Saturday, April 19, 2008

The Ghost Town Of Providence, California

The site of Providence, California is located in the Mojave Desert just south of Mitchell Caverns State Park and north of the small town of Essex on Interstate 40 and the Providence Mountains State Recreation Area. It is reached by a very sandy dirt road and, IMO, requires a 4WD vehicle----at least I had to engage the 4WD on my Toyota 4Runner to avoid getting stuck on my way to and from the site. The sandy road eventually ends and then you get to hike about a mile to the site. Precise directions can be obtained from the rangers at Mitchell Caverns State Park or from a Bureau of Land Management office. Getting to Providence is not easy but it's worth the effort.

Providence came into being in 1880 with the discovery of a rich vein of silver in the area. By 1882, a post office had opened and over a billion dollars of silver (at today's prices) had been mined in the area. But production began to slump dramatically in 1885 and mining operations, and the post office, closed in 1892. Providence was abandoned soon thereafter. Since then there have been scattered attempts to revive mining operations, especially around 1980 when silver prices hit $50 an ounce, but all were unsuccessful.

As you reach the site of Providence, you first see the ruins of the mining operations:

There is something magnificent in Providence's isolation and the bleakness of its surrounding terrain. I visited late on an early January day, and the low angle of the sun, coupled with the dramatic background of the Providence Mountains, accentuated the drama of the ruins:

This was a curious little structure. It wasn't high enough to allow me to stand upright inside and was too small to be much of a storage area. It had a bench for sitting, but wasn't an outhouse or other toilet. What wasit? Your guess is as good as mine:

Providence was constructed from locally available stone, and as a result many of the stone walls are still standing. Alas, the wooden roofs are long gone:

This is the stone foundation-----complete steps leading to nowhere-----of what must have been an impressive building. However, I'm puzzled by the absence of any vertical walls, and this leads me to suspect the sides were probably wood instead of stone. But why was this building constructed so differently from the others in Providence? I searched for a cornerstone or other evidence of the building's identity or purpose, and came up empty. I guess the desert will keep this secret forever:

Providence was built to last, and its stone structures have survived better than most other ghost towns. There was nobody but me left there on that winter afternoon, and the wind roaring down from the Providence Mountains chilled me to the bone. Yet, it was almost as if I could've heard those echoes from the past if I only paused and listened intently enough. . . . .