Late for Nowhere

From life in Southeast Asia to backyard adventures in Kodiak, Alaska

A ghost town and a killer ranch

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During my recent visit to the US, one of the last stops on my way back to Los Angeles (and my flight back to Yangon) was the ghost town of Ballarat.


Located west of Death Valley, the town was active from 1897 to 1917 as a supply base for mining camps in the surrounding mountains. It’s now home to a collection of decaying buildings and rusting cars, as well as an eerily dusty “general store” that, upon my arrival, appeared to be open but was unstaffed.

Goler.05 Goler.03 Goler.04

I spent about 30 minutes walking around the town and taking photos, then started driving south on a dirt road between a mountain range to the east and bone-white salt flats to the west.


Salt flats south of Ballarat.

I drove for nearly 20 kilometers (16 miles), the road conditions deteriorating until I started worrying that I might get stuck in one of the sandy sections, which seemed to be increasing in length, depth and frequency as I drove. To avoid getting bogged down, I gunned the engine and flew across each of these sand traps like a rally driver.

I parked the car when I reached the turnoff to Goler Wash. This name will be familiar to anyone who knows the story of Charles Manson and his so-called “family” – Goler is the site of Barker Ranch, where Manson and a number of his followers were arrested in October 1969, about two months after they carried out the infamous Tate/La Bianca murders in Los Angeles.

My plan was to ride my mountain bike up the wash, take a peek at Barker Ranch, and then see how much farther I could go as the road entered Death Valley proper.


The entrance to Goler Wash.

My research had indicated that conditions in Goler Wash were highly variable, depending on the amount and the nature of precipitation in the preceding days, weeks and months: Sometimes it was easily negotiable, sometimes impassable, but usually somewhere in between.

I had found no references on the internet to mountain biking Goler, and I soon found out why: The dual presence of deep sand and sharp rocks meant there was a constant danger of losing control, falling over and cracking my face on any number of unforgiving surfaces.

Since I was riding alone, and hadn’t seen anyone for about two hours, I imagined that such an accident would end with me lying on my back under the blazing desert sun, incapacitated and bleeding as I watched the vultures making their slow, lazy descent to feast upon my eyeballs and intestines.

Inspired by this grisly image, after about a mile of exhausting and nerve-wracking riding, I turned around and returned to the car, loaded the bike, and headed toward more civilized territories – more specifically, a place where I could get a good burrito for lunch.


Back to “civilization”: A campaign poster in the spooky desert town of Trona, California.

Written by latefornowhere

July 18, 2014 at 4:53 am

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