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.


  1. Good article Brian, I've driven by Ballarat several times but the 3 mile drive down the dirt road didn't look that inviting to me. I guess I should have driven down to the town. I'll give everyone some advise, "Don't let time get in your way. Life only goes around once and you never know if this may be your one and only time to visit a place like Ballarat. Take a deep breath relax and do it. You won't be like me today saying yeah I should have driven the 5 minutes and visited even if it is a disappointment or not you at least were there and won't regret it later on in life." Or like Harmonica said, "Someday".

  2. The older I get the more inclined I am to dawdle along the way. I had an itinerary for this trip and it didn't include Ballarat, but this detour turned out to be one of the highlights of the trip.

  3. I've been to some far out of the way towns and many are the most rewarding visits of the trip. You seem to find hidden treasures in these towns because most people won't take the time or energy to get there. There reasoning is, "If it's not on the main road, why bother". Sad to say we miss so many great places and history by staying within the box.