Tuesday, January 26, 2021

Death Valley Overland - Part 3 - Viking Mine, Minnietta Cabin & Mine, Ballarat, Claire Camp/Ratcliff Mine and the World Beater Mine Cabin

Lewis & Clark at the Viking Mine Camp - Overlooking the Lower Centennial Flats

It's Wednesday morning - day three of overlanding - no shower for Bobbi and she's starting to feel a bit grimy.  But we slept amazingly well at the Boxcar Cabin with the wood burning stove putting off lots of heat and then the Mr. Buddy Heater, which Paul set up in the middle of the night to make sure we stayed warm.  

Paul and Bobbi Jo - up early at the Viking Mine Camp

We were lazy about waking up, and when we did get up, we were starving - our ever-favorite applewood smoked bacon and eggs for breakfast filled up our stomachs and then we decided to clean up and pack up so we could head out and explore!  We weren't sure where we were planning on spending the next night, so we were free to end up where we ended up - no specific plans and we hoped to make it to our destination early enough to relax and maybe watch a movie tonight.  Specifically we wanted to watch Helter Skelter as we knew we were headed to Barker Ranch on New Year's Eve.  Paul hadn't seen Helter Skelter and I wanted him to watch it before we visited Barker.  

Viking Mine Camp - note the Christmas wreath!

So we left Boxcar Cabin behind and decided to quickly check out the Viking Mine Camp - an abandoned talc mine camp.  As it turned out, it wasn't a quick stop.  You can see the Viking Mine Camp from the 190 - so we were really surprised about the condition it is in.  I've since learned there are volunteers who are attempting to keep the Viking Mine in stable condition.

Viking Mine Camp - Large Building With Multiple Rooms - Wood Shingles for Siding

The Viking Mine Camp is on a small hill overlooking the Lower Centennial Flats.  It was cold but sunny - and a stunning morning to overlook this wide expanse of nothingness.  I have absolutely no history whatsoever on this camp - but there are multiple buildings, and a "fire pit" building with benches that I've since learned was a former garage that caved in.  

Papa Smurf - I Mean Paul - At Viking Camp

We walked around the multiple buildings, and up towards one of the mines, however, we didn't see much up that way, so we turned around and decided to head in towards Panamint Springs again and over towards Ballarat.  There was a cabin we wanted to see on the way...

Little Fixed Wing at Panamint Springs

Back on the 190, we went by a pit toilet maintained by the NPS overlooking Rainbow Canyon, so I begged Paul to stop, and we did.  I mean, I'm doing pretty good with this overlanding thing - but a bathroom is a rare thing - so you must stop when you can!  The NPS is doing a great job during the California shut down of maintaining these pit toilets - they even have lemon scented hand sanitizer in all of them!  

We do one last stop at Panamint Springs, which we know will be the last stop with any semblance of groceries, etc.  I was going to get more eggs, but the truck doesn't come until this afternoon - so no more eggs this trip.  And we are off again...

Panamint Valley Road

We turn down Panamint Valley Road.  This is one of those roads that "goes off into the sunset" - it traverses the Panamint Valley - a large dry lake with occasional salt marshes.  I told Paul on this trip that when I first moved to Arizona from Colorado I thought Arizona was ugly - so brown and beige - nothing beautiful about it.  I've now lived in Arizona for 34 years and I find immense beauty in the desert - and today was one of those days that I found an immense amount of beauty in the desolate desert.  Here we are - just me and Paul - not another soul in sight - enjoying each other's company and the solitude of being offline, unwired and more connected to nature than usual.  What a beautiful way to spend a vacation~~

Minnietta Cabin - note the flag - the cabin is taken

We decide to take a brief detour to check out a cabin we had seen on Google Earth - the Minnietta Cabin and Mine.  As we drive down the 4WD road we pass the mine, and pull up to the Cabin.  The flag is out and there is a truck there, so we know that the cabin is currently taken - the picture here is a good example of how you know if a National Park Service cabin is available for use.  They are always first come, first served, and it is asked that you stay no more than 3 days.  You have to put the flag out, or the cabin is not considered "yours" for the night.  So we did not get to see the inside of Minnietta Cabin, but we did head back down to the Minnietta Mine/Little Mack Mine.  

Minietta Mine/Little Mack Mine

The Minnietta Mine/Little Mack Mine is a lead and silver mine.  It began operations in 1902, and then waqs on and off again until 1915.  In 1924 the mine was reopened and a mill and much of the modern equipment we see today was installed.  It appears the last bucket of ore was shipped out in 1952 - the Minnietta Mine produced roughly $1,000,000.00 in ore (per the National Park Service).  

Paul Being a Kid and Climbing on Things at the Minnietta Mine - This Boy Never Grows Up!

There were plenty of things to see here - the mine shaft up at the top of the hill with cabling and tramways coming down to the chute (which of course, Paul had to climb on - because he's Paul and he can't resist), what looked like an adit that had been collapsed, old building frames, and interesting old machinery.  There was even a geocache that I logged!

Panamint Valley Vistas!  Gorgeous...

We knew we weren't staying here for the night, so we headed back towards Panamint Valley Road, and the views were stunning!  We passed a number of Jeeps on the way who were likely trying to get to Lookout City - we had opted not to attempt that route this trip because we had the trailer and there isn't much to see except foundations.  But Lookout City was the first mining district in the Panamint Valley area!  

Ballarat - Note the Power Wagon on the Left - Supposedly Tex Watson's Escape Vehicle - More on That Later

We were now headed to the infamous Ballarat Ghosttown.  On our way there, we heard a VERY loud fighter jet coming, so we stopped and I jumped out - apparently the nearby base does tons of flights and maneuvers through the Panamint Valley - this thing was SO low - and SOOOO loud!  Any vehicles that were on the road stopped and jumped out.  Lewis and Clark was shaking it was so loud!  The jet buzzed us several more times - it was amazing!  But onward we go...we can't watch fighter jets all day.  (Well, I could...but we had places to go and things to see!!)

The J.B. Foote Foundry Co. Leader Automatic Block Machine

Ballarat is located at the base of the Panamint Mountain Range and began its long and storied existence in 1897 as a supply point for the many mines in the canyons of the Panamint Mountains.  It was named after an Australian gold camp by one of the first residents - Australian immigrant George Riggins.  Ballarat, Australia is where the largest gold nugget in the world was found - weighing in at a whopping 143 pounds.  I guess they thought naming this little town in Panamint Valley Ballarat might bring them good luck...

A Catalog from the J.B. Foote Foundry showing the Block Machine at the Bottom!

Ballarat has had as many as 500 residence, although conditions were harsh - summer highs were often 120 degrees or more, and the winter was bitter cold.  Everything needed for survival - water, timber, food - had to be brought in - but these pioneering residents persevered and Ballarat hung on.  

It is said that Ballarat soon had seven saloons, three hotels, a Wells Fargo station, a post office, a school, a jail and a morgue.  But no church.  This seems to be a recurring theme in a lot of ghosttowns.  Hmmm.  Oh, and they apparently had a "red district" of some kind as well - gotta have those "soiled doves"!  

Old Truck on the Way Up Pleasant Canyon to the Claire Camp

The primary draw for me and Paul was the power wagon that is at Ballarat.  The current resident/owner of Ballarat states that the power wagon was the one that Tex Watson (of the Manson Family) drove out of Barker Ranch when he went on the lam.  I wanted to see this power wagon, as I have read some very detailed and compelling information about it NOT being Tex Watson's power wagon.  But we are now in the early afternoon and are wanting to find a place to rest and relax for the late afternoon, and we knew we would be coming back down this way tomorrow before we headed out to Barker Ranch.  So after listening to the storekeeper tell us all about how Tex Watson left the power wagon there, we asked him if the cabins up at Claire Camp are available to staying in, and he said "they are private, but they don't care if you stay there."  We then asked about Briggs Cabin, which we happened to know had hot running water, and he said that the group of Jeeps that had just left (there were about 12 of them) were headed there, and we weren't likely to get the Briggs Cabin or the Stone Cabin next to it.  

Claire Camp Looking North - Cabin is No Trespassing

So off we went up Pleasant Canyon to go to Claire Camp.  This was an interesting, and wet, trip up into the Panamint Mountain Range.  We drove through lots of long grass and even some cattails while following a little stream up Pleasant Canyon.  Then - all of the sudden - the stream was gone (we had passed the "spring" where it came out of the ground) and we were at Claire Camp.  

Boilers at Claire Camp - Note the Two Crosses Up Top

We got very excited because there is a HUGE cabin at Claire Camp - but unfortunately, despite the size and obvious care taken of the cabin, there are No Trespassing signs on the cabin.  Which means that they do NOT want us staying there.  We decided to poke around the mine area for a few minutes - we knew there was another cabin a little further up and another one beyond that - so we had other options.  But this cabin was nice and had multiple rooms.  We were bummed. 

A Piece of Cut Steel Cabling for a Winch or Tramway at Claire Camp

There was a ton to see - boilers, old winches, old buildings - tons to see.  Again, we knew we were coming out this way and the sun was right in our photos, so we didn't spend a great deal of time as we planned to do so tomorrow morning.  

The Radcliffe/Ratcliff Mine was up the hill to the right, but access was corded off - the trail looked nasty anyway.  Henry Ratcliff began mining here in 1896 - his mine was called the Never Give Up Mine.  By 1905, the Ratcliff Mine has suspended their operations.  In 1930, W.D. Claire purchased the Ratcliff Mine and began to work the tailings - this is when it became Claire Camp.  I've seen posts that there were people living there in 2015, so this area has been worked on and off regularly.  

The Amazing World Beater Cabin - Note the Flag We Put Out

We decided to head out and up the canyon a bit further to find the next cabin - the World Beater Mine Cabin.  It was worth the drive and the wait!

As we pulled around a small switchback, the Cabin came into view - it was a gorgeous looking cabin, and we looked around and didn't see a flag.  Excited, we drove up to it, went inside, and put the flag out!  It was ours for the evening!  Easily the nicest cabin we had seen this trip (and ultimately the entire trip).  There was an outhouse, and a HUGE steel drum stove inside.  This cabin is privately owned, but the owners are gracious enough to allow visitors.  By this time, we are getting chilly, so we start up a fire and begin to unload the truck.  

Our Cots, Sleeping Bags and the Monster Stove at the World Beater Cabin!

Paul and I poked around the area a bit - we noted the rough looking road that leads up to the World Beater Mine (most of which burned down in the 1980's due to vandalism), and some remains from some hunters who had dressed their animals here (a pair of legs left out by the outside fire pit).  There was a sink in the cabin (no running water) that drained to the outside, a lovely patio, and there were even curtains on the windows!  The World Beater Mine shares a similar history with Claire Camp - the original owners worked together on the two mines, and abandoned them at the same time and went in together at the lucrative Skidoo Mine in northern Death Valley.   

Patio at the World Beater Mine - and Paul Making Drinks

Happy in the wait to get to this cabin, I made fried kielbasa and potatoes for dinner - comfort food in our comfortable cabin - and we watch the first half of Helter Skelter (it's more than 3 hours long!) in our surround sound FJ Cruiser!  

Bobbi Relaxing After a Long Day - World Beater Cabin

Tired with full bellies and a nice warm cabin, Paul and I tumbled into our cots late, and finished our day off.  The stove worked a bit too well - we were insanely warm.  But we learned quickly we had to keep a fire going because it was VERY windy and if we didn't keep the fire somewhat stoked, the wind would blow down the chimney and fill up the cabin with smoke.  But it was nice to be overly warm - it was the first time in 4 days!  We slept on and off while enjoying the sound of the wind - and the utter pitch black of the World Beater Mine Cabin at night!  

Paul and Bobbi on the World Beater Cabin Patio During Sunset

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