January 2008 Issue Explore Historic California - Magazine for Enthusiasts








Click on the 4Runner or contact us at info@explorehistoricalif.com for tour information.




January 31-February 3, 2008

Don't put it off to the last minute, now is the time to register for the 8th Death Valley History Conference.

Returning presenters include Sally Zanjani (Hang Me If You Will: Homicide and the Goldfield Legal System), Robert Palazzo (The Mystery of the Cleveland Mining District), and Susan Sorrells (The Ashford Brothers, Their Lives as Miners in Death Valley).

This year there are a number of new presenters including Jim Price (The Wedding of the Waters) and Cecile Vargo (Louis D. Gordon - The Man Behind Cerro Gordo's Zinc Era).

L.D. Gordon-The man behind Cerro Gordo's zinc era.

The purpose of the conference is to encourage original research on the Human History and Prehistory of the Death Valley area and to disseminate that research through presentation at the conference and publication of the papers in the proceedings.

For complete information on the conference, contact the Death Valley Natural History Association:www.dvnha.org




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



Mules can taste the difference--so can you





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





Click on the bag to find out how.


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 to visit her site.




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: info@explorehistoricalif.com.

     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

Digging Up California's Past

by Cecile Page Vargo

Introduction:    I Saw Three Ships A Sailing Into History

In the grayness of a June gloom May day, I looked outside my window and pondered over days of yore. The fog lifted for a brief moment and I swear I could see to the ocean right here from my Los Angeles foothill home.  Three old time ships were sailing, close enough that I could touch them.

I soon found myself transported to a rough cut, 12 man canoe, with brownish/red skinned comrades clad in local animal hides which resisted the splashes of the salty water and kept them warm and dry at the same time. A primitive paddle was handed to me, and I took my turn with the other 12, who had squeezed closer together to make room for me.  More often than not, the strong cold winds and the crashing waves naturally drifted us closer as the ships and their great white sails grew larger and larger before our very eyes.

Map of America, Americae sive quartae orbis partis nova et exactissima descriptio
By Diego Gutiérrez, 1562.
(Courtesy Library of Congress)

The natives around me talked excitedly, in a tongue unfamiliar to me.  There was much shouting and waving and excitement from the three ships, as well, and the language had a common sound that I knew almost as well as my own. We braced ourselves for a light impact as the canoe approached the largest of the sails. The wind changed and the waves temporarily turned us away from each other.  As we frantically rowed to recover our position,  I got a glimpse of the letters engraved on the ships hull:

S A N   S A L V A D O R

I knew in an instant that I was about to grab the hand of a courageous and honorable navigator, and pulled further back into history than I had ever imagined possible….

Part I:    Ships In Search of A Golden Land

Know then, that on the right hand of the Indies, there is an island called California, very close to the side of the Terrestrial Paradise, and it was peopled by black women, without any man among them for they lived in the fashion of the Amazons. They were of strong and hardy bodies, of ardent courage and great force. Their island was the strongest in all the world, with its steep cliffs and rocky shores. Their arms were all of gold, and so was the harness of the wild beasts which they tamed and rode. For in the whole island, there was no metal but gold.  

Thus wrote Garcia Ordonez de Montalvo in The Adventures of Esplandiam, which was published in Madrid, Spain, in 1510. This romantic science fiction novel more than likely inspired the Spanish conquest of the golden state of California, although they were slow about doing so. In spite of the promise of Amazon women and gold riches, it would be another 25 years before Hernando Cortez would land in and explore the area we now know as Baja California. Another seven years would go by before attempts were made to reach Alta California.

On June 27, 1542, under Spanish direction, the noted Portuguese seaman and navigator of great courage and honor, Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo set sail from Navidad,  Mexico. Three ships were under his command:  the San Salvador, the Victoria and the San Miguel. Carbrillo himself took control of the San Salvador. His partner Bartolome’ Ferror piloted the Victoria, and the small brigantine, San Miguel was under the command of Antonio Correa. The population of the three ships swelled to over two hundred.

J. R. Cabrillo

The tiny ships sailed north on uncharted waters along the coast of what is now modern day California. Cabrillo hoped to find the Straight of Anian, otherwise known as the Northwest Passage, which supposedly joined the South Sea to the Atlantic. Visions of gold and silver from legends such as those written by Montalvo, were also in the explorers head.

With the winds unfavorably against them the Cabrillo expedition took three months to reach San Diego Bay. A few weeks later they would quickly discover San Pedro, Santa Monica, Ventura, Catalina Island , and on to Santa Barbara Channel Island.

Cabrillo's ships in the Santa Barbara Channel. Illustration from the History of Oil & Gas Seeps in the Santa Barbara Channel, (courtesy of theSanta Barbara Historical Society)

During the voyage canoes of Indians greeted them. At Point Conception more ill winds forced them out to sea. The ships returned to the coast of Point Reyes and down to Monterey, missing San Francisco  altogether.

Cabrillo anchored at San Miguel Island on November 23, 1542, and wintered there.  During the course of his stay, Cabrillo broke one of his limbs, possibly during an Indian skirmish.. The infection from the injury caused his death on January 3, 1543. Bartolome Ferror took over from here, and may have sailed as far as Southern Oregon before turning back to Navidad.

While Cabrillo would go down in history as the discoverer of the golden land of California, he only succeeded in convincing his Spanish superiors that “neither wealthy nations, nor navigable passage” existed between the Atlantic and Pacific Ocean from the New World north of Mexico. The land would remain ignored until the renowned Englishman, Sir Francis Drake arrived.    

In 1578, Drake would come to the Pacific Ocean by way of Cape Horn. He was aboard a 100-ton schooner known as the Golden Hind, in search of a passage to Asia and great treasures. Reportedly full of looted Spanish treasures, the Hind harbored at Drake’s or Bodega Bay just north of San Francisco Bay, on June 17th, and left on July 23rd, never returning to the area. 

Sir Francis Drake
(National Portrait Gallery, London)

The brief British invasion on California sparked Spain’s interest once again, and other explorers would slowly follow. There would be expeditions in 1584 by Francisco Gali, and in 1595 by Sebastian Rodriguez Cermeno, each traveling a little further north along the coast. Sebastian Vizcaino sailed three ships along the coast as far as Cape Mendocino in 1602, surveying much of Upper California as he went along. From San Diego to Monterey, Viscaino’s legacy lives on in the names that he chose to replace the original one’s chosen by Cabrillo.  

For the next 150 years or so, the mythical land of Amazon women and gold would remain dormant except for the relatively peaceful native Indians.  Missionaries and miners would eventually come back to conquer the land, and discover the riches.  


A World Transformed
by Joshua Paddison
Heyday Books
Berkley, California

California: American Guide Series
by Works Progress Administration
Hastings House Publishers New York

Historic Spots In California
by Hoover and Rensch
Stanford University Press

The Cattle On A Thousand Hills-Southern California, 1850-1880
by Robert Glass Cleland
Huntington Library

Time to Renew Your Campfire Permit

It's a new year and time to renew your California campfire permit. In California, campfire permits are issued for a calendar year (January 1-December 31). The permits are free and are valid on all public lands throughout California.

According to the U.S. Forest Service, regulations governing campfires can change with weather conditions and the seasons. To protect yourself and the forest, before each visit, check with the Forest Service for current campfire restrictions. If you smoke outside a vehicle, be sure you do so within a cleared area at least three feet in diameter. Smoking outside of an enclosed vehicle may be completely prohibited during times of high fire danger.

Permits are available at most Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, National Park Service and California State Park offices.

Click on the sample permit below for more information on campfire permits.


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