Ghost Towns of the Mojave
Montgomery, Pahrump, Potosi, Goodsprings, Carp
Text and photos by David A. Wright
Turning south on Nevada Highway 160, Alan and I drove our vehicles five 5 to the site of Montgomery or better known as Johnnie, located up on a saddle near the slopes of 4,277 foot Mount Montgomery.
A few hardy visitors prospected the region of what was to become Johnnie as early as 1869. Nothing became of their efforts until a group of prospectors came along early in 1891, as they too lusted after the "Lost Breyfogle." A rush developed as more came along to take their piece of the large gold outcroppings on the northwest slopes of the Spring Mountains, a district was laid out called the Montgomery Mining District. The two largest mines were named the Johnnie and the Chispa.
By late spring, 100 men and women were living in the camp, which soon developed many of the trappings common to boom towns. The water supply for the camp was developed at some springs four miles away, being transported via donkeys, with the water packed in canvas bags. A post office named Montgomery was opened at the camp in August of 1891. Development continued until a decline set in during 1893. By March 1894, the post office closed and Montgomery faded away.
In 1898, Utah capitalists acquired the Johnnie and the Chispa Mines. A camp formed around the Johnnie Mine, and a post office was applied for and briefly operated under the name "Johny" on June 28, 1898. However the application was rescinded on April 18, 1899 and postal services terminated. During this period, stormy times reigned in camp. In one dispute over claims, a mine operator barricaded himself and a gun battle ensued. After the smoke cleared, the man barricading himself lay dead and three other men were wounded. A short time later, a similar dispute resulted in two deaths, a cookhouse and a 10-stamp mill burned to the ground, and a mine house dynamited.
Johnnie lay dormant like the dead men within its ground until the mass hysteria caused by the mining rush fueled by Tonopah, Goldfield and Rhyolite, swept southern Nevada. On May 27th, 1905, a post office by the name of Johnnie was opened in a townsite platted in a flat area below the mines, where Nevada Highway 160 currently bisects it. Rhyolite newspapers carried advertisements luring investors to get in on the rush and by 1907, Johnnie townsite had 300 citizens supporting saloons, stores, restaurants, hotels and stage lines.
The town this time demanded and obtained such amenities as fire hydrants, cold water, and tree-lined streets. At Johnnie Mine, a 16-stamp mill was erected and operated for some years. By WWI, things eased off, and on the last day of December, 1914, the post office ceased business; although the camp continued to be inhabited by a thinning populace.
The gold bearing rock around Johnnie, however, could not be overlooked, and leasers and small-scale operations continued to produce small amounts of tonnage. Johnnie post office resumed operations on April 14, 1916. In 1920, placer operations came into prominence. This and the Johnnie Mine supported the camp for the next 20 years. By the height of the Depression, only a handful of people were left in Johnnie, and the post office closed November 6, 1935.
The Johnnie Mine, however, continued to operate and soon another camp formed around that mine, located a few miles to the east, and yet another post office opened called Johnnie Mine on September 14, 1937. A store and billiard room operated at the mine until WWII forced cessation of all mining deemed unnecessary to the war effort, and on June 30, 1942, the post office closed in the Johnnie region for the last time.
Of Johnnie Mine today Alan and I found little that was allowed to be seen. A stern NO TRESSPASSING sign halted our progress, although the gate grasping that sign was open. We parked at the gate and viewed what we could via binoculars. What we could see mostly consisted of house trailers, mining equipment and vehicular leftovers from the 20th century, and little else.
A fine home is situated near the mine site, and a bulldozer parked amid fresh excavations nearby gave evidence that hen scratching for precious metal is still being carried on at Johnnie Mine. At Johnnie townsite on the flats a few miles east and back on Nevada 160, we found nothing but a 20th century eyesore of discarded household appliances. As Alan and I drove out of Johnnie, noting evidence left behind that there were wild horses and burros in the area, I made a rather sarcastic observation into my recorder: "At least the wild horses leave behind something biodegradable. The people certainly don't. A big old pile of carpeting thrown along the side of the road."
Our two-vehicle caravan continued south on Nevada 160, dropping down into the Pahrump Valley and the city of Pahrump. This town had grown significantly since Alan and I were last here together. Pahrump has become a bedroom community of sorts for the Las Vegas area, evidenced by a large number of mobile home dealerships; the city's elevation at 2,695 affords a relatively comfortable year around living experience. Gusty winds forecast the approaching storm as the cloud cover turned heavy and the Spring Mountains to the east were invisible enshrouded in the snow clouds.
Alan and I continued through Pahrump and set our sights on the ghost town of Potosi, about 40 miles southeast. Clouds continued to thicken and wind gusts pushed our vehicles around as we climbed 5,490-foot Mountain Springs Summit. A short distance south of that high point Alan turned onto a dirt road heading southwest into the thickening piñon pine and juniper forested slopes of 8,514 foot high Potosi Mountain. Snow flurries began to fall as we climbed Potosi Pass.
Using a historical photo from Stan Paher's wonderful book, NEVADA GHOST TOWNS & MINING CAMPS as a guide of what to look for, we searched as we drove along the road for any sign of Potosi's trademark huge tailing pile situated under a bluff of high cliffs. I finally spotted them a couple of miles southwest of the summit of Potosi Pass. I had to chase Alan over a mile over rough territory to let him know I had found Potosi, wishing all the while that he had a CB radio as I did for easier communication.
Lead ore deposits were found high upon a cliff by prospecting Mormons living at the mission at Las Vegas in 1856. Soon thereafter, Nathaniel Jones came from Salt Lake City to take a look at the mine and named it the Potosi after his Wisconsin boyhood home. Jones returned to Salt Lake for supplies to develop the mine.
Early smelting developments were futile, for the lead proved to be uncooperative. In 1861, the Colorado Mining Company set up a larger smelter at Potosi Spring, and silver mining operations were commenced. Potosi townsite was platted 700 feet below the mine by Capt. J.E. Stevens, which was then in northwestern New Mexico Territory -- 100 miners made Potosi their home.
A handwritten newspaper was published by J.A. Talbott called East of the Nevada; or The Miner's Voice From the Colorado. The first issue was published February 19, 1861. In the remote village, Talbott had competition in the form of the oddly-named Potosi Nix Cum Rouscht, which was quite short lived. Talbott's paper lasted a few issues, the ROUSCHT lasted only one issue. Mining operations ceased in 1863. In 1870 the Silver State Mining Company reopened the Potosi and a cluster of buildings at Potosi Springs was called Crystal City, but didn't last long.
Work was sporadic at the Potosi for the next three decades until Senator Clark's Los Angeles & Salt Lake Railroad was built through Las Vegas, passing within less than a day's wagon ride from Potosi, at which time mining began in earnest. The mine was found to contain a high zinc content and for 14 years zinc mining was conducted on a regular producing basis. A tramway was built to make the trip from mine to smelter easier. Activity slowed after 1920, although between 1925 and 1928 production was again running full bore. Potosi produced over $4,500,000 in lead, silver and zinc.
Alan and I could not find a quick or easy access to Potosi Mine that dreary, snow flurry filled afternoon. We stumbled around the Potosi townsite and viewed the large tailing piles high up at the base of those magnificent cliffs on a flank of Potosi Mountain. Other than the mine tailings, we found nothing to indicate Potosi townsite, other than the same natural landmarks shown in the photograph in Paher's book.
Potosi is a site filled with a paradoxical solitude vast vistas of desert and mountain with no signs of civilization in your field of vision; yet your ears were accosted by the roar of jet aircraft climbing to cruising altitude from McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas, 22 air miles northeast of Potosi's otherwise quiet and solitude.
Alan and I retraced our route back out to Nevada 160. My heart was by then set on a hotel, a hot shower, a shave and a good hearty meal that didn't come from a can. The leaden sky and snow flurries produced a chill in my soul that a shower of hot water and later, a sizzling T-bone, would go a long way toward warming up. Our destination for the night was to be one of the hotel-casinos at the hamlet of Jean, located 30 miles southwest of the Las Vegas core alongside Interstate 15. One of the things that Alan had on his itinerary for the evening was to meet with a man who was providing him information on the semi-ghost town of Goodsprings, located 7 miles northwest of Jean, for an upcoming issue of Alan's WESTERN PLACES Magazine.
As we made our way south on Nevada 160, and within sight of Las Vegas, Alan suddenly veered off onto a dirt road that lead south over Cottonwood Pass to Goodsprings. Alan said it was a shortcut. It was it cut off 19 miles to Jean; but it seemed like an eternity to cover the 20 miles over scabrous corduroy. Toward the latter half of that eternity actually it was only a little over an hour the refreshing sight of Goodsprings was seen off to the south.
In 1868, a brave group of prospectors discovered silver-lead ore far from the known centers of civilization and formed the New England District, soon renamed the Yellow Pine District. Since the silver-lead ore was decidedly lacking in the silver part of the equation, most people left. However, a man named Joe Good remained, and his name lingered on the land and springs. In 1886, Utah prospectors came for the lead and development began, along with a permanent community called Goodsprings.
Within a few years, several important mines were found and developed; adding to the variety of metals found in the vicinity, primarily gold and zinc. Construction of the Nevada Southern Railway south of here shortened considerably, the distance of freighting in of goods and supplies, and in 1893, an extension of the line into the Goodsprings region was considered. A post office opened at Goodsprings April 6, 1899 within the boundaries of Lincoln County.
The first decade of the 20th century saw production in the area rich enough to entice the railroad at the doorstep of Goodsprings. In 1901, the Yellow Pine Mining Company was incorporated and combined many of the richest mines. By 1902, the Nevada Southern Railway made public their plan to enter Goodsprings, though the plan never materialized. But the first physical rails within sight came in 1905, as the under-construction Los Angeles & Salt Lake Railroad was completed to nearby Jean.
Milling production increased by 1906 as new processing methods of separating zinc from the other rich metals was introduced. A political change occurred in 1909 when Clark County was created from this corner of Lincoln County, and the post office reflected that change on March 5, 1909. Also in 1909, J.F. Kent, who founded and operated the Yellow Pine Mining Company, was negotiating a buyout of a defunct narrow gauge railroad at Searchlight that ran from that point to the Colorado River.
The deal was finally consummated in 1910. By March, graders were out constructing the roadbed of the narrow gauge railroad from Jean to Goodsprings. It was completed after numerous technical problems by August 1911. It was an immediate success, as production figures for 1912 quadrupled that of the previous year. Then came WWI and wartime production of lead and zinc peaked between 1915 and 1918. During this time, the town had a population of around 800, supporting a full slate of stores, saloons, school, the Hotel Fayle, hospital and beginning May 20, 1916 the weekly Goodsprings Gazette.
Things slowed down following WWI, and by 1920, saw rather dull times in Goodsprings. The Gazette suspended publication exactly 5 years after starting,, and on May 21, 1921 published its last issue. In 1924, a mill burned to the ground, only to be rebuilt and burned to the ground again in 1928. By the Depression years, the narrow gauge railroad ceased operations; in 1930, the rails and equipment were dismantled and sold in 1934.
The population at Goodsprings dwindled to around 150 and continues that way today with a small population living amid newer homes surrounded by aging glimpses of yesteryear.
By the time we neared Goodsprings I was tired, thirsty and famished. Alan pulled over and asked that I go on to Jean and secure our hotel room while he ran down to the little village of Sandy Valley, aptly named in depiction of its surrounding country ten miles southwest of Goodsprings. Alan wanted to photograph the store at Sandy Valley for the upcoming issue of his magazine. With visions of a good, frosty mug of beer tugging at my psyche, I passed up the Pioneer Saloon in Goodsprings and drove to Jean.
By the time I secured our room for the night, I was weary, in addition to being famished and parched. After bringing in all the items from the truck into the room, I finally plopped myself down wearily onto the couch with a glass of tepid water from the restroom faucet. Alan walked in a short time later. After a refreshing hot shower, shave, cologne and clean clothes, Alan and I proceeded to the hotel restaurant with visions of T-bones and Tecate. Later, we returned to our room, a warm place to sleep without confines of a small, cold pickup truck bed with a deflating air mattress, topped by the luxury of current television news. I think I was asleep before my head hit the pillow.
It's fourteen minutes after 7:00 o'clock A.M on a Monday. I believe it's April 12th. And uh ... here from my motel room. It's cloudy and it has rained, or is raining. Can't tell right now. And I just got through with another shower. And boy! It feels good! Just sitting here having my first cup of coffee. In room coffee. Love it!
The night of comfortable, dreamless sleep was a vacation within a vacation and did wonders, aided by a hot morning shower; all the while cold showers sprinkled outside on the Nevada desert.
This fourth day of the trip was to be one of methodical research conducted by Alan at the University of Nevada, the Nevada Historical Society and interviews with two people living within the Las Vegas city limits. All the while I planned on spending my time replacing the leaking air mattress and restocking supplies of food and drink for both Alan and myself.
Alan and I left the hotel-casino on a murky, showery morning. Returning first to Goodsprings, as Alan wanted some photos of the cemetery. He then left for his morning of research after we made plans to meet at lunchtime at the University of Nevada in Las Vegas. I then proceeded to hang around Goodsprings for about an hour, taking photos of its more picturesque buildings.
My morning was spent getting lost in Las Vegas, procuring necessities and staring in amazement of Las Vegas today. My earliest memories of Vegas are of the early 1960s and the stark contrast of Vegas then and now. Afterwards, I made my way over to the University of Nevada to meet Alan and his guest.
Alan and I were invited for lunch by area resident Curtis Robinson, who is a treasure trove of knowledge of the Goodsprings area. After lunch with, we all drove over to the libraries of the Nevada Historical Society, where Alan procured some historical photos of Goodsprings. Topping off our day in Las Vegas, we visited with Jim Marsh, who owns a large auto dealership in town and who also owns the Longstreet Casino in Amargosa Valley. We spent an hour chatting further about area history amid his dealership office of museum caliber.
By 4:30 in the afternoon, we prepared to leave; I had my personal fill of Las Vegas and its glitz, glamour and traffic and was quite happy when we hit the freeway out of town. Alan and I had our sights set for the Meadow Valley Wash and a campsite somewhere in the vicinity of Elgin, over 100 miles northeast. The speed limit on I-15 north of Las Vegas was 75, and Alan and I utilized that rate of speed for our escape back into the desert solitude filled with towering cumulonimbus clouds and occasional rain showers.
Turning off of I-15 at the little off ramp marked "Exit 100 - Carp, Elgin," we turned north along a graded dirt road leading off into a wide open country where I saw only the dust trailing off of Alan's Explorer several miles ahead and a few head of cattle. No other vehicles or signs of humanity were seen for the remainder of the day. As we drove northward, the byway climbed from low desert into a high desert filled with crags, creosote and cubic miles of wide open vistas.
Within 10 miles after turning off of I-15, we passed from Clark County into Lincoln County. In 15 miles we topped a summit where my altimeter read about 3,800 feet between two large bluffs topped with Spanish Dagger and large sagebrush. The piñon capped Mormon Mountains laying to the west, silhouetted by the setting sun amid piles of bright orange, white and black thunderheads. Other high ranges to the north were capped by a heavy mantle of snow. After 37 miles of the cross-country jaunt, Alan and I dropped into the Meadow Valley Wash to Layman Crossing. There we turned south 3 miles to view the remains of Carp, once a railroad town on the Union Pacific Railroad.
Carp is located in the lower Meadow Valley Wash 35 miles south of Caliente. Its history is tied in with the Union Pacific Railroad. The post office started under the name of Carpsdale June 29, 1918, but was rescinded. It then officially opened under the name of Cliffdale June 7, 1921 and changed to Carp December 1, 1925. Carp Post Office remained to serve rural ranches until July 1, 1974, although it was out of business for nearly a year before it was discontinued.
On this picturesque evening, Alan and I found one idling northbound Union Pacific train waiting on a siding and the remains of a covered in-ground water reservoir. It was a wonderful Technicolor evening: lightning flashing in the northern distance amid golden orange heaps of cumulonimbus piled against a cerulean sky. Other than the idling locomotives, with their racket of popping of air pressure relief valves and whistling of turbines, Carp was as high, wide and lonesome as one can get in this day and age.
As a southbound freight rumbled by, I shouted a description of the scene into my recorder over the screeching of steel-flanged wheels against steel rail: "Some good lightning going on up that way. Beautiful up there. Thunderheads all lit up in the sun. Black bellies. Beautiful. Streaks of orange coming down from rain, against dark, black clouds in some areas. Absolutely stunning. The sky is beautiful tonight." Carp, as well as the entire Meadow Valley Wash, is a train watchers paradise.
After videoing the southbound freight, Alan and I drove north along the bottom of Meadow Valley Wash in search of a camp spot for the night. We finally found a nice locality on an old and overgrown side road just above the valley floor. As we set up camp, not a sound was heard except the lonesome cry of a coyote down along Meadow Valley Creek, crickets, distant thunder and a sigh of a breeze. Union Pacific trains reverberated softly across the valley every half hour or so.
After dark, chilly air and periodic rain showers kept Alan and I from having much of a conversation out in the open. After a light supper of soup, I crawled into the back of the truck and enjoyed a glass of wine and a book. All the while, soft rumblings created by nature and Union Pacific added to the music of the night.
End of Page 4
Copyright David A. Wright
Desert Auto and 4WD Touring
Death Valley National Park
4-Wheeling the Lippincott Mine Road - Death Valley
The Racetrack Playa of Death Valley National Park
4-Wheel Trail Driving Tips
Ballarat Ghost Town - Death Valley
Share this page on Facebook:
DesertUSA Newsletter -- We send articles on hiking, camping and places to explore, as well as animals, wildflower reports, plant information and much more. Sign up below or read more about the DesertUSA newsletter here. (It's Free.)