Editor’s Note: As we take a look back into Death Valley, we look forward to exploring even more on our next Adventure!
After spending an amazing night at the Minietta Mine Site, waking up to a breathtaking sunrise followed by some coffee and breakfast, we decided to take a little closer look at the mining area itself. NOTE: I feel it necessary to mention that we are a professional operation operating under strict permits, having and showing the utmost care and respect for these areas. We hope we leave these areas in better condition then when we arrive, always practicing safety and integrity.
Day two would be a long day, but only because of the incredible sights and places we would visit. The Gaia GPS map overview looks like this:
From the limited information I was able to dig up, I did find this: The Minietta Mine operated on and off until 1915. In 1924 this silver-lead-gold mine was reopened and the Modoc Mine was leased. Their slag piles and dumps were reworked, yielding gold, silver, copper, lead, and zinc. In the mid-1930s the Minietta was leased and refinanced and a mill and modern equipment were to be installed. If gold and silver prices held, the future of the mine seemed bright. By 1938 the Modoc Mine had produced $1,900,000 worth of ore and the Minietta $1,000,000. Today there are several stone walls and foundations of the former townsite, as well as numerous mining ruins.
From the mining area of the Minietta, we headed back out to the main highway and then south, towards the town of Ballarat, California.
An excerpt from Legends of America says Ballarat began in 1897 as a supply point for the mines in the canyons of the Panamint Mountain Range. At one point the town had over 500 residents, seven saloons, three hotels, a Wells Fargo Station, post office, school, a jail, and a morgue, but not a single church. This “town” was the definitely worth stopped in…it was a place where time seemed to have stopped.
After spending some time chatting with the local storekeepers, it was time to head up…literally. Up through Pleasant Canyon, towards Rita’s Cabin and Rogers Pass, stopping at the occasional mine of course! The Clair Camp (which served the Ratcliff Mine), at its peak boasted a 4,200-foot long aerial tramway, a twenty-stamp mill and a 50-ton cyanide mill . With some more “digging” I was able to find this: In 1896 Henry Ratcliff’s mine began production. It produced about half a million dollars worth of gold over a 5 year period. During this period up to 200 miners worked the Ratcliff. It became a “town” complete with a Blacksmith, and assaying office etc. Ultimately, 200 people were just too many for this small area, and the town was abandoned along with Ballarat around 1901 due to the enormous strikes in Tonopah. W.D. Clair bought the Ratcliff mine in 1930 and worked the tailings successfully bringing out another 60,000 in gold ore. Hence the name “Clair Camp”.
Just beyond our lunch stop at Clair Camp, we came across another of the Cabins that are scattered across the area. These are first come first serve shelters that you can stay in if you so choose.
After reaching the top of Rogers Pass at just over 7000 feet, there was only one way to go…and that would be down through Middle Park, South Park and Colter Spring along the South Park Canyon “Road”.
Did I mention that the views are just spectacular!
After winding down from what felt like the top of the world, things got tighter as we made our way to our camp spot for the night…but first we would have to get through Colter Spring and a section of road simply known as “the bridge”…
After traversing the ledge road and “the bridge”, which required a little spotting as failure at the rock ledge would not have been pretty, we started to look for camp. It was getting close to cocktail hour as well as dinner time! As we came down the steep twisty section of road, we stumbled across another one of the public use Adapt-A-Cabins. We were sure this one would already have guests…but it did not! And this place was AMAZING!
Known as Briggs Camp, this is a popular 4×4 destination with a well cared for cabin. The Cabin was built by Harry Briggs, a miner and is now cared for by the Friends of Briggs Camp. I’ve never been touched by place as much as I was by this place.
Imaging if there was a place…out in the middle of nowhere…where you could find shelter, heat, an outdoor toilet (and toilet paper!!). A fire pit, a BBQ…that was landscaped with great care…that had solar power…that was cared for and open for anyone to use. That wasn’t vandalized. That was respected. This was that place…times 100.
From by limited reading and research, a man by the name of Earl Fox that was a prospector in the area for over 47 years, donated the property that was originally built and owned by Harry Briggs. My thanks and appreciation go out to the folks that care for and maintain this amazing piece of history.
Stay tuned for Day 3 of this amazing Modern Jeeper Adventure through Death Valley!