Porch | Source
Inside Barker Ranch
Inside Barker Ranch | Source
Barker Ranch Burned Down
Barker Ranch Burned Down | Source

Learn More about Barker Ranch and the Surrounding Area

Barker Ranch And Vicinity
Barker Ranch And Vicinity

See the area in full color pictures and explore.

 

Manson Truck

A green Dodge Powerwagon rusting away in Ballarat may have been left there by one of the Manson Family.

The story is that during the raid on the Barker Rance, Charles Watson or "Tex" escaped in this Dodge truck, but that it broke down in Ballarat. He was not captured with the rest of the Mansons, so it is possible.

On the ceiling of the truck there are painted stars, the signature of the Manson Family.

Manson Dodge Truck

Manson Truck and Ballarat Ghost Town
Manson Truck and Ballarat Ghost Town | Source
Tex Escape Vehicle
Tex Escape Vehicle | Source
Manson Family Truck
Manson Family Truck | Source
Manson Family Symbols Painted on Roof
Manson Family Symbols Painted on Roof | Source

Beautiful Truck Picture

Road Trip to Barker Ranch: Manson's Last Hideout

A road trip to Trona Pinnacles, Ballarat, and Barker Ranch on 3/29/08

Ghost Towns in Southern California

If you're interested in learning more about Ballarat or other ghost towns in California, check out this great book for more information.

© 2009 Alisha Vargas

What Do You Think About Ballarat?

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    • Ann Hinds profile image

      Ann Hinds 3 years ago from So Cal

      Haven't been there in a long time so maybe it's time for a visit. The last time I was there, some of the buildings were still standing. Great info.

    • Roxanne Castillo profile image

      Roxanne Castillo 4 years ago

      Really cool lens! I think I'm going to have to buy that I <3 Ballarat sweatshirt. And I really want to go see the Dodge truck!

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      Glad to see what is there. I stopped at a shop along the highway with a sign to Ballarat and asked how to get there. They said, "By mule, there is no road."

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      Ballarat is very cool. Nice, old buildings still there at the base of the Panamint mountains. Panamint was good sized boom town up in the mountains until a massive flood washed out the road up the canyon. So much amazing history in the desert.

    • profile image

      macmaki 5 years ago

      Very cool Ghost Town. I'm not sure why these are so intriguing and maybe its just because it so connects us with the past. Great Lens

    • RawBill1 profile image

      Bill 5 years ago from Gold Coast, Australia

      I was recently in Death Valley and read about this ghost town after we had already passed through the area. If I had more time, I would have gone to check it out. I was intrigued as we have a famous gold mining town here in Australia called Ballarat too. Ours is a thriving large country town though, it certainly did not die after the gold slowed down.

    • Atomika07 profile image

      Atomika07 5 years ago

      Wow, that is really creepy but I find it very interesting at the same time

    • profile image

      MustangHistory 6 years ago

      Cool town.

    • singlemaltdram profile image

      singlemaltdram 6 years ago

      Wow! i was searching for Ballarat, Australia (near Melbourne) and this lens came up. "My" Ballarat is also a gold mining town!

    • AlishaV profile image
      Author

      Alisha Vargas 6 years ago from Reno, Nevada

      @whispersoftly: That's so sad. He'll be missed. Thanks for the comment Clora :)

    • profile image

      whispersoftly 6 years ago

      I always like going to Ballarat. Ballarat Bob died a few months back.

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      I miss Ballarat :(

    • Virginia Allain profile image

      Virginia Allain 7 years ago from Central Florida

      How interesting. I love history and poking around old towns. There's a Ballarat in Australia too, that was a gold town.

    • profile image

      anonymous 7 years ago

      I had the pleasure of meeting "Ballarat Bob." He shared his story with me and we made friends instantly. He gave me the names of the mules that were on the front cover of a book he showed me of the old mining town "Ballarat." I was glad to have met this fine miner at heart and I still have the card he gave me in a special place. I know when we met that I would never forget him.

    • paperfacets profile image

      Sherry Venegas 7 years ago from La Verne, CA

      I want to go there.