Johannesburg, California — Gateway to Death Valley
Johannesburg, California — The Gateway to Death Valley
By Michelle Mowery
An hour and a half from Death Valley National Park. Northeast of Los Angeles in the high desert.
Johannesburg is an old Western ghost town, with only 100 current inhabitants. Gold was discovered here in 1894 and was the third-largest discovery in the US. There is still an active mine producing lots of gold daily.
There are many mines in the area and prospecting tours are available. In spite of its ghostliness, Johannesburg is in the center of the most popular recreational area in Southern California. Loads of national parks, hiking, climbing, history, natural history, film history, and more.
WHEN TO GO?
Anytime…There is sunshine and beautiful weather 365 days a year! But if you plan to visit Death Valley itself, come between September and April when it is coolest.
GETTING THERE AND AROUND
No public transportation directly to the area. Greyhound bus service: Ridgecrest, Ca. In Ridgecrest, you must rent a car to travel to Johannesburg, twenty-five miles away. Rental cars are available at the airport and at Enterprise Rental Cars in Ridgecrest, Ca. There is no public transportation to Death Valley National Park from Johannesburg.
There are approximately 30 different natural, geological, historical, and botanical attractions within 100 miles of the town, including the Joshua Tree National Forest and Death Valley National Park. Don’t miss Fossil Falls and Trona Pinnacles: they’re spectacular.
BEST UNUSUAL ATTRACTIONS
Catch a movie being made! The area is a magnet for filmmakers, who are attracted to the bizarre geological formations and desert scenery (think Alien movies!) Check out Red Rock Canyon, Trona Pinnacles, Fossil Falls, Burro Schmidt’s Tunnel, all of which are natural movie sets year around. You may even get to be an extra in one being filmed while you’re here!
BEST ACTIVITIES/LOCAL GUIDES
Hiking and climbing the magnificent rocks and trails in the many nearby National Parks and natural areas. Daily tours and guides are available from the Death Valley Hostel.
Desert tours of Death Valley and Sequoia National Forest. Also available from the Death Valley Hostel.
Find places to stay in Lone Pine, Ridgecrest and Pahrump.
- Drive to Ridgecrest.
Get some old Western culture at local Indian pow wows, rodeos, concerts, museums, wild west days. Check the Ridgecrest web site for dates.
BEST LOCAL HAUNT
The “living” ghost town of Randsburg is only one mile away and has many pubs and attractions.
Ridgecrest is only twenty minutes away and has all major shopping. Look for Native American pottery and crafts, and old west leathers.
MONEY AND COMMUNICATIONS
Traveler’s checks are advised, and banks in Ridgecrest nearby can cash them. ATMs available in town and Internet access is available at the hostel.
HEALTH AND SAFETY
Don’t go wandering off into the desert on your own. The valleys and mountains can be disorienting without a map. Always bring plenty of water — two gallons per day per person in the desert — and wear sunscreen and a hat!
Love California? Get our California Plane Reader with dozens of stories for your Kindle, iPad or Nook.
NPS Death Valley Plan your trip website