Ghost Towns of the Mojave
Part 1 - Page 2
Text and photos by David A. Wright
Saturday dawned cold, but at least the wind had died down. By the first hint of dawn's early light in the eastern sky, I had enough of the cold and sore bones, so I threw my sleeping bag and deflated air mattress out the back window, set up my Coleman stove and got busy making coffee. Within a few minutes of that first blue flame I was snug inside my little room in the back of the Capricorn-Chevy Motel. Within a half hour, the smell of coffee and frying bacon awoke the other members of the camp, and soon Alan and George were knocking on the tailgate to sample the delicacies of the new Capricorn Cafe.
By the time the first rays of sunlight were peering over Bare Mountain, we set about exploring the Capricorn Mine. The Capricorn Mine was an outgrowth of the Rhyolite excitement, situated south of Bullfrog in the South Bullfrog Mining District. The mine was owned by J.P. Burns, however he often leased it out for others to do the hard work. The Capricorn produced primarily between 1908 and 1910. Ore was sent via the Tonopah & Tidewater and Bullfrog Goldfield Railroads from Ashton Station to Goldfield for treatment.
On April 10, our inspection revealed little to be found at the Capricorn. Two medium size tailings piles, plus a collared shaft marked the spot, while a small can dump, remains of a wood cook stove and some broken glass helped identify that some people called it home.
Since our itinerary was chock full of ghost towns, we left the Capricorn by 9:00 am. Our sights were set on the ghosts of Echo, California and the triune sites of Lee, California, Lee Annex, California/Nevada and Lee, Nevada. The Lee townsites are only 9 miles southeast of the Capricorn as the crow flies, but required us to travel over 89 miles, driving via dirt roads and highways, along with some backtracking to get there.
First order of business was to stop by Beatty to retrieve George's rental car, gas up Alan's and my rigs and get a few forgotten items at the store. On the way down from the Capricorn, we stopped at the well-preserved grade of the Tonopah & Tidewater Railroad, which runs parallel to US 95. History is also here in the grade of the Las Vegas & Tonopah Railroad, which is now under the blacktop of US 95. After our Beatty stop, we made a beeline for the Longstreet Casino, situated on the state border on Nevada 373 north of Death Valley Junction. There we had made arrangements for George to leave his rental car in a safe place.
A short distance up the alluvial fan at the base of the Funeral Range after leaving the semi-fertile Amargosa Valley, history made itself visible in the form of stone cairns scattered everywhere the eye gazed. These stone monuments indicated that men sought wealth in this arid country. As we progressed westward, stone monuments became a granitic horde; stony slabs piled in unnatural formations indicated that we have indeed come to Lee.
The Ghost Town of Echo
Though we had reached Lee, we continued right on through and turned our vehicles up a rocky canyon and deep into the Funeral Range. The ghost town of Echo, 4 miles up the canyon above Lee, was first on the menu. Lee would wait until later. Echo is perched atop the crest of the Funeral Range, our resources indicated that it was better to walk to the site as Alan's Explorer and my stock S-10 were not up to the so-called road into the site; a path, they say, better suited to modified serious off-road vehicles sprouting winches from their snouts.
For George, with his lithe frame and experience as a Death Valley hiker, such a trek was what he came for. So as not to slow George down, we made arrangements to meet at a certain hour and he departed. Alan and I then started the hike to Echo on foot, but after about a mile decided to return for his Explorer as the roadway was quite easy.
Backtracking our path in comfort, we found the first 2.0 miles of the route to Echo to be easily navigable by Alan's stock Explorer. At a point where the road turned inadequate, Alan and I switched from horsepower to foot power and headed skyward. We continued on our way to the crest of the Funeral Range, where we found George.
In 1907, with activity in nearby Lee, prospectors soon began to climb into the Funeral Range to look for promising outcrops. Most of the focus centered in the lower reaches of Echo Canyon on the new camps of Schwab and that of the Inyo Gold Mining Company nearby. A few prospectors decided to plan a townsite at the head of Echo Canyon on a saddle overlooking the Amargosa Valley and the Bullfrog region, and gave the new townsite the moniker of Echo.
Echo never amounted to anything, only a few tents ever touched the ground and a few prospects were explored. Other than a more amiable climate due to the fairly high altitude (approximately 4,800 feet), there was nothing to recommend the townsite. There was no water, no wood, no electricity, no paydirt. The telephone line between Lee and Schwab did pass through here, but that was not enough to sustain a camp. After the curiosity of its founders was satisfied and no good ore was found, Echo died a quick and painless death.
Today, there is little evidence of Echo's existence. It takes a sharp eye to see anything left to indicate that people once had high hopes in the place. To the casual passerby, nothing would stand out from the rest of the landscape. Alan, George and I did find a few leveled spots in the dirt with stone perimeters to indicate once a tent was placed there; a nearly hidden pile of cans under the shrubs gave evidence someone cared to call the place home. There is a corrugated metal shack still standing nearby, although it was no doubt built after the last echoes of Echo died out. Closer investigation shows that there were once two buildings.
The road into Echo from Lee was easily navigated for two miles, as the canyon is wide and not very steep. After that point the canyon narrows down considerably and for about three-quarters of a mile the road is cut badly by flashflood activity; although on this date an experienced driver with good clearance and skid plates would have no major trouble. I heartily recommend anyone trying to access Echo be prepared for anything and experienced in this type of off-road driving. Beyond the canyon narrows, the road becomes much better and a fork in the road is reached; a sign indicating mine hazards marks the fork and a road leading to the right will eventually take one to Echo. There were tire tracks on the road the entire way to Echo, appearing to have been made within a week of our visit.
George had already explored Echo's faint traces as Alan and I pulled our considerably heavier frames into the townsite, after touching bases George then began his ascent back to Lee. Alan and I satisfied our curiosity regarding Echo, then returned to his Explorer parked about 2 miles below. A business card stuck into a windshield wiper indicated that George was on his way back to Lee on foot. What with all the walking, myself carrying water, video camera and a digital camera, I was quite happy to see Alan's Explorer faithfully awaiting our return. "Four minutes after six, and we're back at Alan's truck. God these seats feel like thrones!" was the breathless comment I made into my voice recorder as I wearily plopped down. We found George back at my truck parked down near Lee townsite.
I continued to Lee, George wanted to walk to Lee, Alan wanted to stay behind to enjoy an afternoon cleanup with his camp shower. Pulling into the main intersection that once marked Lee, I found a level spot in which to park the truck for the night and then sat on the tailgate drinking water and enjoying the late afternoon silence, broken only by an occasional soft breeze and the songs of crickets. Within 5 minutes, George arrived, and he began setting up his camp. Alan came in shortly afterward.
That evening, as darkness overcame us, George, Alan and I prepared our meager meals -- canned tuna, canned chicken, dry soup mix and other semi-delectable side dishes from a can. We enjoyed wine, conversation, solitude and the lights of Rhyolite shining in the far distance. Alan commented that the folks of Lee could have also looked out and seen the lights of Rhyolite, since they were the only sign of civilization during those days.
I enjoyed a sponge bath in the dark, then I ensconced myself within the cozy confines of my camper shell; snug in clean, warm thermals and sweats. It was warmer at Lee than it was the night previous at the Capricorn, probably due to the lower altitude and cloud cover. After a short period of reading, I turned out the light and uttered these words of victory into my recorder: "My feet are throbbing. I'm stiff and sore. I'll probably be worse in the morning, but hey! I got to Echo!"
All photos are copyright David A. Wright
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