I'm a Joanna Newsom fan, so on a road trip last month, I made my friends take a detour to a town she named a song after.
If you're driving from northern California (say, Nevada City) to Death Valley, you'll probably want to end up on the CA-136. It's a state route that goes from Lone Pine to the 190, which will take you into the park. The eighteen-mile shortcut doesn't pass much, and what it does is so small you might miss it in a dust storm: a few mining trucks, the unincorporated towns of Alico and Keeler, and Swansea.
Swansea looks to have a population of around six, though Wikipedia calls it a ghost town. One side of the road has the few lived-in looking houses and a "Welcome to Swansea" sign. The other side has a few abandoned shacks and a historical marker that must be among the least-read of its kin. Strange rocks dot the sand: lavender glass, hunks of ore, rusted hinges.
Joanna's song makes sense here. It's about man's inordinate ambition  ("And all we want to do/is chew, and chew, and chew"), and how little comes of it  (All these ghost towns). Swansea is a gold rush town that peaked around 1870. It was once on the shore of Owens Lake . Though it's still called Owens Lake, the "lake" has been mostly dry since its source was diverted to Los Angeles in the 1920s. All the ambition of those who lived here is dust swirling in the lakebed.