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