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Ghost Town Trails – Bonnie Claire, Nevada

Bonnie Claire, Nevada, is the featured ghost town in this month’s installment of Ghost Town Trails.

Bonnie Claire, NV 1908
Bonnie Claire Mill, 1908; Nevada Historical Society

The last two installments, Ballarat and Tumco, CA, were for those snowbirds wintering in the Desert Southwest. With the arrival of spring and warmer weather, we will begin heading north with those returning snowbirds visiting ghost towns along the way.

Bonnie Claire Mill Present Day
Bonnie Claire Mill, 2021

History

Bonnie Claire was founded in October 1906 as a milling center to process ore from mines located at Gold Mountain, six miles to the northwest. The town reached its peak population of about 100 people after the Las Vegas and Tonopah Railroad arrived in 1907. At that time, it boasted a two-story wooden hotel, mercantile, saloons and houses which replaced an early tent community at the site.

By 1914, ore from the mines began to decline, signaling the slow demise of this town. Mining activity continued until the railroad folded in 1928 and residents began to fade out of Bonnie Claire. The post office finally closed in 1931. There was some minor activity during the period from 1940 to 1954, but Bonnie Claire has been ghosted ever since. Click here for a more in-depth history of Bonnie Claire.

The remains of the mill as seen from the east

Our visit to Bonnie Claire

My wife and I had driven by the ruins of the Bonnie Claire previously while exiting the north end of Death Valley. At the time, it wasn’t on my radar to explore, and we didn’t have the time to stop. Also, it looked as if it was posted against trespassing. However, when looking to take off on a spontaneous road trip last spring in a southern direction to somewhere warm and sunny, it went on the possibility list after a little online research revealed it was not currently posted against trespassing. It turns out it was just off the route we ended up taking.

Chute from the ore box at the mill

In my research, Google Earth satellite imagery showed decent access to the Bonnie Claire Mill. In addition, there were ruins across the highway to the southeast. There was also an “RV friendly” loop route! When we arrived, we chose to visit the Bonnie Claire Mill site first. Pulling into the site with travel trailer in tow, I found a nice level spot to park that would keep the RV refrigerator happy while we explored.

Ghostly atmosphere at the Bonnie Claire Mill

We wandered among the roofless structures, eventually ending up at the mill. A ghostly atmosphere was provided by the loose sheet metal on the mill clanging against the steel substructure in the breeze. One of the more interesting things I observed at the mill was the decaying bin of broken screws, bolts and other steel debris strewn about. My guess is that steel was used in the furnace as part of the refining process, and they used whatever steel was readily available. It was probably hauled into the site by the Las Vegas and Tonopah Railroad long ago. The remains of the old railbed are not far from the mill.

Steel scrap – Additive for the furnace?

Heading across the street

After exploring the mill, we took the RV across the highway to what I understand to be the “newer” portion of Bonnie Claire. There we explored the remains of mining ruins and a well-preserved wood frame residence. Of particular interest to me was what I discovered to be a vintage travel trailer (circa 1930s?). It was attached to the side of the home, providing an additional room.

The outside and inside of the vintage travel trailer

Another item of interest that always amazes me is the resilience of non-native shrubs or trees planted by the previous residents. Somehow they continue to survive long after the residents and town have ceased to exist. In this case, it was a good size bush with green “needles” and purple blooms. I am certain it was well loved and a source of pride for the former woman of the house. Online research for this article revealed a photo of the home with the following caption,“The ruins of the home that Vic & Mellie Huson lived in while processing ore here from their Mellvina Lode Claim at Tokop. The structure was built in the mid-1950s. At some point, a vintage trailer was added to the side of the home.” Source Cali 49

Beauty prevails long after the ghosts have taken over

Something caught my eye in the distance

As my wife wandered around the outside of the home looking at the various artifacts lying about, something to the east in the distance caught my eye. Walking out through the desert scrub I came across a small cemetery. There were two identifiable grave sites marked with the names of those interred there. As always, I stop for a moment and wonder what their life must have been like and what hardships they faced.

Rest in peace

Getting there

To reach Bonnie Claire, drive to the intersection of U.S. 95 and Hwy 267 (aka Scotty’s Junction) north of Beatty, Nevada. Turn southwest onto Highway 267, the road accessing Scotty’s Castle and the northern end of Death Valley National Park*. The ruins of Bonnie Claire lie about 6.5 miles from Scotty’s Junction on both sides of the road at N37° 13.656 W117° 07.467

*Historic flooding in 2015 severely damaged the Bonnie Claire Road (Hwy 267) in the vicinity of Scotty’s Castle. It is closed, preventing access to the Castle or the Park for those traveling from Scotty’s Junction at the time of this writing.

Camping

There are no developed campgrounds in the immediate vicinity of Bonnie Claire. The closest developed camping options are the RV parks in the Beatty area. Those who wish to boondock can do so at the Bonnie Claire site or farther southwest on Hwy 267 at N37° 12.690 W117° 07.835. We spied a motorhome boondocking at that location as we explored the Bonnie Claire Mill.

Easy access – Could camp here too

##RVT1044

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Victor Orschel
6 months ago

I have been to Scotty’s castle. it is amazing. sad to hear it closed

Chloe
6 months ago

Scotty’s Castle has been on my bucket list for many years & I keep hoping it will open one day soon before I no longer can travel. When it does I am adding the Bonnie Claire to the list as a side treat😊. Thanks for this info

Lorna
6 months ago

This is on our route north! What great timing. Thanks 😊

Tommy Molnar
6 months ago

I enjoyed this article as it encompasses a lot of what we do all the time in our state. There is SO much to see out there and there is a neverending adventure getting to some of these places. Many look at NV as just a bunch of nothing and want nothing to do with it. I encourage them to keep on going. Ha.

Rick
4 months ago
Reply to  Tommy Molnar

Just a bunch of nothing is what I like the most about NV. We bought a small lot in Goldfield because of the bunch of nothing desert that I love.

Tommy Molnar
4 months ago
Reply to  Rick

Wow Rick, we LOVE Goldfield. One of our favorite places (right behind the Goldfield Hotel) used to be that old gas station downtown that had junk piled up to the clouds with a big sign out front stating that “Nothing Is For Sale”. That’s been cleaned up now – and I miss it – ha.

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