October 2005 Issue Explore Historic California - Magazine for Enthusiasts





Burro Schmidt's

Tunnel Update

Burro Schmidt's "Famous Tunnel" now has a group of "friends" trying to preserve and protect the site.   

Click the photo to visit  their Website.



Click on the photo below to read more about Cerro Gordo.

Cerro Gordo now has its own Web site. Click the link below to visit.







The Panamint Breeze is a new publication highlighting the history and legends California and Nevada.  

Click on the logo for details.

Bumps in the Night and on the Road

by Cecile Page Vargo

Merri K. didn’t realize she had captured this ghostly Bodie resident until she got home and processed the pictures from her Memorial Day visit. Bob Pilatos, who has examined many Bodie ghost pictures states, "Merri has undoubtedly captured on film the finest supernatural aberration ever recorded in Bodie! What is interesting about her image is the fact that the figure in the window is wearing the same type of eyeglasses that are on the counter inside of the Boone Store! Could it be that James Stuart Cain still watches over the town?"

Eyeglasses on the counter in the Boone Store in Bodie. These appear to be the same style worn by the person in the window of the Odd Fellows Lodge (the above photo).

(Photo courtesy of Bob Pilatos)

          In addition to things that go “bump” on the road, you may find your favorite dirt road has things that go bump in the night as well. Mike Marinacci’s “Mysterious California” includes several of our frequent haunts, and I have personally heard a few ghost stories as well.

          Off roaders are not the only ones who enjoy the Anza Borrego Desert State Park in Southern California. Marinacci lists it as not only the largest park in California, but also the most mysterious.

Spirits of Borrego

          Nearly everyone is familiar with Peg Leg Smith’s legendary lost gold mine that is memorialized four miles northeast of Borrego Springs at the end of Pegleg Road. Many have chased their dreams looking for his lost mine. During that same time, the Borrego Badlands was haunted by the ghost of an old prospector who was owner of the appropriately named Phantom Mine. His eight foot skeleton, with a lantern light flickering in his bony chest, is said to roam the desert, chasing intruders off his claim.

          In the Carrizo Wash, a stagecoach pulled by four mules, travels along the old Butterfield Stage Road with no passengers--just a ghostly driver. Back in the 1860’s, a stage disappeared after its driver was held up by bandits and killed for a box of gold. Wheel ruts are said to be seen in the soft sand after the stage has driven by.

          Vallecito Station is haunted by the Carrizo Wash stage ghost and a few others. A phantom white horse has occasionally been seen galloping down the road, as well as the ghosts of two Texan duelists who killed one another. In 1869, an eastern bride traveling to Sacramento to meet her fiancé fell ill at Vallecito and died. She was buried in the bridal gown found in her trunk. Known as “The Woman in White”, some say she can be seen pacing the adobe grounds even today.

          In addition to ghosts and phantom miners, a Viking ship may lie buried in rocks and soil in a canyon above Agua Caliente Springs. Bigfoot has been occasionally spotted near the Borrego Sink. Ghost lights, or as old miners called them “burning balls”, have lit up the night skies over Oriflame Mountain west of Butterfield Ranch for years.

Mysterious Mojave

          If you’ve been on our Mojave Expedition in the El Pasos and Last Chance Canyon area of the Western Mojave, you’ve seen Burro Schmidt’s Tunnel. When owner Tonie Seger was alive she would gladly tell you of the time old Burro Schmidt’s presence was felt in the tunnel and told her not to go any farther. “Go back…go back..,” it warned. Tonie herself passed away a few years back. There are no reports of Tonie haunting the tunnel as Burro Schmidt did, but there a rumors that the ghost of her oversized Doberman, Coalie, still leads tours of the long tunnel to nowhere.

          In the Spring of 1991, Roger and I ran into some Randsburg locals while playing sweep for an ECO4WD tour. They claimed to have video of UfO’s flying around the ancient Indian sites on Black Mountain. In his book “The Secrets of the Mojave”, ‘Branton’ talks more about these UFOs in the area, as well as hidden underground tunnels, giant automatons, and magnetic anomalies in Iron Canyon.

          At the mouth of Goler Gulch, also known as the Little Jack claim, we always honk our horn to our late friend, Steve Nye, who first conquered the greenstone with us long before we envisioned doing tours. If Steve has a ghost, it’s surely there. We wouldn’t visit Little Jack without paying tribute to Steve.

          Also of ghostly interest along the areas visited in the El Pasos, are the remains of Chinese mines buried in the tunnels of Bonanza Gulch by jealous white men. Do their ghosts haunt the gulch? Della Gerbacht’s Camp at the top of Mesquite Canyon has been gone for a few years now,  but her ghost may still roam the canyon with her phantom shotgun, so care should be taken not to get hit by one of her potshots when exploring the area.

Ghostly Ghost Towns

          Author of Southern California ’s Best Ghost Towns, Phil Varney, aptly defines a ghost town as “any site that has had a markedly decreased population from its peak, a town whose initial reason for settlement (such as a mine or a railroad) no  longer keeps people in the community. A ghost town can be totally deserted…it can have a resident or two…..or it can be a town with genuine signs of vitality.” A town labeled “ghost” by Varney’s definition, may not necessarily have a ghost, but there are certainly ghost towns with reports of ghostly inhabitants.

          High in the Inyo Mountains near Lone Pine, the ghost town of Cerro Gordo has had it’s share of mysterious and ghostly stories. In its heyday, eighteen tons of silver-lead bullion were transported across the desert each day. Some ingots from the famed mining town were reportedly lost and buried near Red Rock Canyon, never reaching the pueblo of Los Angeles. Some stories tell of a small steamer, also carrying 83 pound bars of Cerro Gordo silver-lead bullion, that was swallowed by Owens Lake and never seen again.

          Today, overnight visitors to the restored ”bed and cook your own breakfast” ghost town, can opt to sleep in the ghost room of the bunkhouse or the Belshaw House and wait for a visit. Things have been said to be re-arranged on dressers, ghostly ladies have said to have taken up residence in old wooden trunks, and children have said to have been pinched by ghosts while posing for pictures in one of the bedrooms.

          Alphonse Benoit, the ghost of the Inyos, has appeared in the screen of the American Hotel on occasion, creaking footsteps are heard going up and down the narrow old stairs at night, hotel kitties screech out for no reason and at least one was seen flying out of a ghostly plastic bag from the kitchen and hightailing it down Main Street.

          The famed ghost town of Bodie is particularly noted for “the Bodie Curse”. On display in the museum are confessional letters from people who have met with various misfortunes after “acquiring” even the most minute item from the grounds. There are also stories of many ghostly hauntings in several of the buildings throughout the town. Various park ranger families that have occupied the J.S. Cain house over the years, have reported that the bedroom door opens and closes on its own. Many sleeping over night in the Cain bedroom have been awakened with feelings of suffocation and realized the ghost of a  heavy set Chinese maid was actually sitting on them.

          An old woman’s ghost is often seen sitting in a rocking chair as she knits an afghan at the old Gregory House. The aroma of Mrs. Mendocini’s Italian cooking sometimes permeates the air in and around the old Mendocini House. One father visiting the grave of  the three year old  “Angel of Bodie” in the cemetery, noted that his daughter giggled as she played with an unseen entity.

          The Chemung Mill, accessed from a dirt road northeast of the present day town of Bridgeport, stands tattered and torn today. Ghost towners setting up for Saturday overnight camping at the sight usually find their attempts thwarted by the poltergeist that lives there. An internet acquaintance of mine waited for the an interesting gray cloud to position itself over the mill for the perfect picture during a day visit. His camera suddenly flew off the tripod and crashed into several pieces on the ground, serving as another stern reminder of ethereal beings. Ghostly spirits can be felt at the Victorian Hotel in the living town of Bridgeport, as well.

          As you travel along your favorite dirt road haunts this fall, take a closer look around you, particularly as the sun goes down. You never know what may be lurking in those desert and mountain moon-shadows.  Those shakes, rattles and rolls you experience may be more than Roger, Marty and I on the same trail in front of or behind you.


Mysterious California , Strange Places and Erie Phenomena in the Golden State

by Mike Marianacci

Panpipes Press: Los Angeles California

Southern California ’s Best Ghost Towns

by Philip Varney

University of Oklahoma Press


The Secrets of the Mojave

by ‘Branton’

Creative Arts & Sciences Enterprises





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