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. . . . . . .