May 2013 Issue Explore Historic California - Magazine for Enthusiasts










Room 8-The Most Famous Cat in Los Angeles

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Cerro Gordo officially


as of July 25, 2012

Please phone Sean Patterson (661-303-3692) or Cerro Gordo (760-876-5030) for additional information.

Caretakers are still on site to prevent vandalism.


Contact us through email at:


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


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:

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

Visit Michael Piatt's site,, 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.



Dirty Socks Hot Springs:

From Skirmish to Health Spa to Scourge

By Cecile Page Vargo

Dirty Socks Hot Springs (Inyo County): Hydrogen sulfide in the water might have given rise to the name. However, since this odor is hardly noticeable, the story that the miners washed and hung their socks in the natural washroom probably accounts for the name having been given to the place (Wheelock)  California Place Names: The Origin of Etymology of Current Geographical Names by Erwin G. Gudde.

Dirty Sock (s) Hot Springs location can be seen along the lower right (south east) edge of Owens Lake in this 1864 Holt's Map of the Owens River Mining Country.

 Just southeast of Owens Lake approximately 4½  miles northeast of the desert hamlet of Olancha lies Dirty Socks Hot Springs.  Today much like the ghost towns hidden in the towering Inyo Mountains, the location is a shadow of its former self, and the springs are often littered and bottom filled with shards of glass, it’s history long forgotten. 

Before the white settlers arrived in Owens Valley, Owens Lake was full of water with pungent scents from non-metallic minerals including sodium carbonate, borax, and potassium salts. Together with Indian Wells Valley, Searles Lake, Panamint Valley and Death Valley, Owens served as a part of a drainage system that was nearly two hundred feet above the present valley floor. Around 4,000 years ago geologists say the Owens River and Owens Lake separated from the system and became an enclosed basin with no sea outlet, allowing salts to accumulate. The lake, and nearby hot springs were home to Native Americans living a relatively peaceful existence off of the insects and water life that made up the ecosystem of the area.

 The early explorers that first came through the Owens Valley, found the Native Americans a friendly lot, and were charmed by their customs, but the settlers that followed took over their land resulting in battles. Medicine men performed rituals at Dirty Sock to cure the illnesses that the white men had brought to their people. Skirmishes took place at the site and the medicine men were killed. Captain J. Davidson, of the 1st Dragoons was sent by the United States government to intervene.  Claims were made that the Native Americans were stealing horses, but Captain Davidson found them helpful and friendly. Suggestions to establish an Indian reservation were declined by the United States government and trouble continued on into the mining years of the Coso and Cerro Gordo regions.

A 1909 U.S. Geological Survey Water Supply Paper described the springs; "There are a number of springs near the southeast edge of Owens Lake, which have long been known to the stockmen of that region. The springs rise from the alluvium that surrounds the lake, and the water is brackish. It is too full of mineral matter to be palatable, but serves for stock, and is a watering place on the Mohave-Keeler stage road".

 In 1913, a thirsty Los Angeles completed the aqueduct which diverts the flow of the Owens River from Owens Lake causing it’s eventual demise. By 1923 the lake was a salt bed from one to seven feet thick circulating with saturated brine. The open spaces in the crystal body made up 30 to 35 per cent of the volume and contain the saturated salts. Precipitation in this land of little rain and underground springs such as Dirty Socks created the only water in the massive dry lake bed that once floated two commercial steamships, the Bessie Brady and Mollie Stevens.

 The year 1917 and the first World War brought the need for soda (sodium carbonate). A well was drilled at Dirty Socks for recovery of the soda. Warm water gushed through the casing at 1200 feet. WWI ended and so did the project. Kitchen and bunk houses were moved to Keeler twenty miles northeast and the well was left to bubble up naturally.

 Scarcity of water for desert travelers created the need for maps which included watering stops. Dirty Sock appeared on many of these early maps, marked simply “Springs” “Hot Springs” or “Artesian Spring” By the 1900’s the name "Dirty Sock" stuck for the popular camping spot. By 1927 a cement swimming pool and other structures were built to attract visitors. By 1945 buildings and dreams of a health spa were destroyed.

 Local Inyo County residents banded together in the 1960’s to restore the glory days of Dirty Sock. Letters were written to the Inyo County Board of Supervisors. The area was surveyed and mapped by the County, the land appraised, estimates on facility improvements were made, and a geological survey secured. The report showed an artesian well flowing a little over two hundred gallons per minute into a seventy eight foot diameter circular swimming pool with a temperature of 94 degrees. Sodium and chlorine salts traced with silica, calcium, and magnesium and sulfates were found.

An April 1960 article in Desert Magazine described the (then) conditions; "Each weekend and holiday finds cars loaded with Dirty Sock devotees. They picnic, camp-out under the sun and stars or bring their trailers. Many stay for weeks. The families who vacation at Dirty Sock find richness in the seeming barrenness of the 45½ acres which comprise The Sock area. Youngsters sculpture in the clay (Mother uses it for a beauty mask!), collect sandstone oddities, observe the water-birds by day and the coyotes, foxes and rabbits by night. The kids play in the sand, slide down the dunes, roam and explore, swim and grow healthy and brown. There is no charge, no watchman." (Dirty Sock, A "for Free" Spa on the Mojave Desert by Marguerite Jenkins)

 The 45.5 acres that contained the area known as Dirty Socks Springs became a part of an agreement with the Board of Supervisors and Oliver Thorson, Jean Thorson, Boyd Taylor and Neil Clark. A lease was drawn for 50 years, or until otherwise terminated, beginning March 1, 1965. The County took responsibility for public safety and improvements and was required to furnish public utilities, clear water, properly graded road access, comfort stations, dressing rooms, trees and maintenance of the property.  The maintenance, directional signs, and tree planting proved to be more than they could handle. Algae took over the pool, signs were used by visitors for campfire wood, and trees wouldn’t grow in the saline soil.

Dirty Sock (s) Hot Springs with Olancha Peak in the background.

Photo courtesy Michael Prather

 Eventually restrooms and dressing rooms were completed and the road was graded by Inyo County. The pool was cleaned at Dirty Sock and post cards revealed an oasis of bathers complete with sunshine and towering Sierra Nevada Mountains. The algae, however, remained a problem and a letter appeared in a column of the Inyo Independent on June 23, 1967, directed to Earl Greeno, County Recreation Director:

 “….lying in the warm water has therapeutic benefits for people with spinal and other difficulties. Lately, however, the water is said to take on a deep green coloration at certain times. Upsetting to the nerves to take a bath, whether for fun or health in green water. I’m sure that Earl will clear up the problem, and the water, in short order even if he has to stand in the pool with a tea strainer to remove the pigmentation.”

Mr. Greeno’s reply to the concerned citizen appeared in the July 7, 1967 Inyo Independent:

 “I read with a great deal of interest that your column in the last issue of the Independent about Dirty Sock.

 “I wanted you to know that the County did not build the pool, although we did patch it up, and mend the iron works and the artesian well part, and also put on a twist-around pipe at quite an expense to keep the water circulating around and around, which by the natural pressure coming at this angle would have kept the ‘green stuff’ out (which I believe is called algae). However, three times the pipe was taken off by people using the pool and the only excuse they gave was that they wanted the Dirty Sock water to come out to hit their faces and hair for their therapeutic treatment. As you know, I must bow to the masses or majority of the people.

“What I did do there was to build the pond that the pool drains into and also built the road that goes up and around the pool, and which we expect to have blacktopped in the near future.

“This algae is really quite a problem being the heaviest chemical I have ever known, with 6500 solids. I also have tried to start a tree program there, but with this type of soil and water conditions, I have not as yet found anything that will grow, although we have tried at least 30 types of trees.

 “Maybe in the long run your suggestion that I stay down there with a tea strainer might be the best solution to the problem.

 By October, Lillian Hilderman, Inyo Independent columnist reported:

 “Saturday at 11 a.m., 17 cars and campers containing Fireball Caravanners from San Fernando…[had] an early Halloween celebration at the [Dirty Sock} camp where 32 trailers were parked.  The pool and grounds were festive with Fireball flags and lights reflected in the pool, campfire ready for roasting wieners, buffet carried buns, various salads, pickles, marshmallows and candy kisses.

 “Earl Greeno and myself were Lord Chamberlains to judge and choose King and Queen of Dirty Sock. Two tin pie plates cut into points, covered with glitter and pieces of mirror were clever…..the Queen carried a bouquet of yellow flowered rabbit brush, not tied with silk or satin ribbon, but a good grade of cotton string from Galloway’s Store in Olancha. Amid many flashbulb lighted Kodaks, Mrs. Barry presented the King and Queen with a shellacked wo0den plaque on which a single sock had been mounted, cured with a secret formula. Mr. Greeno spoke at length with interesting data as to how the pool was acquired, costs, etc. Next came the Haunted House of Horrors, witches held gruesome things which felt horrible, with a bucket of blood. (Hours of work of many persons, but hours of fun for Fireball members, the guests invited from Olancha, and myself.”

Another Desert Magazine from November, 1970 still touts the recreational opportunities at Dirty Sock; "Whatever Dirty Sock was, today it is a pleasant spa with a swimming pool, shaded picnic tables and scenery varying from the snow-tipped, rugged Sierras of southern Inyo County to the great white expanse of the nearly dry Owens Lake. Man-made facilities add comforts and a windbreak hut the desert still edges in and leaves no doubt that 100 years ago the old pool, reflecting the peaks of the Sierras, was a welcome sight to any traveler". (Dirty Sock and Beyond by Roberta Martin Stary)

 The glory days of Dirty Socks didn’t last long. Vandalism continued, with directional signs continuing to be stolen for firewood, and quickly replaced only to be procured for firewood all over again. It became so difficult for Inyo County to keep up with the signs that fences, and bath houses began to appear.  As many dogs as people were reported using the pool in one complaint to the County. More signs were put up put up warning visitors to leash dogs and keep them out of the springs. These signs were also uprooted and burned.  One dog sign was planted in a pipe in the middle of the pool.

 By 1977 rumors began that Dirty Sock was for sale. Several businesses from oil to mining showed interest. One company considered turning the area into a commercial campground. By July of 1978, The Inyo County Board of Supervisors unanimously voted to terminate the lease as of October  17, 1978.

By 1987, Dirty Sock was a black algae-filled with broken railings and only warm water bubbles. Trash cans stood bullet-ridden, with beer cans, bottles scattered on the desert floor. The remnants of the bath house concrete foundation contained large red ants dining on a sardine can. Blackened rock circles of hundreds of campfires were littered by bird feathers. Few dared to step into the broken glass therapeutic pool.

Mary Frances Strong wrote in Desert Magazine, July 1978; "Stop at Dirty Socks Spring. If your bones are weary, you will enjoy a dip in the mineral pool. The campground and pool (no fee) are maintained by Inyo County who, I am sorry to say, are not doing a very good job. I hope the area has been cleaned since we were there. (Owens Lake Loop Trip)

 In more recent history, Dirty Sock appeared for sale in local real estate ads. As of this writing, the author of this story has been able to find out only that the area is private property.  Obey any signage that may appear if choosing to visit. More information may be obtained at the Bureau of Land Management.

Some information in this article is based on an article appearing in The Album: Times & Tales of Inyo-Mono, “A Dirge For Dirty Sock” by Marguerite Sowaal. December 1987 Chalfant Press, Inc. and from the archives of Desert Magazine.










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