April 2011 Issue Explore Historic California - Magazine for Enthusiasts










Room 8-The Most Famous Cat in Los Angeles



Cerro Gordo is again open to day visitors, road and weather conditions permitting.

NOTE: Because of heavy snowfall, access is not recommended during the winter months.

Please phone (760-876-5030) for current conditions before venturing out!

A caretaker is living on on the site and visitors must check in before venturing around the ghost town.

No supplies or accommodations are available at Cerro Gordo and visitors should bring plenty of drinking water and haul out their own trash. The dirt road from Keeler to Cerro Gordo is a steep, eight mile ascent. Four wheel drive is not usually required, but vehicles should have adequate ground clearance.

Phone 760-876-5030 for current information or contact us through email at:


Join us at the 15th annual Moose Anderson Days

Saturday-Sunday April 23-24, 2011 at Jawbone Station 

Get a collectable t-shirt and help clean up the desert Saturday morning and early afternoon and enjoy a free lunch and prizes afterward.

Join our 4x4 tour Sunday morning ($10 if you worked Saturday, $30 if you didn't).

Click on the moose logo below to download a PDF registration form. Fill out and mail to PO Box 1902 Cantil CA 93519 or email to webmaster@jawbone.org

All participants must pre- register to receive a t-shirt and participate in the 4x4 tour.

Please register by April 14, 2011.

Contact Jawbone Station, 760-373-1146 for additional information.



Robert C. Likes, co-author of From This Mountain--Cerro Gordo, has  completed a second book about Cerro Gordo.

Click on the cover image (above) to learn more.

This is a story of a generation that sought its own self-identity in a world that suddenly became more complicated with an uncertain future and values.

This epic journey was staged on desert mountains, on steamboats carrying silver bullion across a desert lake, and on a freighting trail that traversed 200 miles of inhospitable desert.

Mules can taste the difference--so can you


A new book

by Nick Garieff

Discovering Bodie tells stories about twenty residents of the High Sierra ghost town of Bodie, California. Included are a selection of the author's black and white photographs presented as duochromes of buildings or artifacts relating to the residents lives.

The story of Eli and Lottie Johl is an example of new revelations this book uncovers.

Published 2010 by Nick Gariaeff, Gilroy, CA.
80 pages including 64 photographs.
8 1/2 inch square perfect bound
ISBN 978-0-984363

Click on the book cover above to go to discoveringbodie.com

LOGO T Shirts Available


Explore Historic California with our  logo depicting the California backcountry and its rich history both true and farce.

We now offer shirts, sweats, jerseys and cups with our logo.

Click the shirt 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

Bodie Foundation
"Protecting Bodie's Future by Preserving Its Past


Click on Room 8's photo or phone

951-361-2205 for more information.


The Panamint Breeze is a newsletter for people who love the rough and rugged deserts and mountains of California and beyond.

Published by Ruth and Emmett Harder, it is for people who are interested in the history of mining in the western states; and the people who had the fortitude to withstand the harsh elements.

It contains stories of the past and the present; stories of mining towns and the colorful residents who lived in them; and of present day adventurers.

Subscriptions are $20 per year (published quarterly – March, June, September & December) Subscriptions outside the USA are $25 per year. All previous issues are available. Gift certificates are available also.

To subscribe mail check (made payable to Real Adventure Publishing) along with name, address, phone number & e-mail address to:  Real Adventure Publishing, 18201 Muriel Avenue, San Bernardino, CA 92407.

For more information about the Panamint Breeze e-mail Ruth at:  echco@msn.com

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

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 for information on her tours with the Bodie Foundation.

Credo Quia Absurdum




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.



Mines, Trains and Crashes

by Roger Vargo

A lone chimney stands in the Summit Diggings area. The structure is mentioned in Strong's 1970 Desert Magazine story.

The Summit Diggings placer mining area straddles Kern and San Bernardino counties north and west of Randsburg and Johannesburg. The name is derived from the proximity to the summit of a pass around the El Paso Mountains traversed today by Highway 395.  The Diggings was one of a small group of dry washing camps including Goler, Garlock, Red Rock Canyon and Last Chance Canyon.

A dugout, also mentioned in Strong's story, looks vaguely reptilian from the outside.

The diggings was never very large or particularly productive. Its primary claims to fame are as a starting point for the three prospectors who eventually located the Yellow Aster Mine (Burcham, Mooers and Singleton) in 1895 and as the site for a tunnel built in 1908-1909 by the Southern Pacific Railroad's Jawbone Division that once connected Mojave with the Owens Valley. The original tunnel, at 4,340 feet, was one of the longest on any SP line at that time.

Mary Frances Strong wrote in Desert Magazine (November, 1970), “The Summit Diggings is an interesting desert locale to visit. They lie in an extremely arid region which can be blistering hot in summer; while, in the midwinter months, icy winds may roar across the land with gale-like force.

Conditions were hard at the Summit. It was a haphazard camp of tents and primitive dugouts. The enterprising shopkeepers of the time didn’t feel it was even worthy of one store. Supplies had to be hauled in on wagons from the other camps resulting in sky-high prices on all items."

According to a 1925 report from the California State Mining Bureau, only two commercial placer mining operations were were the gravels- the Oro Fino Mining Co. and the Summit Placer Gold and Rock Co.

A Stebbins dry concentrator on the property of the Oro Fino Mining Company (1925).

Today, weekend and recreational miners can be seen shifting the Summit's sands in hope of finding color. The Gold Prospectors Association of America (GPAA) has a large claim in the area called "Duisenburg" located a short distance north of Highway 395 just west of the railroad tracks. The area is also popular with OHV green sticker enthusiasts and 4 x 4 backcountry explorers such as ourselves.

One unlucky motorcyclist slipped and fell down an old mine shaft in November, 2010 and had to be extracted by rescuers from the BLM and Kern and San Bernardino counties (see EHC, December 2010).

Rescuers work to lift a motorcyclist out of an Summit Diggings mine shaft in November, 2010 (left). Eric Vargo poses over the filled in hole, March, 2011 (right).


Construction of the Los Angeles Aqueduct (1908-1913) was a major project in terms of cost ($24.5 million), workers (more than 4000), scope (Owens Valley to Los Angeles) and logistics (moving workers, equipment and supplies to where they were needed).

The system of roads in the area where the aqueduct was to be constructed was, at best, primitive. The only practical long distance transportation solution was rail travel.

Southern Pacific rails reached Mojave in 1876 and were extended into Los Angeles by the following year. The SP also had a rail line, the former Carson and Colorado RR, that served Owens Valley and western Nevada. However, the systems didn't interconnect and there was a long stretch of land from Mojave north to Lone Pine that was unserved by any railroad. That very area was to be the route of the new aqueduct.

The Los Angeles Herald published a map showing the route of the Owens River Aqueduct, April 13, 1908.

An article in the San Francisco Call of August 9, 1906 headlined "Los Angeles Asks the Southern Pacific to Construct Line Across the Desert. J. B. Lippincott, supervising engineer of the Owens River project...will leave Los Angeles the last of the week for the Owens River country. The object of the journey is to make a survey for a railroad which will be built from Mojave, eighty miles northward, across the Mojave desert and through Red Rock canyon. It is to be used in the construction of the Owens river conduit...The Southern Pacific Railroad Company has been asked to construct and operate the road."

Construction on the Jawbone Division, as it was called, began in 1908. The route through Red Rock Canyon, although shorter by mileage, was avoided because of steep grades and concerns about washouts from flash flooding. A temporary nine mile spur line was built from Cantil to Dove Springs that supplied the construction needs of that section of the aqueduct project. It operated for 22 months and was dismantled for scrap in December, 1910.

The Los Angeles Herald reported April 17, 1908, "In the Mojave desert, between Mojave and Jawbone canyon, the Southern Pacific will soon be rushing the work of constructing twenty-three miles of track. This will be commenced as soon as the contract is signed. Sixty days is allotted for this work, and the Los Angeles aqueduct commission is anxious to begin hauling material for constructing the tunnels at Jawbone. Material is being gathered for the first section of the Owens Valley branch, while one mile of the track at Mojave has been graded.  The aqueduct engineers want the material started soon, as it will take many months to bore the tunnels, the natural lay of the land presenting many difficulties."

Formal aqueduct construction began September 8, 1908 according to the LA  Herald in a page 12 story, "With the immense amount of preparatory work about completed, actual construction of the big aqueduct that will bring the Owens river water to Los Angeles will be started today."

The Red Rock detour added some 18 miles of trackage and required the railroad to turn east at Cantil and parallel the El Paso Mountains, turning north at Garlock and again west through the Searles Summit pass area and Rademacher Gap. Then the tracks finally head northward into the Owens Valley and terminate north of Lone Pine at Owenyo where it met the narrow gauge tracks of the old Slim Princess. The line was dedicated October 18, 1910 at a ceremony in Owenyo.

The Searles Summit pass presented an inefficient (steep) grade for the locomotives so a tunnel was constructed 4,340 feet under the pass. Work started in 1908 and was completed late in 1909. While the tunnel was being built, a temporary bypass called a "shoo-fly" was graded to allow rail traffic to continue through. The temporary tracks were abandoned after the tunnel, then known as Tunnel 29, was completed.

 The east end of Tunnel 29 still has the original date (1908) above the portal (top).

Emily Gardner (see "A Trip to Summit Diggings" below), Kevin Fitzgerald and Tim Gardner inspect the west end of the tunnel (above).

Some of the original parts of the west end of Tunnel 29 (above) were removed and the tunnel shortened during repairs after the 1981 fire. The original tunnel was one of the longest on the Southern Pacific.

The old shoo-fly remained graded, but dormant, for 72 years until a fire of suspicious origin closed Tunnel 29 on February 22, 1981.

While trucks had gradually replaced the SP freight service from Mojave to Lone Pine, the rails were still used by a lumber operation near Pearsonville and the Trona Railway. The old shoo-fly, which was in remarkably good condition, was retracked and restored to temporary use by March 19, 1981. The temporary route was used for more than a year while the Searles Tunnel was repaired. The tunnel was reopened  July 27, 1982.

The Southern Pacific officially abandoned its Jawbone branch north of Searles station August 22, 1982, bringing an unceremonious end to railroading in the Owens Valley. The Trona Railroad still operates over the tracks from Trona to Mojave, including old Tunnel 29.


The loss of astronauts' lives in the Apollo 1 (January 27, 1967), Challenger (January 28, 1986) and Columbia (February 1, 2003) disasters are sadly remembered by many. Unremembered by most is USAF Major Michael J. Adams, America's 27th astronaut, who died November 15, 1967. Adams was at the controls of  an X-15 that went out of control and crashed north of the Summit Diggings after reaching an altitude of 266,000 feet. His crash marked the end of the X-15 program.

Michael Adams poses beside the number one X-15 following a successful research flight on March 22, 1967. Adams perished in the crash of the number three ship on Nov. 15, 1967.                                 (NASA Photo)

Adams fight began when his X-15 (66672) was dropped from its B-52 mothership at 45,000 feet over Delamar Dry Lake (Nevada) at 10:30 a.m. A sensor shut down the aircraft's engine after launch, but Adams was able to restart it 16 seconds later. As the rocket plane climbed through 85,000 feet, an electrical disturbance momentarily distracted Adams. The aircraft reached its maximum altitude of 266,000 feet at 10:33 and was off its planned heading by 15 degrees. The plane began descending at right angles to its flight path and entered a Mach 5 spin at 10:34 at 230,000 feet elevation.

Adams radioed "I'm in a spin, Pete." (referring to controller and fellow pilot Pete Knight). He was able to recover from the spin at 118,000 feet but went into an inverted dive at Mach 4.7. The ill fated aircraft began to pitch as it crossed over Cuddeback Lake. Adams was subject to more than 15 g of vertical force and 8 g laterally as his plane dove at 160,000 feet per minute. The X-15 disintegrated into many pieces, killing Adams and hitting the ground north of Johannesburg.

The Memorial to Major Michael J. Adams, Sr. was dedicated May, 2004. It is located in a remote desert area north of Johannesburg, Calif. near the Trona Rd.

John Bodylski of Boy Scout Troop 323 in Tustin, Calif. and aerospace historian Greg Frazier led an effort built a memorial to Adams as Bodylski's Eagle Scout project. The memorial was built near the crash site and was dedicated May 8, 2004. Approximately 60 people attended the ceremony, including members of Adams' family





            The Los Angeles Herald newspaper (various dates)

            The San Francisco Call newspaper (various dates)

            California Digital Newspaper Collection (http://cdnc.ucr.edu/cdnc) and Newspaper Archive (http://www.newspaperarchive.com/)


            Geology and Ore Deposits of the Randsburg Quadrangle California

            Bulletin 25, California State Mining Bureau, March, 1925

            by Carlton d. Hulin, Ph. D


            Summit Diggings Described in Searles Lake Bulletin

            Desert Magazine, p 35, December, 1944


            Gold at the Summit

            by Mary Frances Strong

            Desert Magazine, p 18-25, 50, November, 1970


            GPAA Website





            Jawbone-Sunset on the Lone Pine

            by Phil Serpico

            Omni Publications, Palmdale, Calif. ISBN: 0-88418-013-1


            The Los Angeles Herald newspaper (various dates)

            The San Francisco Call newspaper (various dates)


            The Jawbone Division - A Railroad in Our Valley and The Red Rock Railroad

            by John Di Pol

            Historical Society of the Upper Mojave Desert newsletter

            December 2003 and October 2008




            Aircraft Wrecks in the Mountains and Deserts of the American West



            Secret Heroes: Maj. Michael J. Adams, Sr.



            Space Archive: X-15 Astronaut Honored with Desert Memorial

            by Paul Maddox



            NASA Dryden Flight Research Center: Michael Adams- Remembering a Fallen Hero

            by Peter W. Merlin


Through the Eyes of a Child

A Trip to Summit Diggings

by Emily Gardner

Through the Eyes of a Child is a new, occasional, column featuring stories by children relating to historical subjects. If you or your child would like to submit a story, please contact us through the usual channels.


This month's story is by twelve year old Emily Gardner, of Los Angeles. Emily has two older brothers. She is a member of Jobs Daughters, loves the outdoors and scientific things. She loves to do both girl things and boy things. Emily loves her Mom and Dad and Country.



On March 12, 2011 Ceciele & Roger Vargo took

Me (Emily), My parents (Tim & Sue), their son (Erik),

My best friend's father (Kevin), the Sweeper (Al) and 3 others through the El Paso Mountains near the "Ghost

Town" of Randsburg. Roger told us the history of nearly

everything at we passed by. I loved hearing the history

of the things out there. When Ceciel & Roger Vargo,

me, my parents and Kevin arrived at Jawbone Sta-

tion, we met up with Erik, Al, and 3 others. The only

kid there was me. I found a touch screen Information

stand when I was walking around. When I turned

around, a little tiny roof was over a hole.


The hole had a board over it that said "Mr. Bob."

Mr. Bob is over 50 years old! When we ser off on

the road to the trail we listened to the history of

the aquaduct and who built it. When we hit the trail

we saw the infamous LANDSHARK! It was a

painted oval rock. It was hilarious!

The  Summit Diggings Landshark.

Our first stop on the trail was an area with a chimney. It

was reported "still standing" in the 1970's. Experts

say it was from the early 1900's and used by the

miners from the nearby summit diggings. Roger then

talked about the Shoefly. He proceeded to tell us

that the Sante Fe RR had "standard guage"



I loved to listen to it all. As we went thru

the trails, we had to go down a hill that had a lot of

medium sized rocks on it. This was my first "Big hill." I don

say I felt a little sick to my stomach. But I did not

say "I'm nauseaded! I'm nauseaded!" like my mother

said I did! The hill led to a flit dirt area called the

"Football Field". Dirt Bikers use this a lot.

Downhill into the Football Field.

We stopped by a mine shaft that a Dirtbiker leaned over to fall and

it was sealed over. We were looking around when we found

a dugout it went back about 10 feet in. I brought my

big flash light, but it was almost dead. After

that, we visited many more mine sites. Some of

them ...let me rephrase that ... all of them freak

me out. When we looked down one and saw an owl!

The owl (left) and inside a Summit Diggings dugout.

When we stopped by another, it had pools around

it. The pools were really murky. roger asked if I

Bake, I said yes and Roger said that the water had

a substance called "Alkelain". Alkelain is related to

baking soda. It made the water soapy and limy. Before

we ate lunch we stoped by a crash site of an

North American X-15 Rocked-powered Jet.

The "alkelain" pond.

Major Mike Adams [corrected from original ver-ed], on  November

15, spun it into the mojave dsesert floor. For lunch we

had mostly meats, cheeses, and crackers. Ceciel used

scones that she made. It was yummy! After we

got back to Jawbone Station, me, Ceciel, Roger, my

mon and dad, Kevin, and Al went to go eat Mexican

food. It was delicious! After we all got home it was

around 10 pm! It was so much fun! I wound want to

go again.

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