Inyo County, California
By John Cornish
April 2007


Author unknown, page 6.... "operation on her arm for arthritis. So I just quit. I'll be watching Patsy's kids now though cause Shirley and her both work now. Shirley as a Go - Go dancer and Patsy as a waitress. I say a prayer every night for Shirley so she won't get caught by the cops. Ask Jessie if he knows a guy named Apache. His real name is Dean and he's real good with a knife. He's up here and says he knows Jessie. I got my ears pierced the other day. Patsy done it and I didn't even deaden..."

I have the letter here beside me. It's all yellowed and wrinkled, torn and ripped around the edges. The handwriting is obviously that of a woman. Her black pen strokes flowing in soft curves cover the note pad sized page. A large cut nearly severs the page and when handled, I do so with care. This is treasure. Not what I'd expected, still none the less, this is treasure.

As I read the letter for the first time, having just found it mixed in with the decades old clutter of a forgotten life, I marveled, what must life have been like here. In this place. Around me the company house lay disintegrating. The windows all were broken and gaped with vicious toothy smiles overlooking a baked landscape of brown dirt and barren empty space. The ceiling was rotten and ripped. The burst edges of hanging plaster were draped and covered in rank trailing insulation. The walls were all discolored and swollen, long trails, like tears, traced water pathways from ceiling to floor. Everything looked sickly, like a corpse left out too long, reeking and bloated. Welcome to Darwin.

I took several more photos and carefully folded the letter I'd found and tucked it away, moving carefully from room to room. What must life have been like for the family that had lived here. It was an intense existence, the letter obviously tells us this, still, as I pass a broken doll and forgotten crayon colored sheets of paper, the dismantled crib lying against the wall, I can only shake my head. What must life have been like...

These were the thoughts going through my mind that early April morning, the 22nd of 2007, as I explored one of the buildings in the old mining ghost camp of Darwin, California. I'd arrived two days earlier with friends Keith Wentz and Seth Dilles, who were still sleeping soundly back at camp. The morning air was fresh, especially once I'd left the house and while it'd be hot later, now it was quite pleasant. There was an easy breeze blowing, making a keening cry as it cut through the twisted tangles of old clothing and electrical lines and rattled the hanging sheets of upturned and twisted tin, materials that had once kindly been called a roof. I made my way to another building...


Back on the 20th of April (Gloria's B-Day!), for Keith and I, our day started early. We packed our gear and then hit the road, making several stops for food and supplies. With our purchases made, we took off northwest for Darwin. This would be my first trip and one of many for Keith and Seth ( who was coming up later after he'd gotten off work ). The highway twisted and turned its way out to the middle of nowhere, or more specifically, towards Death Valley!

When the signs on the side of the road announced that we were 200 feet below sea level, I knew we'd made it to North America's lowest point, but more importantly, as we motored right on by, I was happy we'd be leaving this place far behind. This is a desolate landscape and one I'd not want to be stranded in. As each mile put that place further and further behind us, the more comfortable I became.

After a time, we turned off the highway, California 190, and made the short five mile jaunt towards Darwin. The road in was rough and scrappy with chunks of pavement missing or lying loosely scattered across the roadway. In comparison, the area hereabouts had many of the same characteristics. Raw projecting rock exposures were abundant in the mountainous foothills that rose from the flat valley-like depression along which we traveled and raw patches of thorny vegetation struggled for life in little ragged clots and clumps. Everything was dull colored and sullen hued, this was a hostile land.

We turned left off the main road about a half mile prior to the actual town of Darwin itself (history.rootsweb.com-darwin.htm), (www.ghosttowns.com-darwin.htm) and stopped before the locked gate leading into the old camp. After going through that and then closing and locking it behind us, we continued up the hill. For me, this was such an intoxicating time of wide eyed fancy, realizing this special gift, being allowed to stay at and work these old mines. My mind spun with the possibilities of the unknown and absolutely thrilled in the present, all this before me. We powered by the poor huddled tiny rotting shacks of the single miner, the buildings lowest on the hill, followed by small family homes, until finally we came upon the homes of the privileged up towards the top of the hill. As we drove, I noted several other buildings, a massive double wide Quonset hut and an even larger single unit, several buildings looked like big dormitories and work shops. It was magical those first moments as I, sponge-like, tried to absorb the whole of these incredibly unique surroundings. As we drove, Keith shared his intimate knowledge of the camp in a continuous dialog and all the while, that goofy smile of mine just kept getting bigger and bigger, this was just so very fantastic, this was Darwin and I was really starting to get excited!

Once we'd arrived and parked, I was too excited to unpack and just exploded from the truck, my camera in hand, and started to explore. Ours really is a rare privilege and I feel so very thankful having this legal access to this incredible historic California mining camp. As I rambled about snapping off a ton of pictures, just letting the ambience of the place sink in, I knew in every sense that here in this place, I'd found treasure! After a bit of exploring, guilt got the better of me and I headed back to the guys, Seth had shown up by this time, and helped finish unpacking.

Later that evening, we all jumped in the truck and rambled across camp to visit John, the Darwin Mines camp caretaker. John is a wonderful man, especially so when he calls back his dog, a big ( is there any other kind?! ) Rottweiler who knows 100% that this is her home! We said our hellos and made our introductions before settling in for an evening of billiards. While I can't say with any assurity, I'd guess John has one of the only pool tables for scores of miles around and as we quickly learned, it wasn't just for show! John whooped us all and when finally the evening had run its course and it was time to head back, I don't think a one of us had won a game. Still, it'd been a hoot and we'd all been promised a re-match come tomorrow evening!

Ordinarily, John is a reclusive man and strangers are 100% not encouraged or allowed into the fenced and posted Mines property. Over the years it's been a real travesty John related bitterly, the selfish destructive vandalism that strangers have committed here. Doors were kicked in and windows were broken out, furniture and fixtures were destroyed and stolen, walls and ceilings were ripped out and or sprayed with graffiti. And everywhere these same people left their filth, their garbage, such a shame that so many have fallen so far. Once the buildings were opened to the harsh elements surrounding at a bit over 5000 feet elevation, they were doomed. Now truth to tell, these same structures had been decaying for years, still John asks, "What right had they to destroy what wasn't theirs to destroy?" The experience has left John protective of his "home" and vigilantly and honorably he performs his duties safe guarding the old camp.

That night, just before calling it quits and going to bed, I went outside. A thousand million stars had the heavens glowing. A soft wind blew and a chorus of creaking metal and groaning wood whispered and called to the coyotes crying north of us somewhere off in the black. The air was fresh and deeply I filled my lungs passing several minutes in quiet reflection. Off in the distance a few faint lights glowed in town and further off yet, the lights from the local military base could be seen cutting the dark. My first night in Darwin, I'll remember this day forever.

Report continued . . . . . . .

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