October 2004 Issue Explore Historic California - Magazine for Enthusiasts







Bill Becher, L.A. Daily News outdoor writer and photographer went to Bodie with us. Read what he wrote about the trip. Click the photo to link to the story.



By God, to Bodie and Golden Leaves trips, Sept. 2004. Click the photo to go to the  gallery

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



Don't have a 4X and want to visit historic sites in Eastern California?

Capture the spirit of the past as it comes alive with true tales of pioneer families, prospectors, muleskinners, hero's and gunslingers. Listen to legends of lost gold, found wealth and superstitions. Journey back in time with Terri Geissinger - Historian, Interpreter and Guide

Click on Terri's yellow van for Terri's Ghost Town Tours or contact Terri by clicking here:


The History of Darwin

by Cecile Page Vargo

        Somewhere between Lone Pine and Death Valley, in a hot dusty, remote and desolate area, lies the mere shadow of a town called Darwin. The first white travelers to pass through the area were the Death Valley 49'ers coming from Salt Lake City to the California goldfields. In 1850, Dr. Erasmus Darwin French came through on a search for the Lost Gunsight Mine, which was believed to be in the Panamint Valley. In 1861 silver ore was discovered ten miles southeast of Darwin and the Coso Mining District was formed. October 1870, William Egan, J.C. Watt, and Paul W. Bennett, discovered pure galena near the springs of Darwin Canyon. By the 24th of that same month, James Brady (famous for the steamers he ran across Owens Lake) joined the three men to organize the Granite Mountain Mining District. The discoveries went virtually unnoticed at the time. In the fall of 1874, discoveries made by the Brown Brothers, William and Robert, were announced in the Inyo Independent newspaper. Miners and entrepreneurs flocked to the site. The new Coso Mining District was formed at this time, as well as the town of Darwin. Erasmus Darwin French, more than likely, never visited the town that grew around the area he had traveled through so many years before.

The mines and one-time tourist cabins of Darwin today are as dead as the occupants of the town's cemetery.

        Typical of mining towns of the era, Darwin became a rough and tumble town with rich producing mines, claim battles, gunfights, robberies, etc. It quickly grew from flimsy canvas hovels to substantial buildings with flourishing businesses. By February 1875, Darwin boasted a hotel, three restaurants, two butcher shops, a livery stable, two stores, seven saloons, a drug store, as well as a doctor's and a lawyer's office. Soon there were two baseball teams, the Inyos and the Independents. The Wells Fargo office and post office followed. Victor Beaudry, also of Cerro Gordo fame, piped in much needed water. In May of 1876, the Inyo Independent declared Darwin "the most important mining district and largest town" of Inyo county. Colonel Sherman Stevens began building a tramway from Darwin to the shore of Owens Lake to transport the massive bullion production. The town population soared to 3,500 people by 1877. More than 226,672 ounces of silver and 1,920,261 pounds of lead were recovered from the mines.           

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Bringing Ghosts Back From The Ghost Town

by Cecile Page Vargo

        While the story that my dog Jake tells about those mysterious footprints in Mono Mills is true, it didn't really scare us and we still joke about it today. Never really been spooked out there, fortunately, but I do have to say I seem to bring that spooky feeling home with me after spending time alone out there. Just recently got back from Cerro Gordo ghost town. which made the population of the town 3 humans, six town cats, and our 6 month old 55 pound puppy, as well as a plethora of chucker, and a couple of hummingbirds. We've become pretty comfortable up there after innumerable stays. We are always prepared for a "spooky" experience of one sort or the other, but even when pup Maggie let out an unexpected bark and lunged on her tie out chain, towards the Victor Beaudry general store/museum across the street in the late evening, we didn't get scared, and of course she was only barking at reflections in the window caused by lights in the Belshaw House where we were staying.
        Following our two days in Cerro Gordo , we had business in Bishop and stayed in a motel, then headed back home. That night we were very tired and didn't even unpack the 4Runner. When I shut down the house to go to bed, I looked out the front window and noticed a skeletal figure standing in the driveway of my neighbor's across the street. It looked more like a ghostly appearance I would expect to see up at Cerro Gordo . I figured my imagination was playing tricks on me, so tried to ignore it and didn't mention it to my husband. However, it did really look like some tall skinny man was standing out there just staring at their house. I could even see him turn his head once in awhile and puff on a cigarette.
        It took me about 15 minutes of staring at this "apparition" or whatever it was, to decide to tell my husband. He looked and he saw the same thing - a man standing out there obviously up to no good. We decided to call 911. After another 15 minutes, in which this tall skinny man just stood out there waiting to do something he shouldn't, the police drove up. As their vehicle lights shined on the neighbors rock wall, the man totally vanished. I was stunned. Where did he go - what were we seeing? The police got out of their car, and we went out to talk to them. They searched the neighbors yard, back and front, and shined lights in the house. No one was to be found.
        By this time, the neighbors beside us came out to see what was going on. I sheepishly said that we thought we had seen someone staring out there, but apparently we had just spent to much time up at our ghost town and brought back a ghost with us. Meantime, my husband did talk to the police about a woman in the neighborhood who prowls around everyone's property looking for cats and coyotes in the middle of the night and we were trying to catch her. They knew about her, and were happy that we were able to give them her name, then sort of laughed that we had seen nothing this time, after all.
        As the police were starting to get back in their car, the neighbors that lived in the house actually came back from their vacation. They obviously were quite concerned to see the police, and two sets of neighbors standing outside their place. We told them the whole story, and they appreciated that we at least had a good "neighborhood watch" and better safe than sorry. Meantime I explained about getting back from Cerro Gordo , and I must have seen a ghost, instead. I thought about how the minute the lights from the police car hit their driveway and front lawn rock wall, it all disappeared. The police were now driving off, and the rock wall and driveway was dark again except for the lone street light and their front porch light. Here was my chance to redeem myself. Two of the neighbors went in my house and looked out my dining room window. Sure enough there was the tall skinny skeletal man. It was an illusion caused by a metal post against the rock wall, a shadow from that post, and the greenery growing above the wall. I was sure glad that the neighbors saw the same illusion Roger and I both had seen! But I still can't figure out how after living here 25 years, we've never noticed it before. Still must have brought one of those ghost town ghosts back with us!

        Itís been a few months since we brought the ghost back from the ghost town.  Every night as I close down the house, I peer out my window and the shadowy figure is still out there.  Itís become rather comforting to see him out there watching over my neighbors house. If he ever disappears Iím sure going to miss him!


Our Tours with Ecological 4-Wheeling Adventures

Our 2004 tour schedule is complete and

we're doing some less strenuous driving!

Please check back  for our 2005 tour schedule.

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 visit our ECOLOGICAL 4-WHEELING ADVENTURES.

     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

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