A little story about me and Casey’s little excursion to the infamous (and registered historical) Barker Ranch.
Initially we planned on going down Panamint Valley Road to get to Ballarat since the drive was only 30 miles and we had stayed in Panamint Springs the night prior. However due to flash flooding, Panamint Valley Road was washed out and closed.
So, instead we had to take a detour around the Panamint Range that totaled a over 150 miles and it took us through Trona, California, which has some “Manson Family” history itself.
While passing through Trona we saw this magnificent yard with lawn art made from palm trees. We stopped by and the artist sold little “Good Luck Guys” made out of piano strings. Knowing we needed all the luck, we grabbed two.
Thirty miles outside of Trona, we made it to Ballarat Road, a dirt road that ends up at the Ballarat Ghost Town with only one occupant— the now legendary Rock Novak and his dog Potlicker. We stopped by the Ballarat Store, much like the “Manson Family” would do before their descent into the mountains.
We jumped back in the Jeep— that was loaned to us by Casey’s brother Jeff— and started our ride down the long and miserable Wingate Road that takes you all the way down the side of the Searless Valley past many canyon roads and the Briggs gold mining outfit. Wingate Road winds for 18 miles and the last 8-9 miles is very slow driving. This is when we started to realize how far out of the way this is. The very last canyon in is the road to Goler Wash and that road is a beast.
When we turned down the mouth of Coyote Canyon Road, the road that brings you into the Goler Wash, the trek became inch by inch. The rocks in the road (heck, the road was nothing but piled rocks about 3” above the canyon floor) were huge, and the pace was mostly under 5mph.
Once we got to the mouth of the Goler Wash, the road became much easier— for now. In the beginning there’s literally steps that the truck had to climb. This wasn’t that hard, but again it was inch by inch.
Coyote Canyon Road winds through the opening in the mountain, sometimes without much room on either side of the Jeep. At times the road became very hard to pass, with large rocks to maneuver around and over. After an hour on this road and the realization how far (not only distance-wise, but time-wise) away from any resemblance of help we were, we both became irate and claustrophobic as anxiety rose.
We came to another climb, and this time we switched on the 4x4. We climbed the small rock relatively easy and then the “Hot Oil” alert came on. This is a warning that the truck’s engine has been working very hard, and is in the early stages of “Limp Mode” where the transmission will essentially stop working. The slow, hard, driving with the 110f heat, and rock climbing was the culprit. This really scared us. The walk back to help was about 22 miles and this was to a ghost town with one person. Real help was about 50 miles away.
So, we let it idle for a short time and the light went off. Fantastic. We carried on.
Thirty more minutes in, we saw a painted old sign that said: “Barker Ranch, 1 mile” and pointed towards a rock as the road split. It was hard to tell which way it was pointing, so we took the left. After a few hundred yards we came to a hill and we climbed it. Bad idea. The other side of the hill was a sheer cliff. We went the wrong way. So, we turned it around and went to the other side of the fork.
More driving through the never-ending canyon, through very rocky areas, and sometimes little creeks from the mountain run-offs, we came to the canyon opening and saw the old miner cabin at Barker Ranch. We made it.
It took us two hours from Ballarat to make it there.
When I think about Charles Manson and his people living up here, and how truly far away from anything it really is, it really makes me respect the fact that those people could actually live up here and make it. Granted in 1968 - 1969 Ballarat still had an active store, with a lot more people, but even to Ballarat it is a LONG ways.
I also find it fascinating that Bobby Beausoleil and his girlfriend hiked from Barker Ranch to Ballarat with Paul Watkins.
Being in that canyon, in 110f heat, without any way to get help, is a very awakening experience. If you are not ready for it you will have a feeling of not being in control, being at the will of the land.