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“Interesting but not a lot there”

Ballarat Ghost Town
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Owner description: This town was once a supply town for mines in the region and is a good stop during a driving tour of the valley.
Reviewed 16 March 2014

This ghost town actually still has 1 resident as well as sporadic campers. It's main claim to fame is that Charles Manson stayed there for awhile, carved his name in the woodwork inside one of the old buildings, and his truck is there with a few bullet holes in it.

Other than that there is a building that is sort of a general store where you can pick up cold drinks and perhaps one or two (really - one or two) other things. This is where you'll meet the one resident, many times sitting on the front porch. He is the quintessential desert rat sort of fellow. Looks a bit scary (as does his store), but strike up a conversation with him and he's really quite a nice guy and very eager to tell stories and just have a conversation.

Some folks on Trip Advisor have expressed some discomfort in his store and around him, but I didn't pick up on that. If I met him in a dark alley someplace I'd take pause but in this setting I didn't feel uncomfortable. His store is not much more than a decent size room with a chest type refrigerator that must have had over 200 cans of soda's and beer of all varieties in it for sale, but for the most part the store was pretty empty. there an old coffee can where you can put in a donation to help him maintain the ghost town. As he doesn't charge anything to wander around, I think it's reasonable to throw in a couple of bucks.

Other than this store and Manson's truck, there is an old mobile home where someone seems to live, a reasonably restored "house" (labeled Jail, morgue and Hotel) where Charles Manson stayed, an old fallen down building or two and various rusting artifacts all over the place. Interesting and definitely authentic. but not a lot to see.

If you're driving through between Death Valley (or Pannamint Springs) and Ridgecrest along RT-178, and you have an extra hour to two to kill it's worth the short side trip down a dirt road to the town.

If you found this information useful in your decision making process, you gleaned information you may not otherwise have discovered, or you just enjoyed reading it and appreciate the time I put into writing it, please give me a "helpful" or “Useful” vote. You’re welcome to contact me through danhartfordphoto dot com (where you can see more photos) or through the “Ask Caifdan69 about .........” button at the bottom of this review

28  Thank Califdan69
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC
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34 - 38 of 52 reviews

Reviewed 2 January 2014

Ballarat’s story began in 1896, the town was founded as a supply point for the booming mines in the canyons of the Panamint Mountains. It’s name was given by George Riggins, a young miner from Australia, who proposed the town be named after the Australian gold mining town.

From 1897 to 1905, Ballarat was the place to be in the Panamints. The population is estimated to have been between 400-500 people; and boasting 7 saloons, 3 hotels, a Wells Fargo Station, a school, a jail, a post office, and a morgue. The only thing lacking was a church, and I don’t think that anyone minded.

By 1917, many of the mines in the Panamints played out, causing the once bustling towns population to dwindle, and lose its post office.

Some of the towns most well-known residents include legendary Death Valley miner, Shorty Harris, who lived here off and on until his death in 1934. Seldom Seen Slim, “the last of the old-timers”, came to Ballarat in 1917 and stayed until his death in 1968.

In the 1960′s, the infamous Charles Manson, and family spent some time roaming around Ballarat. Their Barker Ranch hideout was tucked away in a canyon just a few miles from the townsite. A truck that is parked across from the General Store in town is believed to have been owned by a member of “the family.”

Today Ballarat still refuses to die. It’s sole full-time resident is Rocky Novak. Rocky lives on site in his generator powered home and runs the general store (IE: Beer and Soda). He grew up in nearby Surprise Canyon at the Chris Wicht Camp, which has since been burned to the ground.

During the cooler months, Ballarat is the gateway to the Panamints for many off-road enthusiasts. A large camping area is provided and most of the main trails leading into the canyons are easily accessible from the town.

Less than a handful of original structures remain, they include the jail that also doubled as a morgue, and the skeleton of some miners cabins -including that of Shorty Harris. Be sure to keep an eye out when visiting for the “Free nude dancing burros!”

15  Thank DeathValleyJim
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC
Reviewed 9 October 2013

I thoroughly enjoyed all that this place had to offer. Founded in 1897 as a supply point for the mines, but then quickly faded when the mine closed in 1917, it was a true form of a ghost town; ragged bedraggled, with signs of an interesting history from its former glory. I especially appreciated that it has not been re-created or painted over in a Disney fashion for tourists. It's decrepit state tells the true history of the faded town in the middle of Death Valley. You will find a broke down truck said to have been abandoned there by the Manson family after getting stuck, frames of bedraggled homesteads, the local jail and hotel, abandoned rusted out jalopies, items riddled with bullet holes, and an old cemetery where people were often burried by their pets. There is also a currently running motor-home park for camping and a general store. The caretaker of the property is an interesting fellow, but you should be warned, it is NOT a family friendly environment inside the store. It is decorated with highly visible nude centerfold pictures of women in various sexual poses throughout the store. The caretaker lives in the store and though he may have some interesting stories, as a woman I felt pretty uncomfortable being in the store with him, given his clear lack of socially appropriate boundaries with the pornography, and he is kinda rough looking to boot, though friendly and talkative. It actually seemed like something you would see in a horror movie when the unwitting teens bump into the eccentric caretaker of the town they are about to enter just before someone comes out to torture them for the next hour and half onscreen.

The most difficult thing about the visit was getting there, the signs are pretty unclear and not marked well. You may have to double back a couple times before you find it, but don't give up! It is worth it. It is down a long dirt road and to the far back by the mountains. You will think you are driving to nowhere when you will turn and see the tiny town and signs of life. It is fascinating to see the dessert mirage of water from the intense heat...it is just like in the cartoons. Don't forget to bring your camera, and if you are worried about becoming a victim like in a horror movie, be sure to pack your safety gear too!

7  Thank megan g
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC
Reviewed 13 September 2013

I'd always wanted to see an actual ghost town, so I was pretty excited about Ballarat, given that we were already going to be driving through Death Valley and this was practically on the way. Unfortunately I was left very disappointed.

After driving the 3.5 miles down a bumpy gravel road that seemed determined to break our car and leave us stranded in the desert, we arrived in Ballarat, quickly realising that it's not a ghost town, it's just a couple of buildings, one of which is almost collapsed, the other of which has clearly been renovated, which kind of defeats the purpose. There's also a campsite here, several burned out cars, and some threatening glares from people who may or may not have decided to live in Ballarat now.

If you want to see an actual ghost town, do some research and go elsewhere - there are several in the Death Valley area. But if you want to spend 15 minutes feeling like the family in The Hills Have Eyes, then pop along to Ballarat!

3  Thank Scruff_UK
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC
Reviewed 3 February 2013

Ballarat Ghost Town on it's own is ok but the lake near it is really cool. The lake in the cloudy skies looked deep blue with white salt all around it. Very picturesque. Also, we spotted a few wild donkey's with their offspring.

3  Thank Mell72
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC

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