Not to be mistaken for the original Ballarat in Australia (which is still a thriving city and a popular tourist destination), this Ballarat was named after the Australian town by an Australian miner. Originally founded in 1897, it provided services and accommodation for miners working several mines in the nearby vicinity. Its peak population was around 500 – like other remote gold mining towns, once the gold began to play out, the population dropped dramatically. The boom years were short – lasting from 1897 until about 1906 when the town featured several hotels, saloons and even a school. By 1917 the post office closed.
Ballarat is located about 3 hours from Bakersfield and about 4 miles from the lonely and little traveled paved Trona Wildrose Road. A historical plaque marks the turnoff onto the dirt road leading to this ghost town. Located next to the Panamint Mountain Range in the valley immediately to the west of Death Valley, summers can be brutal with temperatures easily reaching 120 degrees Fahrenheit. Winters can be cold – the highest peak in all of Death Valley National Park is not far from Ballarat – the 11,049 foot Telescope Peak.
Today not much remains from the original town – a few falling apart buildings, a wooden restored building that used to function both as the jail and the morgue, some crumbling adobe buildings and a few other miscellaneous structures. Two of its most well-known residents were Frank ‘Shorty’ Harris and Seldom Seen Slim. And there is even a pool on site although it has never been filled with water during our visits.
Like with other mining towns, Ballarat features an abundance of old metal scattered about – including one old now faded green Dodge which was used as a getaway vehicle by Manson family member and murderer Tex Watson (stars painted on the ceiling of the cab were put there by some of the Manson girls). Charlie Manson and his followers set up camp about 75 minutes southeast of here at Barker Ranch. On the dusty drive there, about 10 clicks outside of Ballarat one will pass the sometimes large but very shallow seasonal Lake Levart (this lake was named by us).
Flash Flood, Panamint Valley – waters flowing down to the very seasonal Lake Levart
And one other building worth stopping in – the Ballarat Trading Post – a small store and museum of sorts is open to the public. Some cold drinks and miscellaneous products are sold including Ballarat T-shirts. The massive snake skin hanging on the wall is an immediate conversation piece. A very clean bathroom is located to the rear of the building.
This old ghost town is often used (in the winter and spring) by campers – amateur prospectors, off road enthusiasts and others looking to get away from it all.
Often fighter jets piloted by US Air-force fly overhead, often doing acrobats or practicing bombing formations.
And for those who have been writing letters to aliens but haven’t been sure where to send them – a few clicks north of town along the dirt Indian Ranch Road is a mailbox for sending letters to aliens.