Saturday, July 17, 2010

My Favorite Places; Ballarat, CA

On our way to Death Valley we took the three mile or so detour on a dusty unpaved road to Ballarat, a very small ghost town that exists just outside the border of the National Park. It was late June, about one hundred and ten degrees with no could we resist?
There was no movement in Ballarat. It was around noon as we drove in looking for a parking place. There was nothing but parking places in Ballarat, so we just pulled over at a ramshackle building that boasted it was a museum. As we got out of the car a scarecrow appeared in the door to the museum calling out a welcome. He didn't offer his name and we didn't ask for it, but he was friendly, telling us we could go anywhere, poke around, look at whatever we pleased. He was the caretaker of Ballarat, a middle-aged man who needed a haircut or a good combing. His shirt looked as if he'd eaten his lunch off of it, and he told us of the recent big news; how a movie had been shot in Ballarat (two years ago?) and how the top Hollywood director had been there with the filmmakers. He couldn't remember the guy's name, but there you go.
He pointed out Charlie Manson's truck, sitting in the desert across the street. I wandered over to look at it and it had psychedelic painting inside. It reeked of the sixties and Helter Skelter. The jail/morgue/hotel was a small building that the caretaker confessed had been built long after the heyday of Ballarat. But when fact becomes legend, print the legend.
There was a constant roar of jets overhead from the Naval Air base nearbby. You couldn't see the jets but you could hear them.
The museum was a bit of a letdown, containing only some junk and a movie poster of BAD MAN FROM BALLARAT or was it THE BALLARAT KID? My daughter pointed out that some of the vintage junk in the dilapidated buildings wasn't that vintage. Plastic dish trays for example, old Sprite bottles. Still, it was a ghost town and we were happy to pay the two dollar donation inside the museum (no receipt offered or required). Heck, it was worth that just to pet the caretaker's dog, who was hot, tired, and pretty darned friendly.