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Column: Tom Willis Takes Us from Butte Valley to Ballarat!

Newman Mine cabin, Death Valley Area, photo by Tom Willis

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 end...

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 Ranch. 

   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.

Mengel Pass and gravesite, Death Valley Area, photo by Tom Willis

   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 books.

   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!

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