January 2005 Issue Explore Historic California - Magazine for Enthusiasts







Bill Becher, L.A. Daily News outdoor writer and photographer went to Bodie with us in September. Read what he wrote about the trip. Click the photo to link to the story.




The birth of a new year is also the death of California campfire permits issued in 2004. Visit your local land management agency (BLM, NPS, USFS or State Parks) to renew your campfire permit for the 2005 calendar year.

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





Ecological 4-Wheeling Adventures


Click on either graphic below to get there.

Ecological 4-Wheeling Adventures (ECO4WD) offers more than 20 exciting four wheel drive backcountry adventure tours, SUV excursions, 4WD classes and 4-wheeling trainings. Their adventure tours range from one-day outings into Southern California's mountains and deserts to SUV mini-vacations in Death Valley, whale watching (4WD not required!) on the Baja peninsula and a 12-day, surprising luxurious expedition (no camping) into the uncharted depths of Mexico's Copper Canyon (Barranca del Cobre). Their "clean and easy" eco-tour style is sensitive and responsible to the environment, your family and your four wheel drive vehicle.

Don't have a 4X and want to visit historic sites in Eastern California?

Capture the spirit of the past as it comes alive with true tales of pioneer families, prospectors, muleskinners, hero's and gunslingers. Listen to legends of lost gold, found wealth and superstitions. Journey back in time with Terri Geissinger - Historian, Interpreter and Guide

Click on Terri's yellow van for Terri's Ghost Town Tours or contact Terri by clicking here:



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

Click on the logo to request  subscription information.

The Marden Graves of Aurora

by Peggy Lee

A Nostalgic Visit to An Old Cemetery

          On a exploratory drive through the mountains near the California-Nevada border one warm summer day, my husband and I found ourselves near the site of the former town of Aurora . There was nothing left standing of the place that at one time was the county seat of Mono County, California, except a couple concrete walls that had sad and lonely looking window holes in them
            On a hill just out of the main part of the old town-site sits what remains the only real proof of the existence of the town, the Aurora Cemetery. Many graves are still visible and many of them have headstones still readable, although a lot of the markers have fallen down, due to snow or rain or just time. Fencing surrounds some of the graves, either wrought iron, or woven wire or wood. Most are simply mounds of dirt surrounded by native rocks, with no markers at all. The graves are located in between pinyon trees, many of which were probably not even there when the graves were dug. In some cases the roots of the trees are tilting the headstones.

The Marden graves in the Aurora, NV, cemetery (September 2004).

            Walking around  the lonesome old place made one think of all the folks lying there, their families and their stories. Most of the burials took place in the early years, and before 1920.  Some were clearly single men, miners from some foreign land or from the east who had been buried by their fellow miners. Some were families in groups with one main surname and with the added names of in-laws, the husbands of the daughters in the family. In several cases, just a young wife who had died too young, perhaps during childbirth, or maybe of overwork in a harsh and lonesome environment.
            One grave marker tells a sad tale of a young family torn apart by what must have been an epidemic of some illness that took four children all under the age of 10 and within ten days time. This was a tall four-sided column, engraved on all four sides with their names and dates. They were: "Dick, age 6 died Feb.16, 1878. Frank, 8years old died Feb.20, 1878. Pearl , age 2,died Feb. 23, 1878 , and Daisy 4 years old who had died on Feb. 26, 1878 ." The engraving also states that these are the children of Horace and Lizzie Marden.  As if the loss of those four children weren't sad enough we found another, earlier, grave there for James, Eldest son of H. and Lizzie Marden, "age 7years 8 months, died March 9, 1865 ."  Then further on another marker engraved with the name "Hodie Marden son of Horace and Lizzie Marden, died March 29, 1884 age 18."  Lord, there were six children of this same couple, gone, and it was almost too much to bear. Did they have other children, or were they now left alone?

Hoddie Marden's grave in the Aurora, NV, cemetery (September 2004)

            I just had to know more about these children and their family and proceeded to search  for  the story of their lives. I was lucky to find some data about the family and will use these findings as well as my imagination to piece together what I believe happened to this family.

Learning to Know The Marden Family

            Horace Marden was born in Maine in 1832[i] and like thousands of others, Horace left for California during the gold rush. He crossed the Isthmus of Nicaragua and arrived in California before his twentieth birthday (1852).  He wisely chose business ventures other than actual mining to eke out a living. He started a freighting business that he would eventually operate throughout the mining country of California and Nevada for over forty years. He also built and operated stamp mills in Bodie and Aurora. [ii]


Read More  


In Search of an Elephant

by Cecile Page Vargo

          Back in the days when pathfinders were sent as forerunners to blaze trails, and with their amigos, to fight bronco riding Cherokees along the way, the closest thing to four-wheel drive vehicles were covered wagons with wooden spoke wheels. These wagons were drawn by four-legged creatures controlled by leather reigns and whips in human hands.

          Wakeman Brylarly, a foryniner struggling across the Sierra Nevada Mountains , paused on August 21, 1849 , to make the following diary entries:

               “Early everything was in motion. In one mile we crossed a little stream to the left, which runs from the Lake . Here we stopped, and cut sufficient grass for a feed. After rolling one mile farther we struck the foot of the mountain. The road was very rough and in many places steep both going up and coming down. Every now and then there was a little table upon which there was a little grass. We rolled thus two miles when we nooned (or rather rested, not taking our mules out) upon one of these tables. We stopped two hours, when we ascended a very steep and very rocky road with many short turns around the large rocks and trees. One mile brought us to the foot of the ‘Elephant’ itself. Here we ‘faced the music’ and no mistake. We immediately doubled teams, and after considerable screaming and whipping, thus arrived safely at the top. We were but four hours ascending, and we were much disappointed, but agreeably so, in not finding it much worse. Certainly this must be a great improvement upon the old road, where the wagons had to be taken across.”

           Unfortunately for Brylarly he was not near is destination.  As one steep hill was descended, another one lay ahead. The road was tougher than ever. After crossing valleys and lakes, they came upon a divide and then to a river. Bryarly continues in his diary:  

             “Everyone is liable to mistakes and everyone has a right to call a road very bad until he sees a worse. My mistake was that I had said I had seen ‘The Elephant’ when getting over the first mountain. I had only seen the tail. This evening I think I saw him in toto.”

           Today in vehicles with names reminiscent of those bygone days, we do much the same thing. The paths we travel are often similar to those forged by hardy pioneers nearly 150 years ago. Though road conditions are rarely as bad as they were in the olden days, they often prove quite a challenge for our “horse powered” four-wheel drive utility Blazers, Broncos, Pathfinders, 4Runners, Cherokees, Amigos, etc.  

          The weekend comes and we load up the kids and the dogs, pack lunches, fill the ice chest and water jug. We throw in our trusty tow rope (just incase), and follow the existing dirt roads. In four “high” or “low”, we travel through wet and dry river beds, sandy gorges, and rocky, deeply rutted hills.  Sometimes we have to scout ahead on foot to see if the route we have chosen really is passable. Often we turn around and look for another. More often, we cover the rough spots with dirt, rocks, and branches. We manage to drive on to the next rough spot, and begin the rebuilding process all over again until we can finally reach our goal, yelling and screaming and honking our horns at our accomplishments.  

          Like Wakeman Bryarly, we find our own “elephant” and perhaps another and another. Though not in search of rich farm lands, or lost gold mines, we find we are able to add a little adventure to our modern day lives, and we can re-trace the history of those who went on that original search. You can read more about Wakeman Bryarly and other pioneers, in Francis P. Farquhar’s “History of the Sierra Nevada”, published by the University of California Press . 

           Explore Historic California wishes you and your family the best for 2005! May you have as many adventures searching for elephants, as we do…….. Roger, Cecile, & Marty


Our Tours with Ecological 4-Wheeling Adventures

Our 2004 tour schedule is complete and

we're doing some less strenuous driving!

Please check back  for our 2005 tour schedule.

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 our 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 visit our ECOLOGICAL 4-WHEELING ADVENTURES.

     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, U.S. Forest Service, 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

explorehistoricalif.com Copyright © 2005, All Rights Reserved.                           Powered by death-valley.us