Monday, February 22, 2021

Death Valley - Part 5 - Finale - Mengel Pass, Miner Cabins, Warm Springs Camp and Tocopah Hot Springs

Butte Valley

So after the excitement of Barker Ranch, we now needed to race up and over Mengel Pass and down to the cabins in hopes that we could get one for the night.  Specifically, we hoped to get the Geologist's Cabin - but in reality, any cabin would work!

So we left Barker Ranch, and backtracked a short distance to the turn off North into Mengel Pass.  At first, the road seemed fairly tame - a little off-roading here and there - then we caught up with the Jeeps in front of us, and then the rock crawling began.  Both of the Jeeps in front of us were towing a trailer - but the FJ crawled right along - in fact with more apparent ease than the Jeeps.  

Found On the Road Dead

We passed a Ford which we Found On the Road Dead - but continued on up through the top of Mengel Pass, and down in to Striped Butte.  As I indicated before, we were hoping to get a very specific cabin - the Geologist's Cabin - but it was not to be.  We saw a flag up at Russell's Camp - which we knew we did not want to stay at, and the Jeeps in front of us turned off to Stella's Camp/Mengel Camp, and we went on to the Geologist's Cabin.  And we just missed it.  If we had been 30 minutes earlier, we probably would have snagged it, but no such luck - which is unfortunate, because it is a beautiful little stone cabin which has been kept up extremely well.  

The Jeeps passing the Ford on Mengel Pass

But we decided to head back and see if either of the other two cabins/camps were available - as we pulled up to Stella's Camp/Mengel Camp, one of the Jeeps was there.  We asked if they were staying as they did not yet have the flag up, and he said yes.  But as we drove away, he hollered down to us to come back - Stella's Camp wasn't big enough for them, so they were headed to Russell's Camp, which is larger.  So we had Stella's Camp for the night!

Stella's Camp/Mengel Camp - Butte Valley

We pulled the truck up into the gate and unhitched the trailer.  We investigated the main cabin, as well as the stone cabin below (which had no windows, so we opted not to stay there) and headed in to the main cabin.  The main cabin had a weird smell to it - but we figured maybe it was just stale.  We still wanted to run up and check out Emmett's Cabin, so we put up the flag, left the trailer, and bounced over to Emmett's Cabin - a few miles up past the Geologist's Cabin.  

Emmett Cabin
Emmett Cabin - Inside

Emmett's Cabin is VERY tiny - not even enough room for both of us to sleep in there - but there is an old school bus there - very odd in this setting.  Emmett Harder held a claim on this site to mine and mill on it from 1991 - so not so very long ago!  There are even notices of assessment work in the cabin as recent as 2008.  We discovered that the place is actually called the Lone Tree Mine site, but is, as is common in Death Valley, referred to by the last owner's name.  Emmett Harder was still alive as of 2015 - he spent time with the Manson family, mined and milled in Death Valley, and is now a writer.  After inspecting all the unusual stuff at Emmett's Cabin, we decided to head back as it was getting dark.

Emmett Cabin as seen from the parking area

When we arrived back at Stella's Cabin, Paul got a nice fire going in the Cabin and I plopped down in a camp chair in front of the fireplace to get warm.  The odd smell wouldn't go away, and Paul lit some candles that were in the cabin to try and get rid of the smell.  As I was looking around, I saw underneath the sink a bucket.  On the bucket were some markings in black Sharpie that indicated that it was a mouse trap - via drowning.  As an uncomfortable feeling started to fill my mind, I asked Paul to check in the bucket.  Sure enough, there was a drowned mouse decomposing in the bucket.  He immediately took the bucket outside and dumped the contents while both of us attempted not to vomit.  But immediately the smell began to dissipate and I began to feel more comfortable.  

Clint and Stella Anderson in front of their Cabin in Butte Valley
I sat comfortably in front of the fire for a bit while Paul read to us from the visitor log book.  We learned that the Ford that had been on Mengel Pass had been there for several weeks at least, and we heard about others' adventures in Butte Valley.  Paul wrote a paragraph or so about our trip to Stella's, and then Paul and I decided to read all the articles on the walls about Stella Anderson.  

Sunset at Stella's
Stella Anderson, a Missouri native, prospected with her husband, Clint, for so long she couldn't remember when they moved there.  In 1973, Clint Anderson passed away, but Stella Anderson stayed on.  Visited regularly by her grandson, Bobby, she eeked out a living in the beautiful valley, being visited periodically by people passing through or by the National Park Service on a monthly basis.  As she was quite alone out there most of the time, the locals in the town of Trona, who would periodically come check on her, set her up with a complete CB Radio system.  Paul even explored the old antenna up top of the hill behind her cabin!  
The remains of Stella's CB Antennae

Stella's history is well preserved in her cabin - and was extremely interesting to read about!  But it's dinner time now, and we still have another set of steaks and stuffed mushrooms!  So we cooked in the cabin and made those absolutely delicious Sprouts sirloins again, with stuffed baby bellas.  Again, an amazing night of food cooked on our Coleman stove and using our 1971 Coleman camp oven!  I've said it before, and I'll say it again - we eat well when we camp!  I think I've got this camp cooking thing down to an art!
A romantic overland dinner - steak and sausage/cream cheese stuffed baby bellas, candle, and some reading!
After dinner we decided to watch another movie in our surround-sound theater, otherwise known as Lewis & Clark - the FJ Cruiser!  As we snacked on candy from the store in Beatty, NV and watched our movie, we grew tired and decided to go to bed.  We put on our headlamps, walked back into Stella's Cabin, pushed open the door - and rodents went flying...lots of them.  And that was it.  I wasn't sleeping in there.  These weren't cute little Mr. Jingles.  There were at least 4 or 5 that I saw (and no, we didn't leave food out - everything was cleaned up).  
The truck with Striped Butte in the background
SO - we decided to quickly set up our sleeping space in the trailer.  Which was off kilter, but trying to move it to a flatter area would be problematic.  As we started to pump up the sleeping pads, we discovered that the big one had a rip in it - likely from the broken window we had two days ago - so off came the pads from the cots, and into the camper we went to try and sleep.  Paul slept on the "down" side, and I tried my best not to roll over and squish him in what was already a small sleeping space.  It was a rough night.  But we didn't have rodents running all over on or under us.  
Striped Butte and Butte Valley
We got up the next morning and tentatively ventured back into the cabin - no rodents - Paul started a small fire for warmth and I made sausage, egg and cheese sandwiches.  Paul got the coffee and tea going, and we sat down to eat our breakfast.  We discussed what we wanted to do today - it was only Friday and we weren't scheduled to be home until Saturday night.  But it was unlikely we were going to get the Geologist's Cabin, as we had heard that the people staying there were actually the caretakers, and they themselves had said they might stay a couple of days.
Butte Valley overlooking the eastern Panamint Range
So Paul and I packed up camp, took down the flag, and said our goodbyes to Butte Valley and Striped Butte.  We began the long trek towards Warm Springs - our next destination.  It was early, but it was beautiful, and we followed some hawks out of the Valley...

The drive was uneventful, although quite lovely - we had woke up early, and we were on our way early - and as we pulled in to the Warm Springs camp area, we found a group of four or five trucks just finishing up their breakfast routine.  
Warm Springs Gold Mill Site
The Warm Springs Camp was originally established in the 1880's by tribal chief Panamint Tom, who built a ranch on the sight with over one hundred fifty fruit trees - but they were all washed away in a flood in 1897.  Then in the 1930's, a mining camp was established by Louise Grantham.  Louise had help from a prospector named Ernest Hugn, aka Siberian Red.  The talc mine produced over 830,000 tons of talc, making Louise a profitable woman for a "miner."  In 1939 she set up a gold mill to process ore from the Gold Hill mine in the canyon - the remains of the gold mill and arrastra are still visible as you go into the Warm Springs Camp area.  
Warm Springs Gold Mill with Lewis & Clark in the Background
The buildings at Warm Springs Camp were in use as recently as the 1980's when Pfizer used them to house workers for the talc mine.  In 1984, Pfizer donated the camp to the National Park Service.  There are tons of remains, including a beautiful fireplace, a swimming pool which was fed by the warm spring (although no longer in use) and several buildings.  They are quickly deteriorating, however, and it is likely that within the next 10 years will lose roofs, etc., to the elements.  
Warm Springs Camp Compound
Paul in the Warm Springs Pool - Last Time Paul was Here it was Full!

Beautiful Walk-In Refrigerator Door at Warm Springs Camp
The Glorious Stone Fireplace at Warm Springs

Paul and I poked around Warm Springs for quite a while.  Paul hiked up to the actual spring itself, which was a scramble up the side of the mountain.  The water is not hot, but is warm, and stays warm all the way down the mountain to the ranch/camp houses.  It was used to fill the pool back in the day, and has made for a beautiful, lush, green oasis in the middle of the desert.
The Spring at Warm Spring Camp
After we finished checking out the Warm Springs Camp, we headed over to the Warm Springs Talc Mine - a large operation that winds in a corkscrew down into the mountain.  Paul, being the daring individual that he is, went in.  I stayed outside - you know - for safety reasons.  And because I'm a scaredy-cat.  But I found interesting things to look at nonetheless - and Paul and I were in communication most of the time through the radios.  

Warm Springs Talc Mine - Entrance

Upper Adit Looking Out from Fence
A piece of talc with beautiful growths

Paul Having Too Much Fun Exploring
After Paul finished his mine explorations, we decided it was time to head out.  I had remembered reading about the Tocopah Hot Springs and we decided we would try heading in to Tocopah and see what we could find!  
Airing up on the eastern edge of Death Valley
As we aired up the tires and had some lunch, we said goodbye to Death Valley, and drove in to Shoshone, California.  Here we fueled up (at a rather obnoxious $4.58/gallon) and then drove down to Tocopah.  Tocopah was wonderful - we found a little resort that would allow us a day pass for soaking - and we got to soak for an hour or so, which was incredibly refreshing after a week overlanding in Death Valley.  There isn't much else in Tocopah, but then we decided to drive in to Las Vegas, grab some dinner, and head home.  

This was the longest trip I've ever been on - camping.  And as it turned out, it was amazing!  After a year of me telling Paul "I'm not the camping type" - he got me to spend 5 consecutive nights on the trail - enjoying the stark beauty of Death Valley.  

And I loved it.  Death Valley - we will be back!


Tuesday, February 2, 2021

Death Valley Overland - Part 4 - Ballarat, Goler Wash, Newman Cabin, Keystone/Lotus Mine and Barker Ranch

Goler Wash Heading In Towards Barker Ranch

So after a rough night's sleep in the wonderful World Beater Cabin (rough because the wind was howling and blowing smoke DOWN the chimney into the cabin - not because of the cabin), Paul and I decided we were going to get up while it was still dark and finish watching Helter Skelter.  

Mr. Jingles Waking Up From A Nap in the World Beater Cabin

As we slowly started to move around the cabin, Paul noticed a lightning fast movement when he picked up a piece of wood.  There was a little tiny mouse living in the wood pile!  Not more than a couple inches long, and cute as a button, Paul and I sat on our cots and watched him watch us for a bit.  As it was freezing outside, and he kept climbing up on the top piece of lumber (right underneath the stove), we assumed he was trying to get warm.  We decided to just enjoy his company, although obviously we double checked that everything was sealed up tight, etc.  It was - so no worries on feeding the little guy - but again, we think he just wanted to be warm.  We named him Mr. Jingles (after the pet mouse in The Green Mile - a movie we both love).

Biscuits and Sausage Gravy To Fill The Tummy!

I decided to make biscuits and gravy this morning as we had a nice little kitchen area and a new can of propane to try.  By this time, Mr. Jingles is warming up and is hanging out over by me (because I have the food) so I'm having to make sure every little crumb is picked up and the trash can lids are sealed down tight.  I don't mind - he's not hurting anything, and it IS cold outside...we are still occasionally stopping everything and watching him run into a hole in the floor...

Our Coleman Camp Oven - Sitting on the stove at the World Beater Cabin to see how hot it gets.

Our Coleman camp oven, which didn't work as well as we had hoped a couple nights ago, worked great this morning - so clearly, you need a full can of propane and some high heat to make it work well.  I had some canned biscuits left over from Christmas, so I popped those into a little pie tin I have in our mess kit, and cooked up the biscuits.  They didn't cook quite evenly, so I checked on them frequently, turned the tin around, then turned the biscuits over in the pan.  But for a camp oven - hey - it worked out great!  And it got HOT!  This is definitely an addition we will use for camp cooking in the future.  

Paul makes the coffee and tea while Bobbi Jo makes breakfast - Mr. Jingles is sleeping under the stove!

Meanwhile, I cooked up the remaining sausage, and got out the flour that I purchased in Panamint Springs.  I forgot to bring milk, so we use my "creamer" - which is actually heavy whipping cream that I then water down - to make milk.  I threw some pepper in, a little bacon grease, and made up some delicious gravy to go over the top of our biscuits!

Claire Camp Mill Workings

After we finish up breakfast - I decide it's time to wash my hair - it's been four days.  And Paul wants his washed too.  So I heat up some water from our water can on the trailer, and we wash our hair over the sink in the cabin.  The World Beater Cabin doesn't have running water, but it does have a sink that drains out and down into the wash.  So we sparingly use water and shampoo, Paul's hair dries almost instantly, and I put my hair up in braids, and we start breaking down our camp.  

Stamp Mill Hammers at Claire Camp

Claire Camp - Wide Angle of Mill Workings

Claire Camp Overlooking the Private Cabin - Lewis & Clark with the Expedition Trailer is right in the center!
After everything is packed up and we said our goodbyes to Mr. Jingles and the World Beater Cabin - by far the nicest cabin we've ever seen, we head back down.  We stop again at Claire Camp to take some better photos, and then head down Pleasant Canyon to Ballarat.  The ride down Pleasant Canyon is - well - pleasant.  

Pleasant Canyon by the spring

We stop for Paul to check out some potential mine adits (none of them panned out), and as Paul jumped back in Lewis & Clark and took off from the last one, he suddenly says "hey - did you see that guy?"  I was like "what guy?"  Apparently there was some guy that waved to us.  He was walking on the side of the road.  No vehicle in site.  No idea who he was, but he wasn't under stress.  Just waving hello.  We are several miles up a canyon from the nearest "living" who knows who Paul saw - because I didn't see anything or anyone (insert spooky/scary music here...).

Austin-Western Grader left abandoned in Pleasant Canyon

Austin-Western Grader
Once in Ballarat, we stop as we wanted to take a look at the cemetery, the old jail/morgue, and the Tex Watson Power Wagon.  As I stated in Part 3 of my blog, I have some pretty definitive proof that this is not actually the Power Wagon that Tex Watson used to escape Barker Ranch, and then in turn got stuck in the mud flats outside of Ballarat.  This Power Wagon WAS likely up at Barker Ranch, but the one that Tex Watson used was purchased by a local miner, who took it up to his cabin and promptly took it apart.  It is believed that part of the Tex Watson Power Wagon is buried in the canyons, or abandoned and rusting back into the Earth.   But it's still a cool truck - and to know that part of the Manson family used this Power Wagon - well, that just makes it a bit creepy...and it makes for a great marketing point for Ballarat - which is clearly holding on by a thread.  
Panamint Valley Overlooking Ballarat from Pleasant Canyon
Power Wagon in Ballarat - Marketed as Tex Watson's Escape Power Wagon

We poked around Ballarat, saw the old jail/morgue - which didn't look very secure for a jail (it's been rebuilt), and then moseyed over to the cemetery.  The Ballarat Cemetery has some interesting characters buried in it.  The most "famous" is Charles "Seldom Seen Slim" Ferge.  Slim was a prospector in the Panamint Mountains.  He was born 1881 in Illinois, and moved to the Panamint Mountain area sometime between 1913 and 1917.  He was known as a cantankerous old recluse who was the last official "resident" of Ballarat.  He was another miner who didn't believe in showers or baths because they were a waste of water (a limited commodity in Panamint Valley!), but did take one annually.  

Charles "Seldom Seen Slim" Ferge's Final Resting Place

Ballarat Cemetery
Slim died in 1968, and his funeral was broadcast on television.  He is famous as the last of an old breed of prospectors - Walter Knotts had statues of him made and placed in Knotts Berry Farm and Ghost Town in Buena Park, CA.  His headstone has a famous quote of his on it - "Me Lonely?  Hell no!  I'm half coyote and half wild burro."  Rest in peace Slim - your memory carries on...

Ballarat Jail and Morgue

Old Buildings at Ballarat - Panamint Valley in the background
Paul and I leave Ballarat - we are anxious to get to Barker Ranch - someplace I've always wanted to go.  Since I was a child, I've been fascinated by Charles Manson.  Any cult leaders really - I'm fascinated by their hold on people and how they use that hold to do evil and despicable deeds.  As an adult, I understand the psychology behind it, but I still am drawn to documentaries, books and informational articles about them.  And today I'm going to see where Charles Manson was arrested.  Charles Manson - the mastermind behind the Tate-LaBianca murders, amongst others.  
Goler Wash - probably the best photo we have of Goler Wash
The ride down Wingate Road to the Goler Wash road is relatively boring as we travel along the Alkali Flat.  The Alkali Flat looks like a giant salt flat - but inches under the salt in this huge flat is a muddy, mucky base that is several feet deep - the store owner in Ballarat says he pulls people out almost weekly from this mess.  There are posted signs telling people not to drive in it, but apparently they always do.  It's an interesting phenomenon - this salt flat that looks dry but isn't.  As we drive along Wingate Road, we see small bits of marshes and you can see the large amount of water under the salt crust.  
As we turn off Wingate Road (more like Wingate Road turns into Goler Wash road), we start heading into the Panamint Mountain Range again - but this is stunning.  I mean, the video doesn't do it anywhere near justice - neither do the pictures.  We couldn't capture the immense beauty of Goler Wash from Panamint Valley to Barker Ranch - it was simply stunning!  Quite possibly the most beautiful place we had been this entire trip!  Excuse the "wobbles" in the video - still learning how to take videos.  Next time we will bring the windshield mount for the GoPro!
Newman Cabin
Window in the Newman Cabin with a Manson decal
As we came out of the wash, we came upon a "Y" in the road - with Jeeps coming out of the right hand trail.  They tell us there is a cabin up there, but that it is too tight to take Lewis & Clark with the Expedition Trailer up there.  So we park and hike in to the Newman Cabin.  There was plenty of room to park and turn around, but it was nice to jump out and hike a bit.  
Lewis & Clark with the Expedition Trailer where we parked at the Newman Cabin
The Newman Cabin was built by Wilmot (Billy) Hyder (1877-1954) who was a local resident of Ballarat.  He was a family cousin of the Newman family, who still own and operate a mining claim there.  There appear to be several different outhouses and other small outbuildings around - but the cabin is small, single room, and currently not in the best of shape.  I understand that periodically volunteers will "restore" the cabin, as it is over 80 years old now and is therefore historic.  

Keystone Mine Stone Cabin
Keystone Mine - Stone and Concrete Cabins
We left the Newman Cabin and headed up towards our first intended stop - the Keystone/Lotus Mine. As we pulled up, the Jeeps were coming down from the mine.  We waited patiently for them to come down and then we pulled up to the first set of buildings.  They Lotus Mine claims were acquired from Carl Mengel in 1935.  In 1972, Dr. Ralph E. Pray staked a claim at the location and renamed it the Keystone Mine.  He established a permanent camp in the old buildings, and the mine went on to produce several million dollars in gold in the 1980's.  Paul has been up here before, but said that it has been cleaned up since he was here in 2015.  It is possible they are getting ready to mine there again, or to mine the tailings - but either way, there were several buildings in very poor condition.  I understand there is much to look at up at the mine itself, but because we were unsure of the road, we opted not to pull the Expedition Trailer up there.  
Inside the Stone Cabin at the Keystone Mine
Lewis & Clark with the Expedition Trailer coming down from Keystone Mine
We poked around for a bit at the Lotus/Keystone Cabin site, but I was anxious to reach our big destination for the day - so off we went in search of Barker Ranch.  
Barker Ranch Interpretive Sign - With Photo of the Original Barker Ranch Home Before it Burned in 2009
I'm not going to go into a great deal of detail here about Charles Manson.  If you don't know who he is, you should.  A basic Google search will tell you.  But it was at Barker Ranch that Charles Manson and several of his "family" members were arrested - for destruction of property.  Unbeknownst to the authorities at the time, Charles Manson and the Manson Family were responsible for the absolutely horrific Tate-LaBianca murders in Los Angeles (among other murders and crimes). Charlie was found tucked into a bathroom vanity when the authorities came to arrest him.  
Barker Ranch Main House Ruins
There isn't much left of the Barker Ranch.  It was mysteriously burned down in May of 2009, and the remainder of the ranch is slowly crumbling back into the desert.  All that is left is the stone foundations and tumbling walls of the main house, an out building (perhaps a ranch hand cabin?), and the corrals and animal shelters.  But just knowing what they had done before they came here makes the Barker Ranch a rather creepy place to be.  
Barker Ranch - Main House Ruins

Barker Ranch - Out Building
On a positive note, we found where Paul had "signed" the wall in 2015.  We were there - to the day - 5 years later after Paul and his good buddy Mike "Duner" Schuette and Duner's wife Connie, came to visit.  Again - excellent memories for Paul, and fun to know we were honoring Duner's memory with a repeat - to the day!
Paul Pointing to his "signature" from December 31, 2015.  
Mike "Duner" on New Year's Eve, 2015 in the bathroom where they found Manson hiding
Paul - New Year's Eve, 2020 in the bathroom where they found Manson hiding.
Paul and Duner in the kitchen nook - New Year's Eve, 2015

Paul and Bobbi in the kitchen nook - New Year's Eve, 2020
While this was not the end of our day, I will save the rest for the finale - again, remembering good friends, and visiting famous, yet remote and far away places, has made for an amazing day of exploration and fun!  And who better to do it with than your exploration partner and best guy?
FJ Cruisers STILL Rule!!