October 2005 Issue Explore Historic California - Magazine for Enthusiasts





Burro Schmidt's

Tunnel Update

Burro Schmidt's "Famous Tunnel" now has a group of "friends" trying to preserve and protect the site.   

Click the photo to visit  their Website.



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

Cerro Gordo now has its own Web site. Click the link below to visit.







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

Click on the logo for details.

Back to the Mojave Expedition

 by Cecile Page Vargo

The Mojave Expedition was the first tour we offered for Ecological 4-wheeling Adventures way back in 1989, if memory serves me correctly. We are proud to bring to you the Mojave Expedition-2005 on November 12 under our Explore Historic California name. To whet your appetite for this ever popular tour chalk  full of living Western Mojave legend and lore, we re-print this write-up from the spring of 2000. There have been a few changes in the trip since then, thanks or no-thanks to nature and to mankind. We have done a little re-routing here and there, and sadly watched the state of Burro Schmidt’s Tunnel change since Tonie Seger’s passing,  but the spirit of the trip and even the tunnel still live on. Sit back and relax in your computer armchair as we go on a historical adventure!

           March 18, marked our first Mojave Expedition of the year 2000. Winds were predicted but didn’t show up. We were left with beautiful warm weather and clear blue, calm skies. This was our first outing since Thanksgiving weekend.

          Early Saturday morning our longtime friend, Marty Cole, met us at our house and drove with us to Mojave. After filling our gas tanks, and emptying our wallets and bladders in Mojave, we ventured to Jawbone Station. Ruby had snacks and coffee waiting for us.

          We were excited to see good friends and regulars Steve and Anita Spangler and Dave Legters among the many new faces joining us for the day. The Spanglers and their black “Spanglermobile” Blazer volunteered to sweep on this day. Steve also came equipped with his video camera to record the more interesting parts of our adventure.

          From Jawbone Station we headed out to Highway 14 into Red Rock Canyon State Park, and on to Opal Canyon Road, our official dirt road start. Once the start of the dirt road lecture was over, we got a few moments to stretch and perhaps make a quick visit to a mesquite or creosote bush.

          Traveling through Opal Canyon, we passed the signs for the Nowalk and Barnett mines. We were saddened to see a new sign announcing that Dick and Shirley Barnett had passed away. We explained for the tour how, for a couple of dollars, the Barnett’s would let visitors picnic and pick and keep all of the opals they found in a day. If one was really lucky, Dick would bring out the “Mojave Flame” ring that he made from a large fire opal. We hope the ring is on display at the Smithsonian, as Dick had written in his will.

          From the opal mines, it’s a bit of a climb then down a rocky steep hill, to a flat area overlooking Last Chance Canyon. We paused there for a lecture stop and a chance to walk the dogs. Roger explained more local geology and geography and what lay ahead.

          Harry Lewellyn, who led an expedition three weeks before, had warned us that there were several potential tough spots in the streambed around Cudahy Camp. We safely maneuvered the first spot over the wet, slippery rocks and around the huge square boulder that sits as a sentinel in Last Chance Canyon. Dave Legters avoided the streambed altogether and took the soft, sandy and deeply rutted uphill branch in his new Toyota pickup. With lockers, he made it look easy, but we suggested the rest of the tour follow Roger’s lead through the streambed to the parking area above.

          Recent winter rains had rutted the streambed just north of Cudahy, too. Orange fencing now marks the areas you cannot get through and keeps you on the proper dirt trail. One by one, we followed directly to and up the steep, hard packed, bypass road. At the top of the hill I pointed out the washout from a few summers ago where  we used to have to tow the vehicles one by one. The new bypass saves a lot of time and trouble, and is an adventure of its own to climb.

          Our next stop was the Holly Ash mine - famous for Holly Cleaner of yesteryear. The area surrounding the mines is littered with old cars, cans, appliances and pieces of large mining equipment. We were pleased to see that State Parks had finally posted “no shooting” signs.

          The dogs pulled us through the metal litter and up to the mines. Some of the mine tunnels are so large that campers sometimes put their tents in them for protection from the heat and wind. Often when we explore these mines, we startle big white owls. This day there were no owls, but a pair of swallows flitted about - perhaps they got lost on their return to San Juan Capistrano ?

          Leaving Holly Ash mine, we pointed out rock outcroppings in the distance, which are Indian caves and a chert deposit. We continued on to the edge of the wilderness (we know we are at the edge of the wilderness because signs mark it for us) and into Bonanza Gulch. The old cabin that has stood for so many, many years is now marked with a BLM sign saying “Bonanza Gulch Post Office Cabin.” We didn’t know if that meant it was actually a post office or not. We will have to inquire next time we are at Jawbone Station.

          Bonanza Gulch leads uphill to Burro Schmidt’s tunnel. We took the long route around and over the tunnel so everyone could experience the long down-hill and see how 4WD low range really works.

          Tonie Seger owns the tunnel and graciously allows visitors to explore it and the “museum” with artifacts from Schmidt’s time. Rumor had it that Tonie was sick and dying. We’re glad to report rumors of her impending demise are false and as of March 2000, she was very much alive, but had been ill.

          After our lunch stop and visit to the tunnel, we continued with our expedition. As we approached Gerbracht Camp we started to tell of Della, who used to be very protective of the area and was known to shoot at anyone whom she thought was trespassing. Much to our astonishment, the buildings and vehicles of Gerbracht Camp have been eradicated. There was no evidence of Della ever having lived there.

          It was on to Frenchy’s Colorado Camp, and fortunately it’s still there and has been cleaned up some. From Colorado Camp, we eventually wound our way into Rainbow Basin, up Red Jack Hill and down to Mormon Flat. At Mormon Flat we stopped for a rest and to let the dogs have one last run in the desert.

          On our way out to the highway, we journeyed through Iron Canyon. roger talks of the “Secrets of the Mojave” and stories of magnetic anomalies, secret underground tunnels and robots that live underground.

          After Iron Canyon, paved road led us to the living ghost town of Randsburg, where we stopped at the White Saloon for liquid refreshment. We swapped stories of the day, then regretfully said goodbye to each other until the next trip.

Suggested Reading  

Desert Bonanza

by Marcia Rittenhouse Wynn

The Arthur H. Clark Company

Glendale , California 1963  (out of print)


Exploring The Ghost Town Desert, Second Edition

by Roberta Martin Starry

Engler Publishing


Gold Gamble

by Roberta Martin Starry

Engler Publishing



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