November 2009 Issue Explore Historic California - Magazine for Enthusiasts










Room 8-The Most Famous Cat in Los Angeles




Sky high gas prices along with sluggish economic conditions have severely impacted our tour business for over a year.

We have reluctantly decided to suspend our tour operations for the time being.

Our sincere thanks and appreciation to all who continue to support us.

LOGO T Shirts Available


Explore Historic California with our  logo depicting the California backcountry and its rich history both true and farce.

We now offer shirts, sweats, jerseys and cups with our logo.

Click the shirt 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.

We support


Support Room 8's charitable legacy by donating to the Room 8 Memorial Cat Foundation or adopting one of their cats.

Click on Room 8's photo or phone

951-361-2205 for more information.

Mules can taste the difference--so can you



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.



Click on the bag to find out how.


Visit Michael Piatt's site,, 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 for information on her tours with the Mono Lake Committee.


Back to the past in California City--Wimpy's!

8209 California City Blvd.,
California City, 93505

Hey Brother,

Can 'Ya

Spare a Job?

The nation's economic downturn has severely affected the newspaper industry. My job of nearly 30 years was eliminated several months ago.

I'm actively looking for full or part time job opportunities within my diverse skill set.

If you have, or know of any openings, please contact me through this CONTACT  link.




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.



The Great Lone Pine Earthquake

by Cecile Page Vargo

Sunday, November 1, while Roger and I prepared for a quiet night in the Belshaw House as Cerro Gordo caretakers, we experienced a 3.7 earthquake centered in Keeler. The area has been quite geologically active lately, serving as a haunting reminder of one of the biggest earthquakes in recorded California history.  We dug into our archives to re-acquaint you with this earth shaking occurrence and the tremendous power of old mother nature.

Inyo Independent front page headline, March 30, 1872.

In the earliest hours of March 26, 1872, while the majority of  San Franciscans were asleep in their beds, weather observer Thomas Tennant recorded a faint earthquake.  As time progressed it was realized that what Thomas had actually felt was an earthquake that may have been equal or larger in magnitude than the devastating quake that would hit his own city 34 years later.  Ironically, days later, the San Francisco Real Estate Circular reported in an editorial "San Francisco is in very little more danger of a disastrous earthquake than the Eastern States of being flooded by a overflow of the Atlantic Ocean."  Reports were made of an earthquake awakening people as far south as San Diego, north to Red Bluff, and east to Elko, Nevada.

A Great & Noble Earthquake

 Around two that same morning in March, John Muir was shaken out of his cabin near Sentinel Rock in Yosemite Valley.  A glad and frightened Muir shouted out, "A noble earthquake!" and chalked it all up as a great learning experience. 

His neighboring Yosemite Valley residents were fearful, having heard state geologist Dr. Josiah Dwight Whitney's theories that the floor of the great valley had dropped during some ancient cataclysm.  John Muir disagreed with Whitney's theory, and found the event to be an opportunity to prove otherwise. 

In his 1901 book "Our National Parks", Muir describes "shocks so violent and varied, and succeeded one another so closely, one had to balance in walking as if on the deck of a ship among the waves, and it seemed impossible the high cliffs should escape being shattered." As he speculated that the Sentinel Rock rising three thousand feet above him would be shaken down, the silence that followed the first shockwaves was soon shattered by a roar as Eagle Rock, some distance away fell into thousands of boulders. 

The resident Yosemite Valley Indians were sure the angry spirits of the great rocks were trying to kill them.

First paragraph of Inyo Independent front quake story, March 30, 1872.

For two months, Muir reported trembling rocks.  He joked with neighbors "Come, cheer up; smile a little and clap your hands, now that kind Mother Earth is trotting us on her knee to amuse us and make us good."  A bucket of water was kept on his cabin table so he could study the movements.  He recorded the changes in nature around him - rock avalanches, driftwood, and leaf damned streams, reducing them to nothing in some places, causing them to roar in others. 

Lake levels rose, meadows were smoothed, new meadows created.  Muir was comforted that "storms of every sort, torrents, earthquakes, cataclysms, convulsions of nature etc. however mysterious and lawless at first sight they may seem, are only harmonious notes in the song of creation, varied expressions of God's love."

Shockwaves Across Owens Valley

The great forces that created a naturalist's wonder for Muir and frightened his Yosemite Valley neighbors, wreaked havoc on the lives of the residents of  Owens Valley where the geologic event was centered.  The night before the shockwave hit was described as "spring-like and balmy," with bright stars shining in the clear dark skies overhead, until 2:30 a.m. 

The earth rumbled for three minutes.  As the hours progressed, the earth continued to shake on and off.  The next major aftershock was recorded at 6:30 a.m.  The military outpost at Camp Independence reported up to 200 tremors on through 5 p.m. the following afternoon. 

 By April 6, the Inyo Independent newspaper reported the earth was quieting down. The shocks were dwindling from twelve to twenty hours apart.  The San Francisco Chronicle reported over a thousand shocks the first week alone. 

Camp Independence Crumbles

On January 24, residents of Owens Valley had been wakened in the night by a shake that caused no damage, and very little talk.  On March 17, another quake was felt, but again, little noted of it. The seemingly never ending jolt of March 26, however, would never be forgotten.

More of Inyo Independent front quake story, March 30, 1872.

The sentries of Camp Independence found themselves to be immediately thrown to the ground.  As the earth trembled throughout the night, no one in camp slept.  Beds were pulled outside, campfires were relit.  Major Harry Egbert would later report that only Private J. Lutz and his wife, who was a laundress, were injured.  The surgeon's house, guard house,  mess hall, cook house, First Sergeant's house, storehouse, blacksmith's shop and two laundress' quarters were almost completely destroyed.  These buildings, like so many others throughout the Owens Valley during this time period, were built with adobe bricks. 

The barracks, commissary, storehouse, hospital and remainder of the officers' quarters received enough damage to be deemed unsafe.  They, too, were of  adobe brick.  Broken timbers were salvaged to build temporary shelters for troops and laundresses, cooking and dining.  Canvas structures were erected for the officers and their families.

Residents In Rubble

Outside of Camp Independence, the town of Independence itself was completely destroyed. The houses, adobe like the military buildings, were gone. One resident, Jacob Vagt, and his wife, found themselves completely covered by brick from their adobe home. Their baby was suffocated before they could rescue it from the fallen bricks, yet they themselves only suffered bruises and cuts. 

Nearby Lone Pine, was most devastated by the temblor. All businesses and residences built entirely of adobe were now piles of rubble. The soldiers from Camp Independence dug for bodies.  Twenty seven people were either killed instantly or later died from injuries.  Dozens more suffered serious injuries. 

The Loomis brothers store was hit severely.  Rockwell Loomis was buried under the debris from the building that belonged to him and his brother, Albert.  A neighbor, William Covington, caught powder kegs just as a fire erupted nearby.  With the earth still shaking beneath him, Covington moved the kegs to safety, and continued digging to find Loomis.  Loomis lost an ear and most of his scalp.   Survivors continued on to rescue others.

John McCall of Lone Pine wrote a letter after the event that told how he, his wife and little daughter were buried in ruins for an hour and a half.  Four feet of adobe piled on top of them. They lived nearly a mile and a half from anyone else, and were almost dead when finally discovered and rescued. 

Inyo Independent  story April 6, 1872, listing injured people.

Mr. Burkhardt and his neighbor, Mr. Lubken, could hear Mrs. Burkhardt screaming after their home collapsed, but there were no sounds of his son who was buried as well.  Burkhardt reportedly cried, "The Old Lady's screaming, so she's all right.  Let her lay.  Well get the boy first." Young Fred was dug out and revived and then Mrs. Burkhardt was retrieved uninjured.

  Needless to say the poor woman was quite riled, in spite of her rescue, because she had heard every word that her husband had said to his friend.

The San Francisco Chronicle reported the tragic death of Antonia Montoya, a young Mexican woman sharing her couch with a paramour.  When the shock hit they were both startled out of their sleep.  Antonia began screaming and praying.  The man jumped out of bed and leaped clear of the building as the roof and walls began to tumble down.  Unfortunately for Antonia, she was caught in bed by the bricks and could only scream for help.  Her paramour never paused even for a moment to rescue her. Sadly, Antonia perished.

In Bishop Creek to the north, the Inyo Independent wrote of a young gentleman who was sitting up with his young lady friend just as the shock hit.  She fainted into his arms and did not recover very quickly.  The next day the young man swore he would give "$20 a shot for earthquakes when setting up with an offish gal."

Strange Phenomenon

The great Lone Pine Earthquake appeared to be centered from Lone Pine to Big Pine. Both Lone Pine and Big Pine reported large fissures, some with crevasses up to two hundred feet deep  Stories were told of the Owens River changing its course, and new lakes, one of which is the present day Lake Diaz (where the Diaz Ranch once stood), were created. 

At George's Creek, water burst from the ground and came up into a cabin that had only a dirt floor, flooding out the occupants.  A horse's hoof was said to have protruded from the ground where another crack had opened then closed.  At Fish Springs, an ox was supposedly swallowed by the crack, his tail the only visible sign above the ground that he had ever been there. Nearby, another ox was found dead, possibly from fright, as there was no sign of injury. 

Men camping near the river at a bridge south of Lone Pine were building a boat.  After the earthquake hit they said they saw fish thrown up on the banks because the water had disappeared.  They gathered up the fish and cooked them for breakfast, then continued on building their boat, even though they weren't sure there would be a need for one any more.

Many reports were made of streams of fire coming down the mountains, which turned out to be the friction from the rocks hitting each other during the motion of the earthquake.  Animals were heard making strange noises in terror. Horses ran off never to be found or perhaps disappeared into the large fissures in the ground. Stories of phenomenon such as these were told throughout Owens Valley. The earth gurgled and burped for weeks before slight tremors occurred, and sounds similar to a great blasting or heavy artillery fire were heard.

Residents of the mining town of Swansea stood on the shore of Owens Lake watching as the lake receded to the center of its' lake bed like a tidal wave. They were sure they would be drowned, but were too frightened to move away. As the water swept towards them about 200 feet, they were spared and there was no damage. Owens Lake was now shallower at Swansea Landing than at the opposite shore on the Sierra Nevada (west) side of the valley.

Picking Up The Pieces

The total damage to Camp Independence totaled $26,000 and $237,000 for all of Inyo County. Lone Pine was damaged the most, with an estimated $132,000.  Damages continued to mount as time went on and more tremors occurred. Many communities throughout California raised relief money. 

The silver boom town of Cerro Gordo, high in the Inyo Mountains overlooking Owens Valley, sustained little or no damage, but raised $800 to help their less fortunate neighbors down the hill.  In time, Camp Independence and surrounding towns were rebuilt. Wood frame buildings sprouted where adobe walls had stood before the earthquake hit. 

By July 4, 1872, people who were devastated by nature's shockwaves were moving on with their lives. In addition to the traditional Independence Day festivities, there would be a boat ride on Owens Lake that had nearly swallowed up the town of Swansea only months before. James Brady had built a steamboat and named it the Bessie Brady after his daughter.  Everyone formally invited to ride the steamboat across the lake and picnic at the landing afterwards.  Life was returning to normal in Owens Valley.

Water on Owens Lake reflects the setting sun in this present day photo from Cerro Gordo. The American Hotel, built in 1871, is at the left. Owens Lake was 30 feet deep and its waters sustained a seismic wave when the Lone Pine earthquake shook in 1872. Cerro Gordo was shaken, but mostly intact after the quake and residents collected $800 to assist their neighbors in the Valley.



The Boys In The Sky Blue Pants

by Dorothy Clora Cragen

Pioneer Publishing Company


Deepest Valley: Guide to Owens Valley Owens Valley and Its Mountain Lakes, Roadsides and Trails

Edited by Ginny Schumacher

Sierra Club, San Francisco


The Story of Inyo

By W. A. Chalfant

Chalfant Press, Inc. 


Inyo Independent newspaper

Courtesy of Laws Museum, Bishop, Calif.

Thanks to the following websites:

Museum of the City of San Francisco

"Our National Parks" John Muir

Cerro Gordo Update

Cerro Gordo's tram trestle stands against a star-filled sky in this time exposure.

The ghost town of Cerro Gordo remains open to day visitors. Volunteer caretakers have assumed day-to-day visitor operations and are in town at all times. In spite of rumors to the contrary, Cerro Gordo has not been abandoned after Mike Patterson's death.

Cerro Gordo's official website ( is being updated. Please contact us through the email address below if you have questions about Cerro Gordo.

Town hours are from approximately 9 a.m.- 4 p.m. (PST), weather and road conditions permitting. Visitors should dress warmly, bring drinking water and haul out their own trash. Cerro Gordo shirts and souvenir silver-lead bullion bars are available for purchase in the American Hotel. Admission is $10 per person. Copyright 2009, All Rights Reserved.                           Powered by