Steve Rowell

Ballarat: Beneath Sentinel

A short video shot in the winter of 2000 during early explorations of Death Valley.

Ballarat is a primary radar installation for Edwards Air Force Base and China Lake Naval Air Weapons Station and monitors the militarized supersonic airspace above the Mojave Desert. The borax mines of desiccated Trona are to the south. Emigrant Pass is to the north... Death Valley lies beyond. To the east lies the vertiginous Panamaint Mountain Range with Sentinel Peak looming above. Tourists and desert dwellers sporadically pass each other on this remote stretch of asphalt.

Ballarat is also a place, evidenced physically as remnants of a ghost town now, but far from the middle of nowhere, at least contextually. After its boom in the late 19th and early 20th centuries as a gold mining town, Ballarat was completely abandoned at some point during the great depression. Decades later, in 1969, the few buildings that weren't destroyed by weather or fire became the site of the Manson Family's last stand. Earlier in the same year, Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper shot a scene for their film Easy Rider on this bleak landscape, further intertwining Ballarat with counter-culture, true crime, and fictional Hollywood — the old California with the new.