Randsburg – Johannesburg, California - Atlas Obscura

Johannesburg, California

Randsburg

The liveliest ghost town in the state. 

Nestled in California’s Kern County and the Mojave desert lies the barely populated remains of what was once the booming gold rush town of Randsburg.

When gold was discovered in 1895, Rand’s Mine quickly became a bustling village, despite the brutal heat of its location. The population grew rapidly to almost 4000 people by the turn of the century and transformed what had been just a Death Valley wish into a practically cosmopolitan location of commerce, wealth, and entertainment.

The mines produced what would be roughly sixty million dollars worth of gold today and the village grew with every new vein that was discovered. The first post office opened in 1896 and was followed by an opera house, a general store, a lot of saloons and a few churches. Unfortunately, in 1897 a relatively large fire broke out and though it had inflicted minimal damage, it was an omen of things to come. Just a few months later, another fire broke out, swallowing about half the town. Before it could be rebuilt, a third fire took out most of the rest of the structures and the population vanished as quickly as it had been born.

In the years since, the gold has dried up entirely and the town has been largely abandoned. The 2010 census found that 69 people still live in the area called Randsburg and the General Store is still open, supplying the minimal population with the goods that they need. Many of the structures still stand but are not maintained. The only visitors consist of off-road vehicles, campers or roving packs of motorcycles that are flying down the nearby Highway 395 unless it is Thanksgiving weekend or New Year’s Eve. On those holidays tourists flock into the town to check out the abandoned buildings, walk through the relatively new museum and have a drink in the old saloon with the skeleton crew of the population that remains.

Many movies and music videos have been shot on location in Randsburg as well, due to the uniqueness of it being a mostly abandoned ghost town that still has basic amenities and plenty of local color. 2011’s blockbuster film Cowboys and Aliens featured many scenes that were filmed in the town, and the video for Dwight Yoakam’s video Long White Cadillac was filmed there too, just to name a few.