Panamint Valley and Death Valley

Panamint Valley and Death Valley are both located in California. Sweeping mountain views and the rugged desert landscape creates a state of mind that exists outside of the here and now. A different world awaits those who are lucky enough to come here.

I hope that on some distant day, not too far in the future, some of you will be able to drive the trails the I did and experience the beauty of this desert landscape.

We left Fontana California early on a dreary Monday morning. The drizzle was lite and the sun hung high above the clouds. The last trip we took was plauged with desert monsoons and vehicular technical issues. We hoped that this time nature would be more accomodating (as well as our rigs).

After we crested the Cajon Pass the sky opened up and the sun shone bright. We travelled at a brisk 70mph up highway 395. Unfortunatly we hit a swarm of butterflies. We had to pull over to clean the windshield!

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After driving for two hours we passed the town of Trona and found our way to the ghost town of Ballerat.

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Ballarat was founded in 1896 as a center of commerece for the many mining operations in Panamint Valley. Named after the Australian town of Ballarat, miners had been coming to the area for at least 50 years prior to its founding. The highest population Ballarat ever reached was 500 residents. Ballarat had seven saloons, a few hotels, a jail, and a school.

Can you imagine attending school here?


As the mines closed up operations Ballarat fell into decay. The ghost town now has a population of one. Mayor Rock Novak is judge, jury, and executionor of Ballarat. All kidding aside he is a very nice man. The Mayor is always ready to sit down for a chat.


Ballarat now serves as a rally point for off roading expeditions in the Panamint range. We made our camp for the night by this grave yard.

Remind me to tell you about my ghost story!

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There were 5 vehicles in all. This is our camp.

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Beep Beep I’m a Jeep!

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After setting up camp we headed to Barker Ranch. It was at this location that the Criminal Charles Manson was captured. The ranch is open to those can can get there. The furniture, pool, and vehicles he traveled in are still at the site. Unfortunately it was burned to the ground a month after we made our visit.

On the way up the trail…

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A lone cabin along the trail…

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We made a wrong turn and had to figure out how to back up!

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The reason I always carry a snake bite kit. If you see a rattle snake in the wild leave it alone. It is just as afraid of you as you are of it. We had to stop to let him pass.

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We finally arrived at Barker Ranch. Being here gave me a sense of uneasyness. As if ghosts of the past were watching us.


Where it all happened…

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Charles Manson sat in this very chair…

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…and so did we…

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One last look inside!

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Time to pack up and head back to camp for the night. Carne Asada Tacos  and grilled chicken awaited us.

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On the way back to camp I decided it would be a good idea to taste the salt on the dry lake bed.

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“Panamint” Paul keeping warm by the camp fire.

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The next morning we traveled the Fish Canyon Escape Trail. In 1849, William Manly led a group of travelers across Death Valley in search of riches. The group eventually became lost in Death Valley and wondered the desert floor for months. By the time the group escaped Death Valley via Fish Canyon only a handful of people survived. This is a portion of the route they took to escape.

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Way up high on the ridge.

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By the time lunch rolled around we had finished the trail. We aired up and said our goodbyes to the rest of the group. I continued on to Death Valley by myself.

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We set out on our own to discover Death Valley. We headed north on the old Trona Wildrose Road.

Please  read part II of our Death Valley Trip


One Response to “Panamint Valley and Death Valley”

  1. Diana Usher Says:

    What a wonderful way to show your students by example to stay active and have fun. Exploring= learning aobut all subject matter: History, Science, P.E., Lit.(journaling), Math(calculating mileage and expenditures), Geography, and Art(photography). What a fun way to learn them all!

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