This barely-visible encrustation of civilization in the blasted landscape of Death Valley, California is all that remains of Barker Ranch, the last hideout of mass murderer Charles Manson and his creepy crew of murdering dopeheads. Saying “all that remains” suggests that there was something substantial here once upon a time. There wasn’t. There was a ramshackle cabin, since burnt down, without electricity, and a cistern for water. That’s really all there ever was.
Forty-four years ago today, on October 12, 1969, various California law enforcement authorities rounded up the Manson Family here. It was not for the horrific spree of murders they did, at Manson’s command, back in July and August; it was because they were running an auto theft ring. It wasn’t until after the Mansonites were in custody that investigators began to link them to the killings of Gary Hinman, Sharon Tate and her four friends, and the LaBianca family. But the Manson followers, convinced that their bizarre apocalyptic predictions of the future were soon to be at hand, fled here as a last resort, hoping to find the entrance to an underground cavern promised by Manson where they would supposedly wait out the coming race war and then emerge victorious. They couldn’t quite make it. Manson himself, still in prison today, drew his last breath of freedom here, in a tiny storage cupboard in the cabin where he tried to hide from police.
Barker Ranch is so remote it might as well be the end of the world. It’s nestled deep in the Panamint Mountains, and only tiny dirt roads lead to it. You just can’t appreciate how remote this place is. Let me zoom out on Google Earth and show you, in reference to the nearest towns. (Barker Ranch is where the yellow thumbtack is–click the below image for more detail/larger pic).
Today Barker Ranch’s heyday, even as a pilgrimage for buffs of Manson lore, is over. The old cabin burned down in 2009 and it’s not even really possible to camp here anymore. Lured by apocrypha of the bones of Manson victims supposedly buried here, authorities have probed, dug and radar-scanned the ground many times, but to no avail.
It’s probably for the best. A place this remote and forbidding should be left alone with its secrets, and its haunted history.