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Inyo County, California

Ballarat Ghost Town

This old mining town, deep in the California desert, has a year-round population of one. 

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In the Panamint Valley of the Mojave Desert, about 150 miles northeast of Bakersfield, the abandoned town of Ballarat once hustled with plenty of gold prospectors — enough people to support a stop along the Wells Fargo route, three hotels, a school and seven saloons. Today there is only a whisper of the old mining town, watched over by one guy and his dog.

Named after a famous gold rush town in Australia from decades earlier, this mining supply station came along well after the California Gold Rush of the 1850s and 60s. Ballarat was established in 1896, during the late 19th century’s last gold mining gasp. There wasn’t much around these desert valleys then, and Ballarat was an important spot for both water and whisky.

Things boomed in this little boom-town for just a few years, from about 1897 to 1905. By then, the area lodes were down to a trickle, and the town’s few hundred residents started to move on. By 1917 the post office had closed, the hotels were long gone, there were no kids for the school, and even the saloons had packed up their shot glasses.

A few true die-hards held on after that, refusing to give up the ghost despite it being nearly a ghost town. Over the years there were a few attempts to bring back the old-time prospector spirit, but they didn’t stick. Today there are nearby campgrounds, the old graveyard, some building remains, and a general store run by the town’s only full-time resident, Roc. Last reported, he did have a dog, so maybe that adjusts the census count — Ballarat, Population: 2

Know Before You Go

Follow Rte 178 east from Bakersfield. At Searles Valley, follow Trona Wildrose Rd north for about 23 miles, turning right onto Ballarat Rd. In about 3.5 miles you'll be in Ballarat

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