There aren’t too many ways to get to Furnace Creek in Death Valley for those coming from the Bay area. You can approach from the south, through the Panamint Valley or from the West taking route 395 to route 190. Both routes merge and continue to Stovepipe Wells, which has a motel, restaurant, and gas station. Then it is just under a half hour drive east and then south to the Furnace Creek visitor center. (Image: Panamint Valley)
We chose to drive the Panamint Valley Road. It’s a quiet drive with views of the Panamint Mountains and Telescope Peak (11,049 feet above sea level. Not many people drive on it. This road to Death Valley passed the ghost town of Ballarat, just a 3 mile detour off the road, on a washboarded dirt road. The town started as a place to supply the mines located in Panamint’s canyons. At one point, there were several hundred people there. Today, just a few buildings remain along with a general store that still operates. There’s not much in the store—cold sodas, water, and a few snack choices. I’ve been here before so I noticed that they expanded the store to include some Ballarat souvenirs. Some old dude hangs around the store. He used to run it, but this time, he had some younger help. I think they both live in the trailers that are behind the store.
Ballarat is a peaceful spot, most of the time. A few years ago as we were driving south through the valley, we were buzzed by a military jet. The jets still perform training runs, but this time all was quiet. The serial killer Charles Manson and clan held up in a farm just north of Ballarat. That explains why his junked trunk still sits rusted in Ballarat. (Image: Looking through the window of Manson's abandoned truck.)