July 2007 Issue Explore Historic California - Magazine for Enthusiasts








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



 The Fat Hill Fandango

July 28-30, 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: 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

Cornelia Comes to Cerro Gordo

 By Cecile Page Vargo

We tend not to choose the unknown, which might be a shock or a disappointment or simply a little unknown with all its disappointments and surprises that is the most enriching.“ -- Anne Lindberg

          Cornelia Gordon was visiting friends in Los Angeles when word came that her husband, Louis, had obtained the lease on an old worked out silver-lead mine in Inyo County, known as Cerro GordoThe trek from Los Angeles to Keeler at the base of the mountain would be an arduous one, but paled in comparison to the 23 per cent winding incline up the Yellow Grade Road, where no automobiles had ever gone.

          Cornelia’s friends told her she was foolish to follow her husband with their nine month old baby, up to the remnants of the old silver boomtown. The nearest real town with a doctor was Lone Pine, nearly 20 miles away, and the only means of transportation back and forth would be horse and buckboard or carriage. Cornelia had known from the early days of their marriage that she and Louis would call the God forsaken mining camps their home. The primitive tent camp of Gold Circle in Midas, Nevada, had well rehearsed the Gordon’s for what lay ahead of them in the California Inyo Mountains, as had time spent in mining areas of Nevada, Utah, and Mexico, where Louis also had interests.

          The little Gordon family was packed and ready to head across the vast Mojave Desert from Los Angeles when Louis learned he would be detained by business. Cornelia had already prepared the baby’s formula for 24 hours, and couldn’t wait, so she boarded the narrow-gauge train, just she and her infant son. Between the thriving Los Angeles metropolis and the mines, there was one overnight stop. The only accommodations available were a boxcar. Cornelia settled in for the night, until her son’s hungry cries woke her at five o-clock in the morning. As she fed him, she gazed out the little window of the boxcar to the unforgettable beauty of the sun rising over the desert.

          Before ascending into the mountains where the Cerro Gordo mines were located, Cornelia arrived in Keeler at the shore of Owens Lake. With her nine month old baby in her arms, she boarded some sort of wagon which would take her up the infamous Yellow Grade Road.  In the seat behind her, another person sat, holding an umbrella for shade. Somewhere along the precipitous eight mile journey, they would stop to make a fire to warm the baby’s bottle for feeding time.

         Nearly at the top of the mountain peak, Cornelia and party arrived at the Cerro Gordo mines. As they stepped out of the wagon, they turned to the view of Keeler down below. Cornelia described the view of the “dry soda lake turned the most heavenly blue...blue as sapphire” with Mount Whitney towering in the distance.

          A sad looking cabin was provided for the Gordons to live in until a more comfortable house could be built. The little place was so dirty Cornelia had to get miners to scrub the walls and take up horrible matting on the floor. Old green carpeting, brought in from Los Angeles, was put down on the floor, and a nice table was provided to sit and have meals, soon making the place quite homey indeed. Behind the cabin there was a bathroom, with a galvanized zinc tub. Water was heated and brought in from elsewhere, since there were no pipes. When Louis finally arrived on the mountain, he was quite surprised to see his wife, son, and the accompanying nursemaid quite content in their humble quarters.

A white tent (upper right) sits near the future site of the Gordon's home in Cerro Gordo.

(Photo from L.D. Gordon Collection, courtesy Doug Gordon)

          Not long after settling in, Cornelia learned that there was no milk to be had in Cerro Gordo. She took a piece of paper and wrote out her grocery list, including the much needed baby’s milk, and placed it in the bucket full of ore that would travel down to Keeler via tramway. Unfortunately, when the bucket came back up with supplies, the milk was sour. This prompted Cornelia to visit Mrs. Bo, the only other woman on the hill.  Mrs. Bo informed her that she fed her baby malted milk, but the little Gordon baby didn’t take well to the malted milk. While thumbing through a magazine, however, Cornelia soon found an ad for Imperial Granham,  a powdered formula that just required the addition of water to be complete. A note was placed once again on an ore bucket which eventually came back up with the Imperial Granham resolving the dilemma once and for all.

        Cornelia often found herself starved for adult companionship. “L” as she called her husband, would be gone all day, then take off again after a 5 p.m. dinner and go back down in the mines for the evenings. She longed for good conversations or book reading together, but there was never time for it. With no house keeping facilities in her little cabin, she did manage to cook for the baby, get breakfast and a light lunch, then a fine dinner would often be had at the house of one of the wives of the other miners, relieving her loneliness.

          Wind was ongoing, and often very blustery. When a stockholder came to visit the Gordons one day, Cornelia watched as he got to the little porch in front of the house, and hurried to greet him.  Just as she swung open the door, a blast of wind blew the man’s beautiful white hair off of his head, revealing his bald head. The incident must not have bothered him much, as soon afterwards he sent Cornelia a horse, and her life changed.

          Astride Prince, perhaps with her young son in tow, and a friend from Lone Pine with her, Cornelia could enjoy the beauty of the old mining town. The trails were scary at first, narrow, off camber, and rocky, with drop offs looking down as much as 5,000 feet below in places. The reward of wildflowers and pine scents as one descended into the mountain trails away from the barren terrain of the mine itself, was well worth the effort, however, and soon Cornelia conquered her fear of horse and height.

        Once Cornelia’s son was old enough to walk. She was delighted to take him on walks along the surrounding trails, instead of riding. At one point they were greeted with a beautiful sight - a curly horned mountain sheep. Along the way, they enjoyed more wildflowers, and snacked on pine nuts. Douglas Gordon would be too young to remember these nature walks, but his mother would treasure them forever.

Cornelia holds her son's hand (center) as they walk among workers at Cerro Gordo.

(Photo from L.D. Gordon Collection, courtesy Doug Gordon)

        Cornelia spent time off and on at Cerro Gordo over the years her husband was in charge of things. For the most part, she probably spent the milder summer months on the mountain. However, there was one Christmas when the Gordons couldn’t get away. The weather was cold and snowy, yet sunny, with crisp and clear blue skies. The only thing that was missing was the tree. The miners went out and cut a little pine tree so the Gordons could have a Christmas tree. Cornelia decorated it with decorations both homemade and bought, and the holiday was complete.

A snow-covered Cerro Gordo in the days before the Gordon house was built.

(Photo from L.D. Gordon Collection, courtesy Doug Gordon)

      Decades after the Gordon family left the Cerro Gordo mines, Cornelia recorded these experiences and many others on a new fandangled tape recorder given to her by a granddaughter. Somehow she managed to “tame” the thing, with the help of a nurse at the retirement home where she was living.

           Future generations of Gordons and ghost town explorers can now enjoy the memories of a nearly forgotten time.  Although, she never mentioned it, the little cabin was not the only home Cornelia and her family lived in. Eventually, a large two story wooden shingle house with all the comforts of the day, was built, and remains standing as the most prominent building, other than the American Hotel. at Cerro Gordo today.  The Louis D. Gordon House, circa 1916, is currently the home of town owner Mike Patterson.

A workman poses by the nearly completed Gordon house at Cerro Gordo.

(Photo from L.D. Gordon Collection, courtesy Doug Gordon)


The Land of Volcanoes Tour

June 23-25, 2007

Photography by Roger Vargo


Bedrock mortars in Bishop tuff on the Volcanic Tableland.

Travelers, led by Mitch, explore the Volcanic Tableland north of Bishop.

Sofia takes a turn at the wheel on the Barker Mine Road.

A burro grazes amongst the sheep near the Gold Crown mine.



Pelton water wheel equipment is still in use at So. Cal. Edison's Poole plant on Lee Vining Creek. The plant uses a Pelton wheel and G.E. generator to produce 11 megawatts of hydroelectric power.


Marty points out a landmark to Apryl while cruising the briny waters of Mono Lake.



Travelers get an inside view of a volcano---Panum Crater near Mono Lake.


An obsidian chip glistens in the sunlight at Panum Crater.



Marty captures the scenic beauty of Old Mammoth.


You know it's been a dry year when there is no icy water flowing out of the Mammoth Consolidated mine's lower adit (left) and the Sierra's higher elevations (below) have only patches of snow in June.

It takes big nuts to hold big bolts in place (Primm single cylinder compressor motor at Mammoth Consolidated mine).


Sofia and Guillermo pose at Hot Creek (left) while Mrs. Townsed reposes in her grave in Old Mammoth (right)


Mammoth Rock still towers at the base of Gold Hill above Mammoth Lakes.

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