April 2012 Issue Explore Historic California - Magazine for Enthusiasts










Room 8-The Most Famous Cat in Los Angeles

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

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:

Now Available

Cerro Gordo

A Ghost Town

Caught Between


Cecile Page Vargo's collection of Cerro Gordo stories, true, farce and somewhere in between, is being published in a new book, Cerro Gordo A Ghost Town Caught Between Centuries.

The book gives glimpses of Cerro Gordo from the silver and lead mining days through the early twentieth century zinc era to its modern place as, according to author Phil Varney, "Southern California's best, true, ghost town." There's even a possible solution to the location of the fabled "Lost Gunsight Mine" that former Cerro Gordo owner Mike Patterson once suggested.

We are proud to team with the Historical Society of the Upper Mojave Desert (HSUMD) in Ridgecrest, Calif., to bring Cerro Gordo A Ghost Town Caught Between Centuries to print. This is their first major publishing venture. The book is  available for sale directly from HSUMD or through selected book sellers.

Contact HSUMD directly to order:

P.O. Box 2001, Ridgecrest, CA. 93556-2001.

Phone: 760 375-8456

Email: hsumd@ridgenet.net

Mules can taste the difference--so can you

Available August, 2012


We are proud to announce Cerro Gordo, by Roger Vargo and Cecile Page Vargo, featuring images from the L. D. Gordon Collection, will be available August 20, 2012 as part of Arcadia Publishing's Images of America series.

Click the image 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.



The Elves of the Hard Rock Mines

by Cecile Page Vargo

When the Cornish miners, also known as "Cousin Jacks", came to America to work in the mines, it appears they brought more than their lunch pails of Cornish meat pies, or pasties, with them.  Elfin-like creatures, standing anywhere from two to three feet tall, with great long beards, extended arms, wrinkly crinkly faces, and extra large sized heads came to the mines with them.  Although rarely seen by anyone,  Tommyknockers are known by all of who have ever worked in mines for any length of time. 

Some say these mine fairies are actually the souls of dead miners. There are those who say they are the souls of the Jews who crucified Christ and were sent to work in the tin mines as slaves.  Some claim the "knockers" have never been heard working on the Sabbath and other Jewish days. At Christmas time, the sounds of their caroling whispers through the tunnels.  Regardless of origin, it is agreed by all, that Tommyknockers can be welcome little souls to have around. 

Noted particularly for "knock-knock-knocking" warnings of impending danger in the mines, Tommyknockers have saved many a miner from certain disaster. They are also said to be particularly fond of playing games.  Missing tools, drills, dynamite fuses, an occasional snuffed out miner's candle, can often be accredited to the imps.  An unusual light in a tunnel that leads to a rich ore vein can be a sign of their handy work as well.  Watch out if you leave your lunch around, in fact it's best to deliberately leave a few bites just for the Tommyknockers, so you'll still have some for yourself. 

Those individuals familiar with such things say it's advised to stay on the good side of the Tommyknockers. Occasionally, a few ornery fellows have started a mine collapse on their own with their incessant knocking.  In recent years, they've even taken to playing a few pranks outside of the mines.  More than a few people have reported the Yellow Grade Road to the Cerro Gordo Mines being gated at the start of the dirt road down by the shores of Owens Lake. Having been up that way many, many, times myself, including the weekend previous to the first reported incident many years ago,  I know there are no chains or gates anywhere near that road.  My only thought is that perhaps the Tommyknockers got a little more brazen and ventured out of one of the many open tunnels up there, to play a prank on this poor fellow. 

In addition to the Yellow Grade Road, the Tommyknockers appear to like to play games on the other side of the mountains as well.  In the Death Valley region,  particularly around  the town site of Skidoo, there have been numerous reports that the Skidoo Stamp Mill was missing.  However, I have never had any  trouble finding the place, so I can only assume once again the elves of the hard rock mines are at work for whatever reason. 

Back in the late 1980s  some young friends and I  went through Burro Schmidt's tunnel in the El Paso Mountains of the Western Mojave area.  We noticed that throughout the tunnel in nearly every little nook and cranny, there were M & M candies.  Now, it was Halloween weekend, and we figured that (then) current tunnel owner, Tonie Segar, was leaving trick or treat candy out for the visitors.  I now realize, that she was actually leaving snacks for the Tommyknockers.  Perhaps the Tommyknockers were responsible for the obsession old William Henry had to dig that tunnel to begin with. 

Also in the Western Mojave area, near the towns of Randsburg, Johannesburg and Red Mountain, the Atolia Union head frame towers for all to see.  One weekend we looked down the shaft and were surprised to see a full size pickup truck. Two weekends later, and it was gone. Tommyknockers at work again?

On a visit to the Mesquite Canyon area,  also in the Western Mojave, a quick look at the mouth of  a mine on a hillside almost proved fateful for me.  I managed the climb up the steep slippery slope without a problem, but on the descent, I fell and thankfully only slightly  bruised my tailbone.  Now, which do you suppose it was?  Were the Tommyknockers responsible for tripping me, or did they actually save me from slipping further down and really injuring myself?  A similar incident landed this author flat on her face coming down from the cemetery at Cerro Gordo last fall. The chipped tooth my smile now displays may be more evidence of these little pranksters.

Should you ever wander around an old mine or an old mining camp, in addition to all of the many safety precautions one should take, it might be a good idea to bring a gift for the Tommyknockers, so they will only treat you well!  I've known a few Tommyknockers that could be bribed with Mrs. Fields Chocolate Chip Cookies, and the elves at Cerro Gordo are particularly fond of miniature triple chocolate Bundt cakes available at Trader Joe's Markets.  Regardless, never go around these areas without having the appropriate bribes, be safe in whatever you do, and remember, the mines in many areas are private property and the Tommyknockers are hired by owners to keep you out.



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