Darwin, California sits on the outskirts of Death Valley, 30 mins west of Lone Pine and the amazingly beautiful Mt Whitney, the tallest mountain range in the United States. A semi-ghost town today, Darwin was once the largest city in the county and got it started like many western towns as a mining settlement with silver was discovered in the surrounding mountains.

In 1860 the town was founded when hundreds of people followed the founder and explorer Dr. Darwin French to the mines, and by 1870 when more gold and silver were discovered, the settlement grew and prospered into two smelters, 20 operating mines, a post office (which still stands), graded streets, a drug store, hotel, three restaurants and a number of saloons with a total of 1000 residents.

Population continued to swell and by 1877 there was 3500 people in Darwin which brought a lot of crime and had the reputation of a violent town. But in 1878, smallpox hit hard and only three years later, Darwin was reduced by the mass exodus and drying up of the silver mines to only 85 people.

Darwin is now home to only 45 people and is surrounded by the remains of its past. A number of the original buildings in Main Street still stand which make a fantastic subject for photography, invoking an image that looks like it could have been taken 100 years ago, or straight out of a Hollywood western film.

The drive to Darwin gives you an amazing view of Mt Whitney and Lone Pine. Check out my location article HERE.

With this in mind, I decided to shoot film to capture that feeling. I went with black and white Kodak TMAX100 as I love the smooth grain that has a very old movie feeling to it. I also shot with my Fuji TX-1 XPAN – its panoramic format is very cinematic and loaded it with Cinestill 50D (see my review HERE). This film has been used for a number great western movies, including a favorite of mine, Tarantino’s ‘The Hateful Eight’.

Darwin is a fantastic location to take photos as there are so many different and interesting opportunities that start from the drive to the town. The 395 highway travels alongside Mt Whitney which is incredible to shoot year round, but I love it especially in January and February when there is a lot of snow on the mountains.

The town has a number of original buildings in the main street and is surrounded by wide open plains and mountains in the distance which catch the orange light of sunset, making for a great backdrop.

The streets are scattered with broken down old cars and western paraphernalia, including horse saddles, old saloon chairs, cattle skulls and mining equipment. The details of the town can be as interesting as the main buildings themselves.

This is an area of California I really want to explore more. Chris and I have spoken about a proper road trip up the 395 to Mono Lake and Bodie – there is so much to explore here!