April 2008 Issue Explore Historic California - Magazine for Enthusiasts








Click on the 4Runner or contact us at info@explorehistoricalif.com for tour information.




April 26-27, 2008

The 12th Annual Moose Anderson Days are Saturday and Sunday, April 26-27. Help the Friends of Jawbone Canyon clean up the messes that others leave behind, then chow down for an afternoon BBQ. Enjoy vehicular recreation on Sunday with our 4x4 tour or bring your dirt bike for the poker run.

Sign up to work on Saturday and get a free T-shirt and BBQ lunch! Pre-registration must be completed by April 15!

Click the Moose logo for details!


Friends of Last Chance Canyon is a new organization interested in sustaining and protecting areas within the El Paso Mountains, near Ridgecrest, California. The main focus is preserving and protecting historic sites like Burro Schmidt's tunnel and the Walt Bickel Camp.

Please click on either logo to visit the FLCC site.



We support



Mules can taste the difference--so can you




It's always FIRE SEASON! Click the NIFC logo above to see what's burning.




Click on the bag to find out how.

The #1 Source for Desert News Now Has A Forum.  Come Chat!


Visit Michael Piatt's site, www.bodiehistory.com, for the truth behind some of Bodie's myths.

Terri Geissinger is a Bodie area Historian, Guide and Chautauquan. A long time resident who lives in Bodie and Smith Valley, she is dedicated to preserving stories of the pioneer families, miners, ranchers and teamsters. Click the photo to visit her site.




Explore Historic California!

     Not too many years ago, the family station wagon was the magic carpet to adventure. Today, that family station wagon is likely to be a four wheel drive sport utility vehicle or pick up truck. SUV's and other 4x4's are one of the best selling classes of vehicles. Ironically, industry statistics show that once purchased, few owners will dare to drive their vehicles off the paved highway.

     Click your mouse through the website and enjoy our armchair adventures and the histories behind them. If you are interested in taking one of our guided tours with your vehicle, please contact us at: info@explorehistoricalif.com.

     Several years ago, we bought our first SUV. We went to a one-night class at a local community college entitled "How to 4-Wheel Drive" by Harry Lewellyn. The following weekend we attended the hands-on day tour. We liked what we were doing so much that we began going out nearly every weekend and learned how to negotiate a variety of dirt roads. Our spare time was spent doing research on the history and ecology of our favorite areas. A one-day outing turned into 16 years of leading others on mini-vacations throughout Southern California and the Owens Valley.

     Our 4WD outings involve driving on easy to moderate dirt roads and are ideally suited to novice and intermediate level drivers. All tours are suitable for stock vehicles in good condition, although some tours do have vehicle size restrictions.

     Our tours are operated under permits issued by the Bureau of Land Management, and other authorities.

     We share our knowledge of the backcountry over the CB radio with our guests. We frequently stop to explore mining areas, old and new, and ponder the rocks, plants and animals we may encounter. We'll occasionally visit an old cabin or deserted mountain lookout.

     California has a fascinating history, from geologic unrest and prehistoric petroglyph scribes to the "Radium Queen of the Mojave" and the "Human Mole of Black Mountain." Load up your 4X, fasten your seatbelts and get ready to explore historic California.

Roger, Cecile and Marty

In Search of Badwater Nessie

from The Journals of Dr. Cecile von Vargo

I found myself hot on the trail of Badwater Nessie not long after she and the lake waters appeared in Badwater, Death Valley, California, the year of 2005. It puzzled me why she disappeared before the normally dry lake bed evaporated. She was so fond of her vacations in one of the driest places on earth, that I just couldn't imagine what had happened to her. So I donned my Dr. von Vargo hat and began the search.

My first inclination was to go back to the lake bed itself. The crowds and the water would hamper my investigations however, so I was forced to wait until they both subsided before even attempting an expedition to the actual site in modern times. Meanwhile, I decided to do a little time traveling to see if there were any clues from histories past.

I figured my best shot would be to hook up with the Death Valley 49'ers, and the Manly party, as that was pretty much the first recorded history that comes to mind for the area. Basically I discovered cows and lost wagons full of stranded pioneers, but no water monsters.

I wandered around in the past until the mid 1870's. There I found, a few miles from Furnace Creek, two young men by the name of Leander and Philander. It was late and I was tired from nearly twenty years of desert travel in so short of time, so they invited me to sit around their cow campfire. A couple of roasts were on the spit, waiting to be served up, and I was quick to say yes, when they offered me a chunk of the juicy meat. Two Paiute women accompanied the boys, and passed around a jug of firewater. Between swigs of the jug, Leander and Philander, told stories of their brother's Meander, and Salamander, and the rest of the Lee family, back home in San Joaquin Valley. It held my interest for a short while, then I found my head bobbing, and my eyes nodding, and they offered me one of their extra bedrolls for the night.

It must have been around 2 a.m. when I heard a rumble, and the ground beneath me shook. The dust was flying so thick I couldn't see anything, but the stench of live beef, told me the Lee boys cattle were on the move. I got on my high horse and joined the boys in a rather lively attempt to collect the cows. We wandered around into the wee hours of the dawn when the stampede led us to water in a small creek.

As the bovine dredged the water, they eventually quenched their thirst and settled down again. Meanwhile, the two Paiute females had set up a camp ring, and were cooking up breakfast. Over hot cups of coffee and Indian bread, Cub and Phi dubbed the spring Cow Creek. The name stuck, and I found it in Gudde's Guide to California's Place Names when I time set myself back to the new millennium a few days later.

I liked the Lee brothers so decided to hang with them for a couple of decades. The evenings were always a joy with lots of tales. A favorite was Cub's story of Bellerin' Teck who dug a ditch full of water out of Furnace Creek and turned it into a ranch complete with alfalfa, barley and quails. Bellerin' was noted as a bad man, who eventually traded part of his ranch to a Mormon named Jackson for a yoke of oxen. According to Cub, Bellerin' waited a week for the Mormon to get settled in, then tried to run him of the property with a shotgun. Bellerin' took control of his ranch once again, and began more ditch digging for water. Philander always interrupted when Cub got to this part of the tale. "You know, I was told that while he was digging for that ditch, Bellerin' ran across some pretty big bones." Cub would nod and take back his story. "Sure, brother, I remember those bones....I saw 'em in a museum once and they looked like a giant serpent of some kind when they were all pieced together."

The word serpent stuck out like a sore thumb the first time I heard it. Could it be a water serpent perhaps the likes of Nessie? I filed that thought away back in my mind, and continued on with the Lee's for a few more years before heading back to the 21st century again.

Around 1891 a bunch of Amargosa ranchers took off prospecting. The Lee's were amongst those who spent days rainbow chasing. On one dig, they ran across big bones the likes of which reminded me of the Bellerin' Teck bone in Cub Lee's story. The hunt was for gold, or silver, not bones, so the brother's casually tossed them aside and continued digging. When they weren't looking I went to the pile and found the remains of a jaw and a few others that intrigued me, and bagged them, then I went to my watch and re-set it for late 2007.

Back in my office once again, I rested up for a few days before checking out my bag of bones. It took several days of calculated studies on those bones, before I dared to come to the conclusion that these were the remains of an ancient water serpent, similar to our Badwater Nessie. Once I was absolutely certain of this, I figured it was finally time to head Death Valley.

As coincidence would have it, the 8th Annual Death Valley History Conference was going on at Furnace Creek just as I arrived. I horned in on the conversations going on and presented my 2005 findings about Badwater Nessie, just because it seemed the right thing to do. I kept my mouth shut, however, about what was in my large bag, that I carried everywhere with me. That evening, following my impromptu dissertation, I was approached by a someone who claimed to be from Cow Creek. I followed her to the museum, where she immediately showed me bones the size of the one's I had in my bag. The silence was thick between us. After long moments, I nodded, then followed her to her Jeep.

As we climbed in the Jeep, and the engine roared, the skies overhead darkened. A few raindrops hit half of our windshield along the way. The sun blinded the passenger view, making it difficult to see., but we managed to find our way to the Cow Creek turnoff and to the little community that lived there. A brief cloudburst hit just before the turnoff to the volunteer encampment. The sun quickly replaced the clouds, but giant raindrops continued. The ground rumbled beneath us, as we exited the Jeep, and a huge prism of color arched from one end of the valley to the other. The ground rumbled louder, and the dust stirred, blinding our vision as it had that time traveled night way back into the past when the Lee cattle took off in search of water. Then there before us, there she was in all of her serpentine glory.... Badwater Nessie, alive and well in Cow Creek.

Quietly, I approached her, as cameras clicked to record the moment. I was amazed at how much more gentle she looked up close than she had from a distance. She greeted me as if I was an old friend, and allowed me to run my hands over her rough hewn blue colored scales, and through her stiff mane. At one point she made a monstrous whinny and quavered her head in the air. Her nostrils flared, the heat of her breathe, and the stench that followed, nearly threw me to the ground. As I recovered, I swear she winked at me. The small crowd around us laughed.

I was allowed about a half hour to familiarize myself with as much of Nessie as I could, then someone called to her, and the ground rumbled once again as she stomped off to some unknown part of the desert where she would be protected.

"But there's no water....how..." I stammered to those around me.

"She's adapted," they replied, and offered no more.

I took a few notes, exchanged some contact information, then was whisked back to Furnace Creek for the rest of the conference. On Monday I sat at my office beneath the mountains of the San Gabriels, with my books and my research, a bag of bones from the past, and a lock of Nessie hair. The photographs that arrived in my e-mails confirmed that I wasn't dreaming and there really had been a water monster at the end of the rainbow. There was more to this, I was sure, and I was game to go off chasing after it.     

The original Legend of Badwater Nessie can be found at


The story was a huge success at the 8th Annual Death Valley History Conference & will be published in the proceedings which is due to come out later this year.

For more on the Cub Lee Family:


Join the thousands of Nessie lovers around the world - be the first on your next Death Valley safari to have a Badwater Nessie t-shirt, mug or tote .




The Mojave Expedition

March 15, 2008

Photography by Roger Vargo


Bickel Camp caretaker, Jose (far right) explains the workings of a Mulholland-era Fordson tractor to visitors (top) and displays Walt's green Army coat (below).

The pack heads into the Holly Ash mine with Black Mountain in the distance.


Disguised by creosote bushes, the pack sneaks into Bonanza Gulch (top) and approaches Mormon Flat (below).

Bill makes the Goler Narrows look easy.
The Crane's FJ angles through the Narrows on its first real 4WD outing.
The Goler Narrows has a tight turn near the end (top) and a big rock, too.


Jeeps were made for the Narrows (top), but with skilled driving and good navigation, even a full size Suburban can squeeze through.



David Crane, the driver of the silver FJ has trip photos at:


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