Quantcast
4S Ranch Allied Gardens Alpine Baja Balboa Park Bankers Hill Barrio Logan Bay Ho Bay Park Black Mountain Ranch Blossom Valley Bonita Bonsall Borrego Springs Boulevard Campo Cardiff-by-the-Sea Carlsbad Carmel Mountain Carmel Valley Chollas View Chula Vista City College City Heights Clairemont College Area Coronado CSU San Marcos Cuyamaca College Del Cerro Del Mar Descanso Downtown San Diego Eastlake East Village El Cajon Emerald Hills Encanto Encinitas Escondido Fallbrook Fletcher Hills Golden Hill Grant Hill Grantville Grossmont College Guatay Harbor Island Hillcrest Imperial Beach Imperial Valley Jacumba Jamacha-Lomita Jamul Julian Kearny Mesa Kensington La Jolla Lakeside La Mesa Lemon Grove Leucadia Liberty Station Lincoln Acres Lincoln Park Linda Vista Little Italy Logan Heights Mesa College Midway District MiraCosta College Miramar Miramar College Mira Mesa Mission Beach Mission Hills Mission Valley Mountain View Mount Hope Mount Laguna National City Nestor Normal Heights North Park Oak Park Ocean Beach Oceanside Old Town Otay Mesa Pacific Beach Pala Palomar College Palomar Mountain Paradise Hills Pauma Valley Pine Valley Point Loma Point Loma Nazarene Potrero Poway Rainbow Ramona Rancho Bernardo Rancho Penasquitos Rancho San Diego Rancho Santa Fe Rolando San Carlos San Marcos San Onofre Santa Ysabel Santee San Ysidro Scripps Ranch SDSU Serra Mesa Shelltown Shelter Island Sherman Heights Skyline Solana Beach Sorrento Valley Southcrest South Park Southwestern College Spring Valley Stockton Talmadge Temecula Tierrasanta Tijuana UCSD University City University Heights USD Valencia Park Valley Center Vista Warner Springs

At the World’s End: Ballarat Ghost Town, Death Valley

Seeing is believing...? The truck rumored to have belonged to Charles Manson in Ballarat, CA.
Seeing is believing...? The truck rumored to have belonged to Charles Manson in Ballarat, CA.

Death Valley must be seen to be believed.

From the turquoise flats rolling out beneath lofty Dante’s View to the salty vertigo of Badwater Basin, the lowest point in North America, it is a place of spectacular, desolate scenery. It's hard to believe that pioneers traveled thousands of miles across such inhospitable wastes in search of settlement.

We had limited time in the desert and rather than join the line of cars heading for the motels of Beatty, we went south. Our destination was the isolated ghost town of Ballarat, where I was in search of a very specific truck. Charlie Manson’s truck*.

Don’t judge me. I have dark tastes.

Off the Trona 178, we took the dirt road to Ballarat. The light was already failing but our car’s suspension wouldn’t let us go faster than 15 mph, so it was a tense journey as we raced the sun. Thankfully, we arrived forty minutes before dusk, when the long lazy shadows are most perfect for desert photography.

A sign at the entrance of town reminded us that “you learn nothing by sitting in the car,” so we parked to explore.

Ballarat was a small town that served nearby mining camps until 1917; the last resident died in the late sixties. Now, the town is a graveyard of dissected cars and trucks and a smattering of wooden buildings that would fall over if pushed. Some of the structures are maintained for tourism, such as the old jail/morgue – complete with wooden bench for laying out stiffs. The shadowy mountains rise up behind, shielding the town from the blistering, gritty winds.

The only person in town was the owner of the "Outpost" camping store. He happily pointed out a truck parked away from the others.

“One of the family wrote their name on the door,” he grinned indulgently.

We had found a grim piece of America’s past: a green-and-white truck used by the Manson family when they were camping out at Barker Ranch. The headlights had been smashed into blind, sinister eyes. Time and scorching winds had eaten bullet-like holes into the rusting metal.

As promised, we saw shapes painted on the door as if daubed by finger; when I tilted my head and squinted, it could have spelled "WAR." The inside of the cab was speckled with spray-painted silver stars, another Manson family fetish.

We didn’t have long to consider the horrors that this truck may have seen. The desert chill was urging us back on the highway before the sandstorms rolled in. It was a long drive to San Diego, but that didn’t matter; we had found what we were looking for.

*I am aware that Charlie’s truck may well be a myth. The truth is, I don’t really care. The journey to this ramshackle settlement in the desert was the adventure, not the conclusion.

Life is the bit you live – not what you know.

Here's something you might be interested in.
Submit a free classified
or view all

Previous article

De Anza Cove terrorized, La Jolla Cove cesspool, doomed life in Eastlake, South vs North Park, displaced persons in City Heights

Quirky San Diego neighborhoods
Seeing is believing...? The truck rumored to have belonged to Charles Manson in Ballarat, CA.
Seeing is believing...? The truck rumored to have belonged to Charles Manson in Ballarat, CA.

Death Valley must be seen to be believed.

From the turquoise flats rolling out beneath lofty Dante’s View to the salty vertigo of Badwater Basin, the lowest point in North America, it is a place of spectacular, desolate scenery. It's hard to believe that pioneers traveled thousands of miles across such inhospitable wastes in search of settlement.

We had limited time in the desert and rather than join the line of cars heading for the motels of Beatty, we went south. Our destination was the isolated ghost town of Ballarat, where I was in search of a very specific truck. Charlie Manson’s truck*.

Don’t judge me. I have dark tastes.

Off the Trona 178, we took the dirt road to Ballarat. The light was already failing but our car’s suspension wouldn’t let us go faster than 15 mph, so it was a tense journey as we raced the sun. Thankfully, we arrived forty minutes before dusk, when the long lazy shadows are most perfect for desert photography.

A sign at the entrance of town reminded us that “you learn nothing by sitting in the car,” so we parked to explore.

Ballarat was a small town that served nearby mining camps until 1917; the last resident died in the late sixties. Now, the town is a graveyard of dissected cars and trucks and a smattering of wooden buildings that would fall over if pushed. Some of the structures are maintained for tourism, such as the old jail/morgue – complete with wooden bench for laying out stiffs. The shadowy mountains rise up behind, shielding the town from the blistering, gritty winds.

The only person in town was the owner of the "Outpost" camping store. He happily pointed out a truck parked away from the others.

“One of the family wrote their name on the door,” he grinned indulgently.

We had found a grim piece of America’s past: a green-and-white truck used by the Manson family when they were camping out at Barker Ranch. The headlights had been smashed into blind, sinister eyes. Time and scorching winds had eaten bullet-like holes into the rusting metal.

As promised, we saw shapes painted on the door as if daubed by finger; when I tilted my head and squinted, it could have spelled "WAR." The inside of the cab was speckled with spray-painted silver stars, another Manson family fetish.

We didn’t have long to consider the horrors that this truck may have seen. The desert chill was urging us back on the highway before the sandstorms rolled in. It was a long drive to San Diego, but that didn’t matter; we had found what we were looking for.

*I am aware that Charlie’s truck may well be a myth. The truth is, I don’t really care. The journey to this ramshackle settlement in the desert was the adventure, not the conclusion.

Life is the bit you live – not what you know.

Sponsored
Here's something you might be interested in.
Submit a free classified
or view all
Previous article

Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego’s biennial Art Auction, La Mesa Oktoberfest, Keep Rockin’ Fest

Events October 1-October 3, 2020
Next Article

Santa Ana winds bring San Diego's driest days; where to cool off; best view of Mars till 2033

Natural San Diego, September 28-October 4
Comments
6

Amy, that truck belonged to Bobby Beausoleil.

July 7, 2012

Good read, Amy! Hadn't heard about the truck.

July 7, 2012

Ah, always glad to have corroboration. I believe he was one of the Family...?

July 9, 2012

Yes, he was. He is currently serving a life term in Oregan State Penitentiary for the murder of Gary Hinman.

July 9, 2012

Fascinating. It would be really interesting to read a 'where are they now' scoop on all the Family members. I am currently wading through Bugliosi's 'Helter Skelter' and it was such an interesting court case.

July 9, 2012

Amy, another great trip and article. Are you going to put these and your photos in a book one day? I'd buy it. Dark Tourism. Yeah.

July 9, 2012

Sign in to comment

Sign in

Art Reviews — W.S. Di Piero's eye on exhibits Ask a Hipster — Advice you didn't know you needed Best Buys — San Diego shopping Big Screen — Movie commentary Blurt — Music's inside track Booze News — San Diego spirits City Lights — News and politics Classical Music — Immortal beauty Classifieds — Free and easy Cover Stories — Front-page features Excerpts — Literary and spiritual excerpts Famous Former Neighbors — Next-door celebs Feast! — Food & drink reviews Feature Stories — Local news & stories From the Archives — Spotlight on the past Golden Dreams — Talk of the town Here's the Deal — Chad Deal's watering holes Just Announced — The scoop on shows Letters — Our inbox [email protected] — Local movie buffs share favorites Movie Reviews — Our critics' picks and pans Musician Interviews — Up close with local artists Neighborhood News from Stringers — Hyperlocal news News Ticker — News & politics Obermeyer — San Diego politics illustrated Of Note — Concert picks Out & About — What's Happening Overheard in San Diego — Eavesdropping illustrated Poetry — The old and the new Pour Over — Grab a cup Reader Travel — Travel section built by travelers Reading — The hunt for intellectuals Roam-O-Rama — SoCal's best hiking/biking trails San Diego Beer — Inside San Diego suds SD on the QT — Almost factual news Set 'em Up Joe — Bartenders' drink recipes Sheep and Goats — Places of worship Special Issues — The best of Sports — Athletics without gush Street Style — San Diego streets have style Suit Up — Fashion tips for dudes Theater Reviews — Local productions Theater antireviews — Narrow your search Tin Fork — Silver spoon alternative Under the Radar — Matt Potter's undercover work Unforgettable — Long-ago San Diego Unreal Estate — San Diego's priciest pads Waterfront — All things ocean Your Week — Daily event picks
4S Ranch Allied Gardens Alpine Baja Balboa Park Bankers Hill Barrio Logan Bay Ho Bay Park Black Mountain Ranch Blossom Valley Bonita Bonsall Borrego Springs Boulevard Campo Cardiff-by-the-Sea Carlsbad Carmel Mountain Carmel Valley Chollas View Chula Vista City College City Heights Clairemont College Area Coronado CSU San Marcos Cuyamaca College Del Cerro Del Mar Descanso Downtown San Diego Eastlake East Village El Cajon Emerald Hills Encanto Encinitas Escondido Fallbrook Fletcher Hills Golden Hill Grant Hill Grantville Grossmont College Guatay Harbor Island Hillcrest Imperial Beach Imperial Valley Jacumba Jamacha-Lomita Jamul Julian Kearny Mesa Kensington La Jolla Lakeside La Mesa Lemon Grove Leucadia Liberty Station Lincoln Acres Lincoln Park Linda Vista Little Italy Logan Heights Mesa College Midway District MiraCosta College Miramar Miramar College Mira Mesa Mission Beach Mission Hills Mission Valley Mountain View Mount Hope Mount Laguna National City Nestor Normal Heights North Park Oak Park Ocean Beach Oceanside Old Town Otay Mesa Pacific Beach Pala Palomar College Palomar Mountain Paradise Hills Pauma Valley Pine Valley Point Loma Point Loma Nazarene Potrero Poway Rainbow Ramona Rancho Bernardo Rancho Penasquitos Rancho San Diego Rancho Santa Fe Rolando San Carlos San Marcos San Onofre Santa Ysabel Santee San Ysidro Scripps Ranch SDSU Serra Mesa Shelltown Shelter Island Sherman Heights Skyline Solana Beach Sorrento Valley Southcrest South Park Southwestern College Spring Valley Stockton Talmadge Temecula Tierrasanta Tijuana UCSD University City University Heights USD Valencia Park Valley Center Vista Warner Springs
Close