August 2007 Issue Explore Historic California - Magazine for Enthusiasts








Click on the 4Runner or contact us at for tour information.



 By God, to Bodie

Aug. 18-20, 2007

Please click on the photo 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.




Join us at the annual Friends of Bodie Day, August 11, 2007. Click the poster or phone 760-647-6564 for details.



We support



Mules can taste the difference--so can you





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







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:

     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

Tribute to a Trail Dog

 By Cecile Page Vargo

Rest In Peace Poor Little Jake

  • Poor Little Jake Vargo

  • Born 12/26/1991

  • Died 07/17/2007

           Poor little Jake Vargo, known as "poor" because of the worried look he often had on his shepherd/lab face, went to sleep for the last time at the ripe old age of 15 Ĺ. Jake was a trusty friend, and trail dog to his family for many years. The last three or four years he has happily been retired at the Vargo Cow Cottage, with his adopted sisters, Sadie and Maggie Moore Ho Dog. Jake and Sadie were both content to let the Ho dog carry on the trail dog tradition for the Vargo family, and watch over the cottage. Two years ago Sadie moved to her human brotherís house and a new exciting life. Jake missed her, but preferred to stay with his human parents, and enjoyed an occasional weekend visit from Sadie. Jake crossed over to the big meadow in the sky Tuesday, July 17. His sister, Big Dog Jessie, greeted him with leaps and bounds when he arrived. Jake's remains will eventually be scattered near the high desert mountaintop near Big Dog Jessie's, and together they will guard the backcountry.

           In lieu of flowers, biscuits, bones, or otherwise for Jake, the Vargo family, humans, cats, dogs, birds, and goldfish, request that you send a donation in Jake's name to Jake's favorite animal shelter in the Owens Valley for the dogs that aren't as fortunate as he was:


P.O. Box 76

Bishop, CA 93515

           In addition to being a faithful companion and trail dog, Jake was well known for his ability to write a good story, which we reprint as our article of the month for August:

The Masonic Log


Poor Little Jake, Tour Guide Dog In Training

           I can remember it well. It was back in August of '92. I was just a young fellow, all of 8 months old, actually, and quite fit and trim compared to the potbellied pig of a dog I have become today. Big Dog Jessie, my adopted sister, had just turned 3 years old. Our mother and father were tour guides. Big Dog Jessie was a tour guide dog, and I was a tour guide dog in training. We'd been on several day trips in the western Mojave area, so I was already an expert at romping through the creosote bushes with thunderous paw steps to frighten any lizards, rattlers, or tarantulas that might be hiding in them. I also had seen Big Dog Jessie chase after a few jackrabbits, so I figured, I could probably handle that job pretty good, too, when my turn came. I'd gotten over my tendency towards carsickness, and I was learning to get over my fear of miniature humans. I'd learned to lay at my father's feet as he gave the start of the dirt road lectures before each trip, and did a good imitation of Big Dog Jessie's tummy trick for everybody, as he talked, as well. I even knew how to help my adopted sister as she people herded everyone that went on the tours. We made quite a team, making sure those humans didn't get lost, and got back in there 4x4's safely. I was well on the way to being a good historical 4-wheel drive tour guide dog.

Highway 14

           It was one of those hot summer mornings, even at 6AM. Mother and Father grabbed our leashes and led us out of the house into the driveway and to that burgundy Chevy Blazer we had at the time. Big Dog Jessie jumped right in that old Blazer just like she always did, all by herself. Mother had to give me a little boost, as even in those days I was a little bottom heavy. It was harder to move around once we got in there, the Blazer was really packed with stuff. But there were lots of soft cushy places to sit on top of, too, so that was ok with me. We nestled in our individual doggy spots, and were ready for the long ride to Mojave. I couldn't wait to get out there and find my own jackrabbit!

           Mother and father stopped at the old Reno's restaurant in downtown Mojave for breakfast, as they often did. Big Dog Jessie and I protected the Blazer from anyone that tried to peer in and look at us as we waited in the parking lot. We also watched the freight trains as they chug-a-lugged down the track, across from the highway. It was a grand time, made even grander, because Mother had saved a fresh baked country biscuit from her breakfast, and Big Dog Jessie and I got to share it. We made sure we licked up every last crumb, so father wouldn't yell at us for getting his vehicle dirty. Then we realized that the engine was starting and we were back on the highway headed for adventures.

           Big Dog Jessie and I watched as we drove past Jawbone and Redrock Canyons. We got very excited as we approached the Opal Mine turn-off. We knew we would be stopping soon, and we couldn't wait for our paws to hit that warm desert sand! Oops, we soon realized father missed the turn and he kept driving and driving and driving. We passed Joshua trees, and creosote bushes, and more. Every once in awhile we'd even pass little towns. We'd stop occasionally and get to stretch our legs a bit, but we were never allowed off the leash, the highway was just too close by. And we'd always get back in the Blazer and drive further and further away from home than we had ever been before.

Highway 395

           Finally we got to a town, the biggest one we had seen in a long while. Mother and Father took us out, unpacked a few bags, and they showed us their home in this town. It was only one room, with a couple of big beds, and a bathroom. Our old beat up doggie sleeping bag was put on top of one of the beds, while Mother and Father took the other one. We did all go out to dinner, then we came back and spent the night in this one room. Big Dog Jessie and I slept well, being tired from all that lazing around in the back seat of the Blazer for hours on end.

           The following morning it was breakfast with another big old country biscuit for us, this time from a restaurant called Whisky Creek. Then everything was packed and we were off again on another long drive. This was the longest time that Big Dog Jessie and I had ever spent on a paved road. Where were we going, what were we going to do?

           We drove through some mountainous area with some Jeffery Pine trees, We saw some mountain peaks that father told mother were volcanoes - mountains that exploded! There was black shiny rock that apparently spewed out of those mountains when they exploded, and there was gray sand, that wasn't sand at all, it was called pumice, and was real strange to walk on when we were allowed to get out for awhile. That came from those volcano mountains, too.

           We came to another town by a huge lake with a couple of islands in it. The shore of the lake had what looked to Big Dog Jessie and I like salt towers, or salt castles, but father said it was called tufa and was protected. We watched gulls flying around the lake as we drove past it and past the little town. Then after we'd gotten a ways past the tufa lake, and were driving through some unusual rock formations, we stopped right off the highway and looked down into the remains of a town that we were very excited to find out was called Dogtown. Father and Mother pointed at foundations left where the town had once been, and talked about men who came and mined for gold long ago. Big Dog Jessie and I looked anxiously down in to Dogtown and back at our parents. Oh how we wished they would take us down there, and let us play! But it wasn't to be. We were piled in the Blazer once again, and drove on until we came to another town.

The Chemung Mill & The Town of Masonic

           Instead of stopping at this next town, we drove a bit north and then, oh thank goodness, Father was turning onto a dirt road at last! " Look, Big Dog Jessie," I remember saying. " We are going to do some 4-wheeling after all!" We drove till we came to the ruins of an old mill, The Chemung Mill. We explored a little bit there, around ramshackle old mining buildings and old equipment. A couple of the buildings had been severely hit with that old metal eating termite bug and the cocoons were just everywhere.

           The family got in the Blazer once again and continued on that relatively easy dirt road, the dust kicking up behind us, but no one cared. We came to the remains of another mill, and some well worn log cabins practically hidden in the high desert growth. Father was slowing down so we were sure we were going to stop and look here. We did for awhile, and Mother read the words on the rock that described the town of Masonic and it's mining heyday. Big Dog Jessie and I ran up and down the nearby by road, with a cloud of dust bigger than the Blazer had caused. We were here at last, and there was exploring to be had by all.

           Father got in the Blazer and drove it down another little road. Mother called Big Dog Jessie and I, and we followed on foot. We crossed a little stream that muddied the road. I tiptoed across that stream as best I could, for in spite of the Labrador side of my family, I was not much for water or mud, even in my youth. Then I saw it - a clearing with just enough trees for some shade. A ring for a campfire, a nearby meadow to play in, that led to a hillside with a mine, and more tumbled log cabins.. Father was stopping here, and he was starting to take everything out of the Blazer.

Setting Up Camp

           Mother took one of the packages that Father had thrown on the ground, and she began turning into a big fabric dog house. Actually, she called it a tent, and it was just big enough for two sleeping bags for her and Father, and just a space for Big Dog Jessie and I to sleep right between them. This was called camping, my adopted sister told me. We were going to spend the night right here in this meadow in the ghost town of Masonic. Big Dog Jessie and I jumped up and down excited, and ran around that meadow chasing each other and rolling in meadow muffins. It was just delightful! And the best news of all was that we wouldn't have to drive and drive afterwards, we would be sleeping in that tent with those sleeping bags and our parents, all night long, right out in the middle of nowhere!

           As the sun went down, Father had set up his little outside kitchen. He was cooking something awfully yummy smelling on that antique Coleman stove of his. The entire town of Masonic probably hadn't smelled that good even when the miners were there. Mother sat up some old aluminum lawn chairs for her and Father to sit on as they ate their dinner. Big Dog Jessie and I had to suffice with our gourmet tender doggy packets, and a big bowl of water. We were tied to a big long fallen log near the campfire ring where we could keep warm as the night air set in. Once in awhile we were tossed a tidbit from Father's cast iron Dutch oven. It was damned near doggie heaven for Big Dog Jessie and I.

Stories Around the Campfire

           As the stars began appearing over head, and the campfire began roaring, Father grabbed a glass of wine and a cigar, sat down on the big log that we were tied to. He drew a long puff on the cigar, and then he began to tell us the story of Masonic. In the summer of 1860 prospectors belonging to the Masonic Lodge discovered promising leads around Masonic Mountain where we were now camping. Strikes at Aurora and Bodie were more important, however, and Masonic was soon forgotten. On July 4th, the area was rediscovered and in production by 1904. The mill we had played around earlier in the day was the Stull Brothers Mill, also known as the Pittsburgh-Liberty. Father pointed at the remains of a tramway on a hill above our campsite that was used to connect the mill with the mine on the hill.

           We were fascinated by the gold mining history of Masonic and its Pittsburgh-Liberty Mill, and Father had more stories to tell us, but we were beginning to yawn and nod off as he spoke. Sensing that we were two very tired dogs, after all our busy day of exploring around Masonic, Mother, took us off our leashes. We perked up at being let loose, and ran around the campground a few times more until Big Dog Jessie found a discreet place to squat and take a leak. Always wanting to follow my sister's lead, I found a spot a few feet away from hers, and proceeded to squat and do the same thing. Then we heard Mothers voice calling us, and we were soon bedded down for the night. I decided to curl up inside Mother's sleeping bag, Jessie slept on top of Father's. I can faintly remember Father's voice outside the tent still at the campfire, pointing out the stars to Mother.

           As the sun came up the next morning, Big Dog Jessie and I woke to find we had been shoved out and off of the sleeping bags, and our parents were cozy inside them. Father was snoring loudly as usual. We whimpered and cried, and licked their faces, until they couldn't stand it any more and decided to get up. The zipper of the tent was opened, and we hurried out to do our business. Again I proceeded to follow my sister and squat behind a small bush, as she always did. I was always embarrassed to hear Father laughing when I did this, and saying something like "When is that boy going to learn to take a piss like a man?" I'd always come scampering back behind Jessie, with my ears perky, and my tail wagging. I'd go to Mother and she'd scratch my ears, and tell me I was a good little man in spite of what Father had said 

Explorations Around Masonic

           Following breakfast, which Big Dog Jessie and I got to share, as well, Father told us that we were going on a hike. Mother had a book and she decided to stay back at the camp, but sister and I were ready for explorations. We headed through the meadow, occasionally stopping to smell a meadow muffin, then found our way up through the thick brush and trees on the hillside. We were going to investigate the mine. Father stuck his head in the entrance and it was sturdy, so we proceeded to go inside. It was dark inside, but he had a flashlight to lead the way. We hadn't gotten too far in, when bats startled us, and we ran out as fast as we could. I was especially afraid of the bats, so stayed outside, while Big Dog Jessie and Father continued in. It apparently wasn't too far in, for after awhile they were both back out and ready for more explorations.

           We hiked for a couple of hours, exploring every inch of Masonic. Father was examining every remnant of a building, every artifact and shard. Big Dog Jessie and I took in the high desert smells, and occasionally chased a lizard. No luck in jackrabbits on this day. It seemed no time, though, that Mother was calling us in for lunch. At the sound of her voice, sister and I took off like a couple of buffalo and headed through the meadow and back to camp. Right before we got there, Big Dog Jessie found a private bush to squat behind. I looked at her, and thought about it, but decided to get back to Mother. Right before I got to where Mother was standing at the old antique camping stove, I saw that big old long log that we had been tied to the night before. I suddenly saw it in a new light, and found myself drawn to it with an urge I had never had before. I got closer to it, ignoring Mother with a piece of food in her hand. Some great force of nature brought me even closer to that big old log there at the camp at Masonic. I sniffed it, then suddenly found myself lifting my leg and relieving myself on the log. Mother was laughing, and Father was coming down across the meadow laughing, "Look at that, Jake finally learned to piss like a man!"

A Man At Last

           Now we spent one more night at Masonic, before heading off to the ghost towns of Bodie and Aurora. Mother and Father relaxed around the camp while Big Dog Jessie and I were allowed to run around where ever we chose, so long as they could see us. Occasionally, Big Dog Jessie would find her bush to squat behind, but I, Poor Little Jake, as I was and still am often called, I went to that log each time, and I pissed like a man!

Jake at the Masonic Log

           Many years have come and gone since our camp at Masonic. Big Dog Jessie is old and gray around the muzzle and her hip gives out occasionally from arthritis. I'd had a few years that I was so portly and even more pot belly pigged looking, I could hardly get around the old campgrounds any more and the altitude, bothered both my sister and I am embarrassed to say. We now have a younger sister, a blonde twit of a dog that won't ever be the great tour guide dog as Big Dog Jessie and I were. We don't travel much now, accept on an occasional day or overnighter. Masonic, with it's crumbling cabins, and shell of a mill, are still there for others to see. For many years, the campfire ring, and the big old log where I learned to be a man, were still there as well.

           Alas, in recent years, when Mother and Father stopped in with a tour to visit Masonic and tour the mine we now know of as the Ranger, they were saddened to see that the infamous log of Masonic was gone. They broke it to me gently when they came back home a few days later. I'm disheartened that it's not there and I cannot go back one more time to lift my leg upon it. I'll always wonder what happened to my first log! I'm hoping that perhaps someone camped there one bitter cold night and ran out of fuel for the fire. Perhaps after much thought they decided it best to put that log to better use, so they could keep warm until the morning sun came up and began to ease the chilling air. I'll forgive them if it was an emergency of sorts, but I'll always be saddened, because I longed for one last visit to that old log at the ghost town of Masonic.


The Fathill Fandango Tour

July 18-20, 2007

Photography by Roger Vargo and Mary Cole


Read more about Cerro Gordo in Robin Flinchum's Las Vegas Review-Journal travel article here:

Spend a Night in the 19th Century


A vintage  fire engine stands watch near the entrance to Manzanar.
Randy, Mary and Al look over Manzanar displays.

One of many natural arches in the Alabama Hills near Lone Pine.

Apryl poses for Mitch amid the exfoliated rocks in the Alabama Hills.






         Sofia takes a turn at the 4 Runner's helm.


The group begins climbing the Swansea Grade.



Randy's Jeep climbs near salt tram towers.




Bruce and Chuck coax the Explorer up the Swansea Grade with Owens Lake in the background.


The Weber's rough it in the A/C-less Jepp.



Al and Marty arrive at Burgess on the Inyo crest (R) while sightseers observe the Saline Valley (below).

  Apryl (L) and Marty (R) defy certain death at the edge of the salt tram while the "Salt Tram Girls" ham it up and Andrzej and Roger chat (below).

The group takes a look at the Cerro Gordo springs pump house on the way to Cerro Gordo. Copyright © 2007, All Rights Reserved.                           Powered by