Column: Tom Willis Takes
Us from Butte Valley to Ballarat!
Tom Willis, September 6, 2012—This article
concludes the trip that ended our last column at Geologist’s Cabin in Butte Valley. The area
has some questionable notoriety as the hideout of Charles Manson before his arrest. For this trek, I traveled
east to west because Goler Wash is often very difficult to traverse from the west
Death Valley National
Park: Butte Valley to Ballarat
A mile south of Geologist’s Cabin is Greater View
Spring and Russell Camp. The view of the valley and Striped Butte is excellent. Russell Camp was Carl
Mengel’s home when working his mines in this area.
History of this homestead is not clear. It was
built by either Mengel or Russell. Carl Mengel named the site because he felt the impressive view from here
was better than Augeberry Point.
The next point on the trail is Mengel Pass and Carl
Mengel’s grave marker 1.5 miles from Russell Camp. Carl’s ashes are buried under the stone pile at Mengel
Pass. From Russell Camp, the trail gets steep in sections. 4-wheel-drive is a requirement; at the top of the
pass, the trail drops into Coyote Canyon then on to Goler Wash.
About 3 miles down the canyon, you will reach
Sourdough Spring. Hidden in the willows, there is a cabin, a remnant from the Newman Mine. A side trail heads
east from Sourdough Spring, leading to the private Myers Ranch and the infamous Barker
This was Manson’s hideout, where he was arrested in
1969…The ranch house and guest house burned in 2009 and may be unsafe to enter. The trail beyond the ranch is
closed to vehicles.
About 1.3 miles west of Sourdough Spring you
will come to the Lotus Mine. This mine was originally part of Carl Mengel’s claims. A trail goes up the
canyon to the south and to the mine. There are some buildings, heavy equipment and the remnants of a tramway
at the mine. Warning: Do not enter the mine!
Another 4 miles west of the Lotus Mine junction is
Wingate Road. From here, turn north toward Ballarat. About 7 miles north of the turn onto Wingate Road, you
will arrive at the entrance to the Briggs Mine. Without prior arrangements, visitors are usually not welcome.
The road now becomes graded and oiled. Watch for mine traffic. The Briggs Mine is an open pit gold mine,
encompassing almost 4,500 acres!
Continue north 8 miles to Ballarat, founded in 1897
and now a ghost town. The town supported miners working in Pleasant Canyon and throughout the Panamint
Mountains. It was the home of many storied prospectors (on an infrequent basis!), including Seldom Seen Slim
and Shorty Harris. The general store at Ballarat is often open. Stop in and glean information about Goler
Wash—and learn about the surrounding canyons. Be aware that fuel is not available here.
Tom Willis lives at
northern Nevada. Tom has been involved in all aspects of Off Highway Vehicle (OHV) activities for the past 40
years. He has written and published three guidebooks, covering off-pavement travel and activities in the
Nevada and California deserts. Over the last eight years alone, Tom Willis has traveled more than 10,000
miles off pavement. Much of that travel has been research for his popular
Tom notes that people have been exploring the
Far West for almost 250 years, and virtually any place worth visiting has an established trail access!
Dedicated to the principles of Tread Lightly, Tom Willis encourages folks to take plenty of pictures and
leave only tire tracks on existing trails. When a destination does involve a short walk, Tom suggests that
exercise will probably do us all some good!
Tom Willis’ contributions to this corner of the
magazine are about places to see, trails to drive and developments that affect OHV recreation in the western
United States. His trail-based articles are destination oriented or “loop” trips, and Tom often talks about
things you should know to make your explorations more enjoyable!