Johannesburg had a population of 172 at the last census. It is just an hour and a half’s drive from one of the hottest, driest and lowest places on Earth. The gold rush is history and the town survives off tourism.
I am referring to Johannesburg, California, which was established in 1895 to support the neighbouring mining town of Randsburg, just 1.6 km away on the other side of a ridge and at the foot of the Rand Mountains. Gold was discovered in the area in 1894 and attracted the usual colourful mix of prospectors who established, among others, the Yellow Aster Mine. Naturally the new town also attracted those who found ways to encourage the miners to part with their earnings.
At its heyday Johannesburg had two general stores, a store specializing in srtationery and variety items, a real estate office, a barber, a music hall, a billiards room, boarding houses, two laundries, two livery stables and a few boarding houses.
A telephone exchange was developed to facilitate communication between Johannesburg and Randsburg. Nosy operators listening in to juicy chats resulted in the Randsburg Miner printing inquiries as to who the two lovebirds were who on such intimate terms. Speculation ran rife not only on the mines! Lack of privacy is no new phenomenon of the internet age but has simply taken on different guises.
Randsburg has a South African counterpart as well: Randburg without the “s” which is a thriving modern city just northwest of Johannesburg, Gauteng and is much younger than Randsburg, Ca.
Like the town, the streets were named by miners who left the South African goldfields to try their luck in the far off American West. The street names include Oompaul Street, named for the dour, zealously religious president of the South African Republic. Other street names recalling the African experience include Transvaal Avenue, Bulawayo Avenue, The Rand and Johannesburg Avenue. The region where they had come to wait for their ship of fortune to sail in is a thirsty land bordering the Mojave Desert, a far cry from the thunderstorm-prone, high lying rocky ridges around the rapidly developing shanty town of Johannesburg, Transvaal Republic.
You can pick up a house at a very good price here should you wish to make Johannesburg your home and have the zip code 93528.
Like its more famous counterpart in the southern hemisphere, the dusty little town is called Joburg by locals.
Since it’s a bit off the generally beaten track you need to hire a car if you want to go there as the nearest Greyhound service is 25 miles (40 km) away at Ridgecrest. From here a bus shuttle service can take you to (or from) the LA airport.
Death Valley Hostel is the only place to stay in Johannesburg, as well as the only place for meals, which, fortunately, are recommended to be very good. Liquid refreshment of your choice will be very important as you’re now in the heart of one the last outposts of the West.
This part of California is popular with tourists, some of whom want to experience the eeriness and desolation of Death Valley which is about ninety minutes drive. Trips to Death Valley in midsummer are not recommended unless you have the tenacity of a stubborn camel on steroids.
The Joshua Tree National Forest is also in the area. This won’t be most people’s idea of a forest but is fascinating all the same as can be seen here:
Like Namibia, there is plenty to see but you need lots of time, energy and air conditioning to get from one to the other. But the trip will be truly memorable and you should be able to take great photos in the glorious sunshine.
It’s a world apart from the modern and bustling African city which never sleeps and has over a million trees, but has its own rugged and nostalgic charms waiting to be discovered, even if you can’t find any more gold. But there is still an active mine in the area, so maybe your luck could turn.