Tucked into the sunburned sagebrush of the high desert in Lassen County, California, is an area once known as Secret Valley.
The times have changed since it had that name, and everything else has changed with it - including the once bustling and rowdy railroad town turned lumber town, turned ghost town which has been all but swallowed by the desert that surrounds it. In the middle of this barren land, a few miles off the beaten path, stand the ruins of a grand and sprawling Manor House, known only as ‘Secret’ by the locals who remain.
As you travel through the back roads of the dry desert, hop over a few fences and wander down a gravel road that at one time was the highway, the blazing heat and the parched earth gives way to a startlingly lush oasis of water-drenched trees swinging in the breeze that bring shade to a large house, various hitching posts and ramshackle buildings and barns. If you explore these outbuildings, you will find that some are still full of intriguing tools, metal bits & rotting horse tack. The overgrown weeds and tall green grasses everywhere hide the wooden corpses of the stage coaches & buggies that carried the huge house to this current and final location.
Legend has it that Secret was a house of ill repute originally located near the railroad tracks that gave the rail workers of the late 1800s a place to fulfill their fantasies while they dreamt of finding gold in the hills or retiring rich with a beauty by their side. As the railroad declined with the advent of highways and the lumber trade, the house was relocated by buggy and coach to rest alongside the newer gravel highway, offering the same rest and respite to weary travelers and lonely locals alike for a few more years. Over time, the gravel road was rendered obsolete by the concrete highways of the new age and suddenly Secret found itself cut off and isolated - separated from the new thoroughfare by acres of grassland and marsh with no easy access to the manor or the women within it.
This once glorious lodge has disintegrated through the years and though you can still see the luxury of what it was long ago, all that is left now is a haunted and rickety shell of an abandoned ranch house that remains full of the ghosts of its rumored past. The house is littered with old and filthy mattresses in almost every room, along with pieces of dismantled headboards , peeling wallpaper, rotting furniture and broken china. It has been picked clean of any worth over the years and is dangerously decrepit. Adding insult to injury, a few years ago a large tree on the property crashed through its roof, further exposing it to the elements and accelerating its decay. Despite all the mishaps, animal droppings, dusty cobwebs and years of neglect, when you are standing within the home or in its shadow, it’s easy to imagine the spirits of the inviting women who once leaned out of its many windows and doors, tempting the travelers who happened by. In the fields you can almost glimpse the horses tied to the hitching posts and in the whispers of the unlikely trees, you can hear the echoes of the many bawdy nights full of hard liquor, rowdy men and loose women.
The hidden ruins of this manor in the middle of nowhere remind us that time will march on no matter what and with every step of progress, something somewhere falls behind. It is a window into an era gone by and as you stand in the shade of the trees and explore the land or the house, the imagination can’t help but wonder how many stories remain Secret to this day.