October 2006 Issue Explore Historic California - Magazine for Enthusiasts






Tour Information

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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 our 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, U.S. Forest Service, 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

Ghostly White Mule Tales from the Mines of Bodie

 by Cecile Page Vargo

          When interviewed for Marguerite Sprague’s book, Bodie Gold, Bodieite Fern Gray Tracy was unable to conjure up any ghost stories from her childhood in the infamous mining towns downward days of the early 1900s. She did, however, recall the spooky tale of the miner and the white mule who both tragically died in one of the old mine tunnels not far from the house they lived in. The stories her father told of  the ghostly white mule appearing at the mouth of the mine as anyone tried to enter it long after the accident had occurred, were enough to scare the daylights out of Fern and her friends and keep them out of the mines for the rest of their lives.
          According to author and historian, Michael Piatt in Bodie, The Mines Are Looking Well, there actually was a mule named Jerry who worked in the Bodie Standard Mine that more than likely sparked the white mule ghostly stories. Mules were often used to pull the ore carts along the mine passageways, but a smaller mule was needed to fit inside the shaft of the Bodie Standard so ore could be taken from above and below the Bulwer Tunnel. Half grown Jerry, was lowered into the 500 foot level, and lived in a stall built just for him, underground. Food and water were brought down regularly, and Jerry eventually grew too large to leave the mine. He was doomed to spend his days toiling in the mines, never to come out alive. The day the shaft caught on fire, miners escaped, but poor Jerry was overtaken by the smoke and gas.

          For four days firemen furiously fought the flames in the Standard Mine. The fire battle was won at last, the hoist and shaft repaired, and the miners returned to the lower levels. Jerry, the mule, was found dead in his specially built stall. Jerry was buried at the bottom of the incline the miners had built between the 500 and 600 foot level known as Mule Canyon. The incline that had served as Jerry’s passageway once he had outgrown the cage that had originally been used to lower him into the mine, would forever serve as his burial ground.
          In The Story of Bodie, Ella Cain relays Jim Pender’s white mule story as told to ghost towning tourists that happened into the Bodie Hills looking for a bit of history and haunts in the early state park days.  Let us borrow from Ella’s romantic book, and tell the tale in Pender’s own words:

          Once a miner told of seein a white mule in the mine, and when he was killed the next day, Lordy God, how the story spread. The miners got to joshin each other bout seein the white mule, but, just the same, they was all a little afraid they might.
          The story is told that there was a certain man in town who was so lazy that he wouldn’t get out of his own tracks. His wife had threatened to leave him if he didn’t go to work. He got a job in the mine an asked the boss to put him on the 500 level. That night the good-for-nothing old cuss came home with the story that he was diggin a hole and as he was lookin down in it, just afore comin off shift, he saw a little white mule in the bottom. Lordy God, his wife started to cry an wouldn’t let him go back to work again. Course nobody believed it much, only his poor wife, but from then on if any fellow stayed off work the miners would ask him ‘Wha’ts the matter, did you see the white mule in the Standard Mine?’

          Bodieite Robert Bell worked in the Standard Mines years after Jerry, the white mule. died in the fire. He claimed never to have seen him, but sure heard him plenty of times. You could hear him walking around down there in the dark. Those iron shoes make a hell of a clatter, and you’d think he was headed right toward you.
          The mines are off limits to the modern ghost town and mining camp traveler who visits Bodie today, but the tales of the ghostly white mule prevail.  Friends of Bodie volunteers and park rangers, remember Jerry in their historic talks, and the likes of his ghost is forever immortalized by paranormal followers, along with the those of twelve other Bodie Historic State Park spirits.


Bodie's Gold: Tall Tales & True History From a California Mining Town
by Marguerite Sprague
University of Nevada Press

Bodie, The Mines Are Looking Well-The History of the Bodie Mining District Mono County, California
by Michael H. Piatt
North Bay Books

Bodie State Park A Deserted Gold Town 

The Story of Bodie
by Ella M. Cain
Fearson Publishing


Sagebrush Scenes--Travels in Eastern California and Western Nevada

 Photography by Martin Cole and Roger Vargo

       We spent ten days in September exploring the high sagebrush country from Bishop, California to Aurora, Nevada.

The Owens River cuts a twisted path through the edge of the Volcanic Tableland near Bishop, California.


A "house circle" (above) and petrgolyphs (right and below) are evidence of previous habitation and visits.





Big horn sheep still roam the canyons east of Bishop.


Bristlecone pines thrive in the thin air of the Inyo Mountains.


A fisherman tries his luck in Hot Creek, a section of Mammoth Creek that is warmed by boiling water gushing from underground springs.


Range cattle move unhurriedly up an infrequently used road that eventually leads us to the Masonic Mining District.


Time and snowfall are slowly reclaiming the old Chemung Mine's mill buildings.


Marty examines the hoist works at the Old Datsun Mine.

A rusting cook stove (left) is one of the few recognizable artifacts left at the mining area around Pirini.


Rabbitbush displays its' full yellow splendor near an old stock chute at River Springs on the road to Pizona.



Pizona's one standing structure barely stands above the vegetation.


Marty checks the map while standing just inside the Nevada border on the road from Pizona.


A heard of wild horses runs through the sagebrush at McBride flat, Nevada.


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