Friday, February 22, 2008

The Ghost Town Of Reilly, California

Head east out of Trona, California on Highway 178 toward Death Valley National Park and you'll find a signed road on the right leading to the ghost town of Ballarat, California. Because of its location along one of the main entrances to Death Valley, Ballarat receives numerous visitors. Almost none of them know another ghost town-----much more fascinating and much less accessible-----lies almost directly across Highway 178 from Ballarat.

Reilly came into being in 1882 when a New York investor named Edward Reilly formed the Argus Range Silver Mining Company. Mining companies were the dot-com companies of the late nineteenth century; huge amounts of stock were sold backed by little more than wild hunches and blind greed. Reilly's company was typical; he raised over $200,000 (a phenomenal amount in 1882) and used it to create the mining town of Reilly. Before the end of 1882, there was an operating mine, a stamping mill, a general store, a boarding house, stables, a post office, and a saloon at Reilly. Reilly also built himself a fine wooden home. Miners flocked to the site and built themselves homes out of rocks they could find; some had wood roofing while others simply used canvas stretched across the top.

Reilly requires a high clearance 4WD vehicle (like my beloved Toyota 4Runner) to reach. About 4.2 miles from Ballarat, there is a faint but "line straight" dirt road to the left on Highway 178. This is the original "Nadeau Road," a wagon trail dating from 1877 used to haul supplies and materials to and from Death Valley. I exited left and drove this road for a little over a mile, and it was kick to travel a route with such history. After a mile, there is an even fainter road to the left leading uphill. I had to engage the 4WD to negotiate it, and I followed that road for a little over a mile and a half to the site of Reilly. It's a really isolated place!

There's a surprising number of structures at the site. Most, like the one below, are stone walls without any roof. Most seem to have been large enough for a single bed and not much else:

The structure below showed its owner had put some effort into its design and construction. It was built almost as a basement and, as you can see, had a crude fireplace. While Reilly is in the desert, it is at an elevation of about 4000 feet and it gets cold there in winter. This must have been a cozy place on cold January nights:

Many of the surviving dwellings in Reilly are little larger than pup tents, as shown below. This is a stack of rocks larger enough to accommodate one person; canvas or wooden boards would be used to cover the top. by the way, that's the Argus Range in the distance; Death Valley is behind them and Ballarat is at the foot of the range:

Here's the view from inside one of the remaining structures. Maybe it wasn't very comfortable, but at least the scenery was spectacular:

Trash collection apparently wasn't good at Reilly, because the residents left a lot of junk behind-----like steel "tin" cans----at the site for us to look at and admire:

I suppose this must've been the home of one of the more prosperous residents of Reilly, as much of its wooden roof remains after over 120 years. The interior is comparatively spacious, about as a large as a contemporary tent sleeping five persons:

Here's a view of the front of the structure above. The "doorway" was irregular, so any door must've been primitive and not very tight; perhaps they just used a sheet of canvas across the opening:

As happened with many 1990s dot-coms, economic reality eventually caught up with Reilly. In 1883, the mine produced only $20,000 in silver and production began to drop by year's end as the vein "played out." By the middle of 1884, the mine and post office closed and Reilly was abandoned before the end of the year. Scavengers eventually stripped away the wood used for the general store, boarding house, saloon, post office, and Edward Reilly's fine home. But the simpler stone structures of Edward Reilly's employees remain. Maybe there's a lesson in that story. . . . . . .

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Happy Anniversary To Us!

Tomorrow marks the fourth wedding anniversary for me and Di, and we're off for a few days in Corpus Christi to celebrate and relax. We got married on February 13-----a Friday, no less----at the Little Church of the West in Las Vegas. Students of fine cinema will remember that as the locale where Elvis married Ann-Margaret at the conclusion of Viva Las Vegas.

Perhaps the most difficult aspect of my illness has been the impact it has had on Di. We've spent almost half of our married life with me as a cancer patient, and the toll on her has been tremendous. When we moved to Texas in the fall of 2004, we had dreams about our horse ranch, the places we were going to see, the things we were going to do, etc. It was such a blast in 2005 to have little impromptu races on our horses around the riding trails out here; in early 2006, we enrolled in a refresher conversational Spanish class at a local community college in preparation for some travels we were going to do in Central America. And in April, 2006 the bottom abruptly fell out of my world.

Like many cancer patients, I am often filled with guilt over having the disease. I feel like I'm doing something wrong by being sick, like I'm letting Di and others down because I'm sometimes in a state where I can barely function. I find myself wishing I had never met her so she wouldn't have to go through all of this. Even though I now know such feelings are normal when you have cancer, I still sometimes feel them with great intensity. Thankfully, Di has taken things with remarkable grace and courage and not a trace of complaint or regret. There have been times when I've felt like saying to hell with everything and discontinuing all treatments (especially the chemo), but I then realize Di is hoping desperately that I'll get better and live, and I know I have to do everything I can to fight on, not for me but for her. When someone loves you that much, you must show you love them in return by trying your damnedest to hold out against the disease.

I have been extraordinarily lucky in my life, and having Di in my life is the biggest lucky break I've had in a long while. The photo below is one I took of her one morning at our house in Las Vegas shortly after our wedding; it captures her in her natural state and is one of my favorite photos of her. At any rate, I'm going to try my best to be around for our fifth anniversary; in the meantime, we're off to the beach!

Thursday, February 7, 2008

The Ghost Town Of Mineral Park, Arizona

Mineral Park, Arizona is located about 25 miles north of Kingman, Arizona on Highway 93, the road connecting Las Vegas and Kingman. A signed dirt road leads about five miles to the town site.

Mineral Park was founded in 1871 with discoveries of silver, lead, and gold in its surrounding hills. It quickly became the county seat of Mohave County and boasted of a newspaper, stores, saloons, an assay office, a hotel, and a stagecoach station. But the railroad bypassed Mineral Park in favor of Kingman, and by 1887 the Arizona legislature vote to transfer the county seat to Kingman. The outraged citizens of Mineral Park refused to accept the change. A few days later, a posse arrived from Kingman and, literally, took all country records and documents with them back to Kingman.

Worse news for Mineral Park came soon thereafter when the mines started to play out and eventually closed. The post office closed in 1906 and the town was totally deserted months later.

Unlike many other ghost towns, the structures of Mineral Park used plenty of wood and adobe. Unfortunately, most are in a state of collapse like the one below:

The building below is the best-preserved one still standing in Mineral Park; the walls are adobe over a wood frame with a tar paper roof. I guess this one dates from toward the end of Mineral Park's life.

There is supposedly a well-preserved cemetery in Mineral Park, although I was unable to find it on my visit. There is renewed open-pit mining in the area
, and I suspect it won't be much longer before the remains of Mineral Park vanish back into the Mojave desert.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

A Visit To Nevada's Area 51

Since I seem to be writing a lot lately about my visits to odd places in the desert, I guess I might as well recount my trips to Nevada's Area 51. It was one of my favorite day trips when I lived in Las Vegas. There is so much to love about the place: the stark beauty of the area, the surreal feeling of stopping at the heavily guarded boundary of a place that officially doesn't even exist, and the parade of the simply curious and somewhat deranged to it is a circus in and of itself. Area 51 is as American as apple pie.

Area 51 is not so much a specific place as it is a region. It is located northeast of Las Vegas and is reached by taking Interstate 15 east to U.S. Highway93. You then follow 93 north to the small town of Crystal Springs, where you then take Highway 375. The sign for Highway 375 lets you know what you're in for over the next several miles:

Highway 375 is an "open range" road, meaning cattle can (and do) wander around freely in the middle of the road. Cattle mutilations are a frequent occurrence here, although SUVs and trucks do the mutilating instead of UFOs. The open range warning signs have a UFO theme:

Ground zero for the Area 51 phenomenon is the small town of Rachel, located about 40 miles north of the intersection of Highways 93 and 375. The permanent population of Rachel seems to be about 100 people, and almost all structures are mobile homes. Signs like those below give you a clue what the main "industry" of Rachel is:

The Little Ale Inn is a must-see in Rachel; in fact, it's about the only thing to see in Rachel (the "Area 51 Research Center" pictured above is now closed). It offers the only food and drink in town, sells UFO-related souvenirs and other merchandise, and has plenty of right-wing paranoia on display over the bar (I took the third photo below on a visit back in 1999). What's not to love about the Little Ale Inn??

The "real" action concerning Area 51 actually takes place north and south of Rachel. A favorite spot for UFO watchers is the White (formerly "Black") Mailbox located about 11.5 miles south on Highway 375. This area is supposedly the best place to see UFOs as they rise, hover, and materialize/dematerialize over the mountains in the background; you haven't lived until you've encountered a busload of Japanese tourists waiting here around midnight! In truth, there are some spectacular and unusual lights to be seen here many nights----I've seen them myself-----but I think I was watching tests of the next generation of military aircraft and weapons systems instead of UFOs. But hey, believe whatever you want to believe. . . . .

No visit to Area 51 is complete without a trip to the border of the base that doesn't exist. The turn-off for the base is located five miles south of the White Mailbox----in other words, about 24.5 miles south of Rachel----and while the road is unmarked, it's unmistakable. It's well-graded and arrow-straight:

The Area 51 boundary lies almost 14 miles away. When you drive to it, you see only the warning signs below at the boundary. You don't even get to see the guardhouse, as it lies around a bend in the road and is out of sight, as is the rest of the base behind the hills you see in the distance. However, it's always fun to take a photo of a "Photography Of This Area Is Prohibited" sign, and there always seems to be a few German or Italian tourists around who are Deeply Serious about the meaning of it all and are just begging to have their chains jerked ("Excuse me, sir, but do you think George Bush is watching our movements right now?" "Oh, you bet your ass he is, Gunther!!").

Kidding aside, they are damn serious about security at the border. Anyone and everyone who crosses over the border is arrested and fined----currently about $600----when they are turned over to the local sheriff's department. While at the border, you're under continuous surveillance by the Area 51 security forces-----the so-called "Cammo Dudes"----who watch from hilltops from just inside the border, as shown in the photo below. I've checked these guys out with binoculars, and have noted them looking back through their binoculars. (I once waved at them, and they waved back----for real!) I've also observed them using a video camera on border visitors.

There's another approach to the Area 51 boundary that's far less known and visited even though it's closer to Rachel. This so-called "north gate" is reached by traveling about a mile and a half south of Rachel and then turning right on to the unmarked road below:

This road is wider than the other entrance road to Area 51, and is used by trucks carrying supplies into the site. After about 10 miles, you come to the boundary and the guardhouse below. Like the other Area 51 entrance, the guardhouse is actually inside the border and you have to stop short of it. As I related in my book Top Secret Tourism, this entrance seems to be more "sensitive" and the guards----and official traffic, judging from the "brushback" I got from a truck with U.S. government plates----seem a lot more "touchy" here than at the other entrance:

Area 51 is a place everyone should make time for on a visit to Las Vegas. It's a combination of the New Age goofiness of a place like Sedona, Arizona, the earnest, high-tech seriousness of NASA headquarters in Houston, and a pervasive feeling of bewilderment and alienation (no pun intended).