Death Valley National Park has a pretty daunting name, as one would expect from the California desert. The National Park Service (NPS) literally asks visitors to “travel prepared to survive,” with temperatures rising to almost 120 degrees Fahrenheit and imminent danger lurking around in hidden areas. So it should be no surprise while heading down Warm Springs Canyon Road, one of Death Valley’s more extreme hiking trails, to stumble upon Barker Ranch where the murderous Charles Manson and the Manson Family once resided and were eventually caught.
History of the Barker Ranch
Located in the valley of the Panamint Range, Barker Ranch was constructed by Bluch and Helen Thomason in 1940 as a mining shop and storage facility. The ranch house also featured a “swimming pool,” which was actually a reservoir that stored water from a spring, and it was a seasonal vacation property until it was bought by James and Arlene Barker in 1956.
Charles Manson was the notorious criminal and cult leader who led members of the Manson Family in committing the Los Angeles Tate-LaBianca murders in 1969. The murder spree consisted of the deaths of nine people, including actress Sharon Tate and her unborn child, followed by Leno and Rosemary LaBianca. The LaBianca murders were initially made to look like they were committed by the Black Panthers, in efforts to fuel a race war.
Manson’s followers were staying at Myers Ranch nearby when they discovered Barker Ranch. The Manson Family members then hunkered down at the hideout for almost two years before the Inyo County Sheriff Department, California Highway Patrol, and National Park Service Law Enforcement Rangers captured them. Rumors insisted that there were additional murder victims underneath Barker Ranch, but after investigators conducted a “dig” in 2008, no further evidence was found. Although the ranch now belongs to the National Park Service, it somehow mysteriously burned down in 2009.
How to Get to Barker Ranch
Warm Springs Canyon Road is an intense, unpaved 16-mile backcountry road in San Bernardino County that runs east to west from West Side Road to Butte Valley. Lined with eerie, abandoned homes, the main road takes you through Warm Springs Canyon, past talc mines into the valley. Hikers can take on Striped Butte’s 4,744 foot summit, pitch a tent, and/or enjoy the view of the Panamint Mountains from the valley floor. You’ll also find Geologist’s Cabin, a beautiful stone structure that is perhaps the best backcountry cabin in the park and is occupied on a first come, first served basis.
As you head out the other side of the valley on Goler Canyon Road, you’ll need to drive a high clearance, four-wheel drive vehicle to get through the tough road conditions. But as you drive over Mengel Pass into Panamint Valley, west of Goler Wash, you’ll find Barker Ranch. Those who are brave enough to explore the off-road area can camp on the grounds, but some have reported hearing screams. Others have attested to feeling like they were being watched and smelling decomposing bodies. After a tough hike and drive through the Death Valley’s roughest trails, do you have the guts to stay the night where murderers once did?
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