News & Opinion | July 14, 2018 5:00 am

Meet the Mayor—and Only Resident—of This California Ghost Town

Rock Novak lives in Ballarat, population: one, in the unforgiving Death Valley.

ghost town
Rock Novak (YouTube)

In 1899, Ballarat, California, located in the heart of the unforgiving Death Valley, had nearly 500 residents. Now, it has one. The town, which formally held a Wells Fargo Station, post office, school, jail, hotels, and several saloons, was abandoned nearly 100 years ago in 1920. In 1969, it was the site of a scene for the iconic road movie Easy Rider. Today, Rock Novak, the town’s only resident, keeps the town alive.

Rock is the son of legendary Panamint Valley prospector George Novak. George and Rock moved to Ballarat in 2004 to serve as caretakers and Rock stayed on after his father died. He operates a barebones motel in the town and collects vintage items, including a truck that he claims once belonged to a Charles Manson family member.

“I’m the caretaker, the mayor, the sheriff, the judge, and the undertaker [of Ballarat],” Novak says in The Atlantic’s Mickey Todiwala and Monika Delgado’s short documentary, The Mayor of Ballarat. “I like it out here. It’s peaceful, quiet…you do as you want.”