Friday, July 25, 2008

The Ghost Town Of Marietta, Nevada

The site of Marietta is really remote; it's in west-central Nevada off Highway 95 between Tonopah and Hawthorne and the nearest gasoline is in Mina, 30 miles away. Cell phones don't work out here. If you visit, you're on your own if you have a problem!

Marietta was founded in 1877. Unlike most other ghost towns, it was not a site of gold or silver mining. Instead, Marietta was the location of the first large-scale borax mining operation in the United States. Marietta grew rapidly, and soon boasted numerous buildings (including, reportedly, 13 saloons), a post office, several stores, and even a little "Chinatown" because many of the laborers were Chinese immigrants. But in the mid-1890s, new deposits of borax were discovered in what is now Death Valley National Park and mining activity rapidly shifted there. By the early 1900s, Marietta was essentially abandoned and its post office had closed. There were brief flurries of gold mining in the 1930s and uranium prospecting in the early 1960s, but today Marietta is a true ghost town. There are still a couple of caretakers on site to look after mine owners' claims, but these people live in modern travel trailers near the site of Marietta.

The road from Highway 95 to Marietta is kept well maintained by the Bureau of Land Management because the town lies within a range for wild burros and horses. I wasn't lucky enough to see any of those two animals as I approached the site, but the view of Marietta from afar is striking in its starkness:

The most impressive ruins in Marietta are those of a general store run by F.M. "Borax" Smith, who in the early 1890s became famous (and rich) for discovering the vast borax deposits in Death Valley. Judging from the size of these ruins, Smith must've been doing well in Marietta as a merchant:

The other stone ruins in Marietta are more modest, as in the photo below. If you look carefully in the background, you can faintly see the outline of the dirt road that leads into Marietta:

Large stone-walled corrals were the American West's equivalent to today's covered auto parking garages. Naturally, Marietta had a couple of nice places to "park" your horse, like the one below:

There were few wooden structures in Marietta, and fewer still have survived the past century. In the photo below, the building at left with the crumbling "false front" was the post office. I'm not sure what the structure at right in the background was, but it seems to have been some sort of barn or stable:

I had the pleasure of visiting Marietta in mid-week in winter, and the silence and isolation was awesome. It was so quiet I soon became aware of the sounds of my own breathing and heartbeats, and I got a real sense of what an isolated spot this must've been even at the town's peak in the 1880s. The people who settled places like this were certainly a hardy, self-contained breed!