June 2014 Issue Explore Historic California - Magazine for Enthusiasts










Room 8-The Most Famous Cat in Los Angeles

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 * Please contact owner Sean Patterson for information about visiting Cerro Gordo *



Contact us through email at:


Friends of

Cerro Gordo

The Friends of Cerro Gordo is a 501(c)(3) public benefit corporation established to assist in the preservation, interpretation and public enjoyment of Cerro Gordo.

Help support these efforts by becoming a member.

First year membership (though December 2014) is only $10.

Click here  or the F.O.C.G. logo above to download a membership  brochure.

Now Available

Cerro Gordo

A Ghost Town

Caught Between


Cecile Page Vargo's collection of Cerro Gordo stories, true, farce and somewhere in between, is being published in a new book, Cerro Gordo A Ghost Town Caught Between Centuries.

ISBN: 978-0970025869

The book gives glimpses of Cerro Gordo from the silver and lead mining days through the early twentieth century zinc era to its modern place as, according to author Phil Varney, "Southern California's best, true, ghost town." There's even a possible solution to the location of the fabled "Lost Gunsight Mine" that former Cerro Gordo owner Mike Patterson once suggested.

We are proud to team with the Historical Society of the Upper Mojave Desert (HSUMD) in Ridgecrest, Calif., to bring Cerro Gordo A Ghost Town Caught Between Centuries to print. This is their first major publishing venture. The book is  available for sale directly from HSUMD or through selected book sellers.

Contact HSUMD directly to order:

P.O. Box 2001, Ridgecrest, CA. 93556-2001.

Phone: 760 375-8456

Email: hsumd@ridgenet.net

Announcing our Arcadia Publishing Book:



Cerro Gordo

by Cecile Page Vargo and Roger W. Vargo

ISBN: 9780738595207

Arcadia Publishing Images of America series

Price: $21.99

128 pages/ softcover

Available now!

(Click the cover image for ordering information)

Available at area bookstores, independent retailers, and online retailers, or through Arcadia Publishing at (888)-313-2665 or online.

Mules can taste the difference--so can you

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

Bodie Foundation
"Protecting Bodie's Future by Preserving Its Past


Click on Room 8's photo or phone

951-361-2205 for more information.


The Panamint Breeze is a newsletter for people who love the rough and rugged deserts and mountains of California and beyond.

Published by Ruth and Emmett Harder, it is for people who are interested in the history of mining in the western states; and the people who had the fortitude to withstand the harsh elements.

It contains stories of the past and the present; stories of mining towns and the colorful residents who lived in them; and of present day adventurers.

Subscriptions are $20 per year (published quarterly – March, June, September & December) Subscriptions outside the USA are $25 per year. All previous issues are available. Gift certificates are available also.

To subscribe mail check (made payable to Real Adventure Publishing) along with name, address, phone number & e-mail address to:  Real Adventure Publishing, 18201 Muriel Avenue, San Bernardino, CA 92407.

For more information about the Panamint Breeze e-mail Ruth at:  echco@msn.com

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

Visit Michael Piatt's site, www.bodiehistory.com, for the truth behind some of Bodie's myths.

Credo Quia Absurdum




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.



Mule Packing in the Sierras and Inyos

By Cecile Page Vargo

Early in May 2014 strings of mules and their human companions could be seen traversing the Inyo Mountains on a survey which included a search for water and grazing areas to sustain such endeavors. Mules have been an important part of the history of this rugged area tucked between Owens Valley and the modern boundaries of Death Valley National Park. The mule’s ability to traverse over precipitous mountains with peaks ranging as high as 11,000 feet, while carrying large weights of supplies, tools and machinery, made them the equine of choice for mid-19th century Argonauts in search of mineral wealth.

A train of mules works their way down hill into Cerro Gordo during part of an Inyo Mountains exploring and mapping trip organized by Metabolic Studio in Los Angeles.

Today, mules and horses enable visitors to explore the rugged backcountry in search of outdoor recreation in the trails, meadows rivers and lakes of the Sierras.

The mule was created as early as 3000 BC when man discovered breeding a female horse and a male donkey would create an animal with the height, appetite, uniformity of coat, neck and rump the shape of a horse, but short wide head, thick mane, long ears, thin legs, and small hoofs of a donkey. The mule was trainable through voice command and showed the ability to respond to a rider or packer’s emotions with a good sense of direction even in the dark of night like the horse.

From the donkey, the mule inherited the ability to refuse anything that might hurt him or his load. All in all the mule became known as a more patient, surefooted, hardy and long lived than a horse, as well as less obstinate, faster and more intelligent than the donkey, and  possessing the traits that are perfect for pack train travel in the mountain

 The Spanish realized the valuable skills of the animals, as they came over by ship to North America, mules in tow. The mule proved itself during explorations of the varied landscape of the American west.  If an area was not reachable easily by pack train, settlement would more than likely not be attainable.

Pack trains of trappers, explorers and emigrants followed the Spanish with horses, mules, and donkeys the common transporters in the California foothills and valleys.  The communities that cropped up around the primitive trail system quickly realized that the pack train was crucial to their survival, often the only way to bring in supplies.  The American military began using the roads and pack trails for mapping and scientific expeditions as well as military conquests which subsequently gained the Golden State entry into the United States. 

The gold rush of 1848-1870 brought in more emigrants in search of riches. As they settled and became established citizens of California, recreational use of the High Sierras became popular. By 1870, families were looking for refuge from the valley heat and trekked to the old mining and lumbering camp resorts. Ranchers provided pack trains for them to go on adventures which included exploration of sheep, cattle, mining and Indian trails.  Mountaineers, hunters, fisherman, nature enthusiasts and other adventurers soon took to the rough mule trails and the modern packing industry was born. Packers for commercial mining operations began including summer pack trips into the Sierra.

National Parks and mule packing grew up around each other, with mules often being the only wait to access and navigate protected areas before appropriate wagon trails would be built. John Muir hired a packer out of Visalia Big Tree Grove (now General Grant Grove) to “manage packs”. Commercial pack outfits and private concessionaires began not only to lead back country trips, but to help develop and maintain the roads. By the 1900’s these outfits were supporting government projects involving fire suppression and trail and bridge construction and maintenance. They also aided in construction and hauling supplies for ranger stations and railroads to be built. Government surveying parties relied on packers and mules to haul supplies. Water and Power companies took advantage of packing services to search for hydroelectric plant and reservoir sites, then haul in equipment and supplies for building. Packers also were implemented to carry fish fry to stock rivers and lakes in remote areas.

Ansel Adams photographed a pack train crossing Black Rock Pass in Sequoia National Park in  1934 during a Sierra Club "High Trip". Adams was  Sierra Club member and a frequent traveler on the year excursions.

Between 1902 and 1942 the Sierra Club would hire packers for groups as large as 100 or more. A 1903 trip to Mount Whitney outfitted by Broder and Hopping required the service of 85 mules and saddle animals. Thirty thousand pounds of personal baggage, provisions and camp equipment needed to be hauled, as well as many of the participants. The trips were annual, and often fraught with problems. A snow packed trail would take from dawn to well past midday to get 110 mules past it. As snows melted high water would create dangerous stream crossings. Mules would slide off trails. Rockfalls, washouts, destroyed bridges, tangled undergrowth and downed timber created more hazards and obstacles, in spite of efforts to make the trail safe.

Recreational trip packers were in charge of participants comfort and happiness. They provided and packed the food, the equipment and the cook and crew to prepare it. Canvas tents, tables, chairs, equipment, horse and mules shoes and more added to the poundage on the pack of the mules which could be anywhere from 175 to 250 pounds. The Sierra club trips brought more recreational interest as the 1920’s were approached. The wealthy would arrange large parties for family, friends, and employees that would last for nearly a month. Services ranged from furnished equipment to guides and cooks. Some required guide service and some only asked for delivery and retrieval to and from backcountry camp sites.

Mule power continued to be used for construction into the twentieth century.  Mule teams provided more reliable motive force then the early Caterpillar "traction engines" during construction of the Los Angeles Aqueduct (top photo).  Mules ability to haul heavy loads up steep grades was utilized to haul a boiler up the Yellow Grade Road to Cerro Gordo in the early 1900's (bottom photo).

In addition to offering trips for enjoyment, packers began supplementing their income by hauling and providing day rides.  Stock was lent out for parades and rodeos. Hollywood took advantage of the services and hired packers to handle stock and supplies for movie making in the Sierras and Owens Valley. By 1950 tightened rules and regulations and backpacking, brought hard times. Several outfitters took advantage of the popularity of the show business image of the “old west”. Black Stetsons, heavy chaps, clean shirts, handle bar mustaches, western drawls and tight lipped smiles became the look of the mule packer. Trips would include campfire tales and entertainment. Old timer mule packers complained, “Today things are different. There are too few stations and too many operators I call candlestick makers…They’ll buy a pair of fancy boots and a great big sombrero and without knowing which end a mule feeds, they are supposed to be packers.” With the arrival of the 1970’s comfortable packing trips led by pseudo-cowpokes was where the money was.

Today pack and saddle stock is still recognized as traditional and historically significant activity for backcountry enjoyment, in spite of conservation and environmental concerns, and increased costs. Travelers are often looking for short and varied excursions throughout the year, and have many more destinations and opportunities available to them other experiencing an old fashioned mule ride. Up and down the Sierra Nevadas and Owens Valley commercial packers still exist for those wishing to partake. In addition to the pack trips in the backcountry, hour or day rides, long retreats, wagon rides, weddings, bbq’s, animal renting for film industry and weddings, and more are amongst the services offered by many of the packers. 

"100 Mules Walking the Los Angeles Aqueduct" celebrated the centennial of the Los Angeles Aqueduct from Owens Valley to Los Angeles in November, 2013. The walk was both an art project and historic celebration organized by Metabolic Studio. In the photo above, the mules gather in a clearing above the rededication ceremony at the terminus of the aqueduct near the intersection of Interstate 5 and Highway 14 in Sylmar, Calif.

The barren desert environment of the White and Inyo Mountains to the east of the Sierra Nevada prohibits all but a few packers from offering any kind of recreational use, except for hunting. Some ranchers are known to have grazing allotments with younger cows relying on the older one’s who know the country and can lead them to the rare resources available. The history of packing and freighting with mules leads us primarily to the mining industry and that same drive for wealth no matter what physical obstacle one has to endure to get to them that the early 49’ers had.

Nadeau, Olivas,  Dixon, Spear, Hunter, Carrasco, Skinner and Arculus are a few of the names associated with the  packing or freighting of groceries, lumber, machinery, explosives, water and ore to and from the mining camps the likes of  Beveridge, Keynot, McElvoy Canon, Cerro Gordo, Burgess, Hunter Canyon, Bunker Hill.  The water was so scarce in some instances the mules barely returned alive. The party of mules re-tracing some of the same trails in May of 2014 had the advantage of modern four wheel drive vehicle to cache large amounts of water and feed along the way.

Read more about the history of the mule:

American Mule Museum: http://mulemuseum.org/History_of_the_Mule.html

University of Missouri Mule Club: http://www.cvm.missouri.edu/org/muleclub/facts.html

Eastern Sierra Packers: http://www.easternsierrapackers.com/

Western High Sierra Packers Association: http://www.highsierrapackers.org/packers.html

100 Mules Walking the Los Angeles Aqueduct: http://www.kcet.org/shows/artbound/100-mules-walking-the-los-angeles-aqueduct.html






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