Inside America’s Lost Desert Town

Apr 03, 2022 705.5K Views 1.8K Comments

Just outside of Death Valley National Park is a lost desert town with people who’ve decided to live away from it all. Join me as we journey into this special place where the locals say they live in absolute freedom, without cops, crime, or any of the hassles (and few conveniences) of the modern world… a strong community isolated from the rest of American society.

♪ western music ♪
[music fades]
Beautiful, rugged, quiet
Death Valley California.
One of my favorite places in the world.
Today guys, we have quite an adventure.
We’re going over those mountains
taking a left on a dirt road
and entering a town of people
that have decided to opt out of society.
Live far removed from everybody else.
The goal is to talk to some locals,
get their perspective
on this very fast changing world
why they decided
to live away from everyone else
and learn whatever else we can from them.
It’s quite often people
that live much differently than us
are the ones that can teach us something.
♪ western music ♪
[car driving on gravel]
[car driving on gravel]
Looks like an old mining shaft.
So a lot of these town out here
were former mining towns
and when the minerals ran out
so did the people.
Dry as a bone.
It wasn’t really that long ago
that California was being explored.
You know, you had the 1849 gold rush
and that’s when
most people were leaving the East Coast
and taking the long,
treacherous journey across the county.
It was the true adventurers
coming out here.
It was those looking to strike it rich
and can you imagine
horses and carriages somehow
getting over these ranges of mountains?
Obviously water isn’t easily available.
There’s actually a spring
a couple valleys over here
that I was at yesterday but
you know, your food, your water…
The unknown, the great unknown.
It had to be an exciting time.
Just a very real, no bullsh*t era of
“No, we just need to survive the next day
and everything else doesn’t really matter.”
Then now, look at me,
I’m driving a rental car
up over a mountain road.
There’s no cell phone reception out here.
There’s no GPS.
We go down this wash here
maybe the town is at the bottom.
We’ll see.
but when it does rain
and these can fill up
they just sort of flood out through here.
You can see there are trees there
and the top of some structure.
So obviously when people live
away from everyone else
They might not want to be on camera.
So I gotta feel this out.
I don’t wanna do anything
anyone doesn’t want to do
and I have no idea
how I’ll be received here.
I don’t think they see too much
traffic coming in this way.
You can see a lot of metal out here.
Just scrap.
[metal clanks]
There are a lot of military bases out here
on the California, Nevada border.
You see jets
ripping the skies occasionally
and then there are testing sites.
I was just about to say,
“This is starting to get interesting.”
We’re getting into greenery,
going down in elevation
and then this…
That’s the end.
There’s only one other fork
and it looked like
the road less traveled.
You know, usually I like
the road less traveled
but I thought in these parts,
take the main road.
And well, here I am.
No idea what that is.
Is it a part to an airplane?
What is that?
[knocks on hollow metal]
Somebody’s cooler down here with fish…
Wow.
The desert is so beautiful
when there’s an oasis.
All this greenery and growth comes out.
Relaxes the eye.
Makes everything soft.
Calm.
Very clear water.
Natural spring here.
And approaching someone’s home.
I don’t know if someone
actually lives there or not.
Okay guys, false climax.
It’s just an old mining structure
that’s been shot up a thousand times.
I went down that way…
So guys, I’m gonna put the camera down
just to see how this goes
and if I can roll in here or not
and we’ll see if we can
get in with the locals.
-Where are you from originally?
-Palo Alto, California.
How long have you been out here?
Well I’ve been in and out
since I moved to Death Valley in 1979
and I’ve been in and out
ever since then.
More in lately…
Oh, beautiful.
-Classic.
-Mm-hmm.
Will this get over these
mountains pretty good?
What’s the big draw living out here?
Um…
You can do whatever you want
as long as you don’t hurt anybody
and
sometimes you arrive in a small town
and you wonder
are people peering through their curtains
with a loaded shotgun?
But not…
Well, the town used to be like that
forty years ago or so.
Okay.
When I first started coming here
in the early 1980s
it was definitely a
“hippies versus the redneck town”.
Oh.
And the rednecks over the decades
have just sort of moved away and…
You never formed an alliance?
The hippies and rednecks?
Okay.
So now, it’s pretty much
aging hippies that live here
and you never know about politics,
and religion, and things like that.
Well there’s no church.
We have no sheriff.
We have no jail.
You guys regulate each other?
Like everyone gets along?
Yeah, pretty much everybody gets along.
There’s a very delicate balance.
We all care about each other.
We’re there in a heartbeat
to help somebody out in a bind
but we stay out of each other’s
personal business
to the extent that they
don’t wanna share it.
-And then we’ve got…
-The post office?
Okay.
And there’s another library in
what we call our town hall.
Oh, I gotta see that.
I mean as long as you’re here
you might as well get a good tour.
Yeah, I wanna see the whole shebang.
Why you taking it down?
End of the day?
Oh, it’s 2:00?
It’s 10:00 to 2:00
and then on Saturdays it’s 10:00 ’til Noon.
These are our international residents,
Pierre and Jude.
Husband and wife.
Pierre is from Paris, France
and Judith is from London.
[French accent] Which is proof that the
British and ze French can get along.
But sometimes no.
Pierre has the only Porsche 911 in town.
Yeah, that was sort of
standing out of place here.
Uh-huh.
There could be some people
that are actually
very wealthy here potentially.
Well, I’m a millionaire.
-There you go.
-I’m over a millionaire.
What is this?
Yeah.
Pierre found it somewhere.
Just yard art.
It’s not uncommon to have
some total stranger knock on my door
’cause I’m like the first sign of life
when you come into town.
People are curious as hell
Oh, yeah.
And, you know, I’m curious about them too.
So these two women were from
somewhere in Los Angeles.
“Wow, this looks like a nice house.”
I said,
“Would you like to see the inside?”
They’re like a little shocked.
Like maybe I’m the Boston Strangler
or something.
You know, here in this remote town.
I might pull out a gun
and I said, “No, please, if you don’t wanna
come in you won’t hurt my feelings.
but I thought you might wanna see
a classic old house.”
And so they came in and,
“Oh wow, look at that wood stove.”
“Do you have a furnace?”
I said, “You’re looking at it,
that’s the only way I stay warm.”
We spent maybe 45 minutes together
and then we walked back out to their car.
and one of them said,
“We’ve lived in the same house…”
in Pasadena or wherever it was
for 30 years and we’ve never been
in our neighbor’s back yard.
In the spring we often have a
by invitation only
Party called a Springamajig.
Is everyone invited?
-You have to be on the list.
Okay.
and many of my neighbors are too
and what we can learn is that
that’s not a bad way to live a life
because there’s sharing
time, and help, and food
and the desire to have a good time
while we’re on the planet
while we still have life.
And that’s what we do here.
So where is everybody right now?
Nobody’s on the streets during the day?
Well we are but this is not uncommon.
-It’s just quiet?
-It’s just quiet.
People are…
using the internet or watching television.
So nobody’s offline?
Okay, so that doesn’t exist.
I was thinking maybe I’d run into
a town where there’s no internet.
That would be very unusual these days.
That would be maybe Nevada somewhere.
I don’t know because of the fact that
anybody anywhere on the planet
can get satellite internet now.
Yeah.
-What do we got here?
-So this is the radio here.
This is me.
“California Historical Society.”
KJ6HN is my callsign.
Let’s say I wanna call,
see if my friend Dan’s on.
“Hey M6BKL,
this is KJ6HN, are you around?”
-Fair to say?
-Mm-hmm.
Yeah, you could make that comparison.
-[grunts]
-Heavy, huh?
Yeah, you put 28 volts in
and you get 700 volts out.
That’s how they did it back then.
So what happens is you check in
and you get a spot in the rotation.
So I happen to be
the third one to check in
and then we talk, and we keep
an eye on the clock
and then it officially kicks off at…
Last night it was 6:45.
“So okay.. So let’s get started.”
“WI6R, you’re at the top of the list.”
“Take it Dave,
and then hand it over to Bob, AK6R.”
“Bob hand it over to…”
You each get a certain amount of time?
We’re not timed, but…
the longer the list is…
You’re not crossing over
each other’s speech.
You can’t talk and listen
at the same time.
Okay.
Kettle corn?