October 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:  echco@msn.com


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, www.bodiehistory.com, 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.



Memories on the Mountain with Mike Patterson

by Cecile Page Vargo

Mike Patterson, owner of Cerro Gordo, dies

September 24, 2009, in Bakersfield, Calif.  

An Owens Valley Legend Passes On

He called me his little sister; I called him my brother; but we were best friends.

Our beloved friend, fellow desert rat, and Cerro Gordo icon, has passed away on September 24, 2009.  He was only 62 years young. 

Moving to Cerro Gordo in 1985 with Owens Valley born Jody Hardin Stewart, they took on together the task of keeping Cerro Gordo alive and well and in a state of restorative reuse.  Bringing out the best in all the volunteers who came from far and wide, the many talents in different fields of expertise, kept this dream alive.  They met people from all over the world in this little mining camp that was the Comstock to the sleepy little Mexican Pueblo of Los Angeles.  Mike and Jody brought the life back into the little camp and put it back on the map by way of magazine and newspaper, short film and documentary.

Mike and Jody's creativity can be seen all over town.  From the beautiful kitchen he built Jody in the Gordon house, the deck outside the General Store and Museum, the restoration of the 1871 American Hotel, to the remaking of a garage into the first chapel/theater ever in Cerro Gordo.  He never got to see this project completed so we, the volunteers have taken up the task ... we raised the steeple last weekend for and in honor of our friend.

He is survived by his Mother, Jo; his three wonderful sons, Sean, Heath, and Tyler; his 2 brothers Jeff and David and their wives and families; and his sister, Lisa and her husband Dan.  He was proceeded in death by his wife Jody in 2001 and his dad in 2003, and has now been rejoined with them in Heaven.

May they all rest in peace.

Mary G., Volunteer and friend for 24 years.

You may still visit Cerro Gordo and see an important part of early California history as caretakers are always on site.  Tours are $10.00 per person and will go to keeping the town alive and well.

Mike's memorial service at Cerro Gordo will be in the Spring of 2010.  The lateness of the season and the upcoming Lone Pine Film Festival make it impractical to hold the service sooner.

Memories on the Mountain

Mike Patterson looks over a painting of Cerro Gordo historical figures by author Robert C. Likes at his 2007 birthday celebration.

I close my eyes and try to remember what it felt like that first time I wandered over the Swansea Grade as a passenger on someone else’s adventure. As we traveled over the last rock-filled, off camber, narrow stretch, my eyes were closed also, and my hands were red from clenching the handle of the old Chevy Blazer’s door in fear that one wrong move would send us tumbling down the cliff towards the dry Owens Lake bed 5,000 feet below. Roger whistled “Rock of Ages”, in a failed humorous attempt to comfort me. Then suddenly, there she was ─ the ghost of Cerro Gordo in her dilapidated and lonely state; the vestiges of her past hanging perilously on the mountain top waiting to be discovered. The 8,500 foot altitude and the first view of what was left of the old mining camp made it difficult to catch my breath.

 The miners who ambled up into the Inyo Mountains and found themselves at the base of what was known as Buena Vista Peak in the mid 1860’s, took their picks and their shovels in search of minerals and wealth. The veins of silver they eventually dug up could not possibly have given them as much excitement as I felt the moment I was able to step out of our vehicle and on to the desolate ground where they once had walked. The wind howled down the mountain, teasing me with voices of the past. The rattle of the wood and tin on the broken down hotel and  old general store that stood before me in the near distance threatened to reveal histories, if only I would listen to them.

Mike shares a story with Cerro Gordo visitors in the museum.

 A cowboy-type and a busty blonde straight out of Hollywood, had watched as our little group arrived. Cautiously, they greeted us. There was a moment of awkwardness as we introduced ourselves and our intentions. As we shook hands none of us had an inkling to what the future held for us. I remember a tour of the place, and bits and pieces of stories about the Mexican miners, and the moguls that bought them out and made a fortune on their dreams. Then we shook hands again, and headed off for two days in Saline Valley.

 Cerro Gordo called to me like the silver must have to those old miners. The following year, Roger and I went back and took a few friends.  We got to know Mike Patterson and Jody Stewart a little better, and the visit with them became as much a part of the  treasure as the old ghost town was. Although we didn’t realize it at the time, we were beginning a journey which would span over 120 years before our time, and well into the future. The friendship we made with both Mike and Jody would last forever. 

 Time and distance and other obligations prevented us from visiting Cerro Gordo as we much as would have liked. Once or twice a year we did have the pleasure of introducing others to the old ghost town and the beautiful people that made it their life to preserve its history.

Mike and members of the Cerro Gordo Fire Dept. give the secret Cerro Gordo salute after completing repairs on the hoist house in 2005.

 In 2001, Mike and Cerro Gordo became a priority in our lives, when Jody passed away. Several magical weekends were spent on the mountain over the next years, the memories richer than the ore in the mines.

 To me personally, Mike Patterson was a friend, mentor and a brother. No one encouraged me more with my writing and my histories than Mike did. I am who I am today because of him, and will be forever grateful for having him in my life.

 Countless hours were spent in the restored kitchen of the American Hotel with Mike, re-living the histories true and farce, speculating how to further preserve them, and just laughing and crying together over life in general. After a good meal we would share more stories, and then inevitably break out into a songfest together going on into the wee hours of the morning.

 No one could spin a tale more than Mike, except for maybe me, after Mike would drop a hint or two my way. One morning after a huge breakfast, we got started talking about the lost gold mines of Death Valley. With a twinkle in his eye, Mike told us to head down the road towards Lee Flat, and turn around at a certain spot and look at the notch on his mountain. He went about some project up at the hoist house, while we jumped in the 4Runner to do as he suggested. Several weeks later, The True Legend of the Lost Gunsight Mine came into fruition, all as a result of that twinkle in Mike’s eye. This tale is the essence of Mike as I will always remember him, and we re-print it this month on the sad occasion of his untimely death.

Mike (center) gives the secret Cerro Gordo salute with his friend, Marla (L) and mother, Jo (R) at his sides.


The True Legend of the Lost Gunsight Mine

 by Cecile Page Vargo


         It was the cry of gold in the foothills of the western Sierras echoing across the North American continent that sent William Lewis Manly & the 49’ers across the treacherous valley of Death in 1849 to get to it. Along with the dramatic stories of both death and survival in that barren valley, legends of gold, lost gunsights and silver were told as well. Many hearty fortune seekers were lured back to the valley & surrounding country  in the ensuing years in search of those legends. The list of names accredited to finding the gunsight mine is  many, as are the tales, and the places as to it’s whereabouts are as numerous as the list of names, and the tales. Not only is there confusion as to where the lost mine might be, there is as much confusion as to what the gunsight was, also.

          But I’m not here to tell you the legends and lore of the past that are so well known.  Here for the first time in print, is the true story of the Lost Gunsight Mine and how it was found as told to me by a friend of mine. 

Pablo Flores and The Lost Gunsight Mine

           It was a brisk night on the mountain, and the wind was fierce, bringing even brisker temperatures to chill the bones of the four who sat in the primitive miners cabin. The little pot bellied stove in one corner, provided some heat, but the nooks and crannies of the compact cabin couldn’t filter all of the wind out, and the four huddled close together around the old stove, as the breezes managed to find their way through them. The roar of the little fire, and the howling wind beating against the nearly rotten timbers of the cabin, made it necessary to talk louder than the whisper that the conversation warranted. Miles of desert nothingness surrounded the cabin, even at this altitude of 8,000 feet. 


         Long ago men with names like Benoit, had lumbered out what few scraggly trees had grown on the cragged hillsides, to burn in the smelters that processed the ore that had put the mountain on the map. But the map of the 20th century, barely showed the place where the four sat hovered before the fire bracing themselves from the chill and the wind, and few to dared to venture to the remote spot much any more. There was little danger of anything more than the mouse who peek-a-booed from a solitary two shelved cabinet on the wall, hearing what was about to said.

          Everyone in the cabin that dark night  had wandered up to the faint remnants of an old Mexican trail on a long forgotten adventure in search of a dream and come to stay more than a little while. The cowboy, his ruddy face and blonde hair well hidden by the hat he always wore, leaned forward in his crackled paint chair, with a yellowed piece of newspaper in his rough-hewn hands, and read to the others:

          “I’ve had this old paper for some time,” the cowboy began, “we all know the story about this mountaintop I’ve chosen to call my home, but it elaborates on it quite nicely. It’s from the Territorial Enterprise - Virginia City, Nevada dated way back in  May, 1867.  

          ‘We yesterday saw some specimens of ore and silver bullion that were brought to this city by a Mexican named Bernarda Arambula. They came from a mountaintop, about forty miles from the camp where the boys in blue are stationed in Kearsarge Country. The ores shown us are of the richest character, and came from veins that range in width from one to four feet. There are said to be hundreds of veins of a similar character, and only a few of them have been prospected. 

          The Mexicans have six small furnaces, and extract silver from the ore by smelting. The leads are held in common, as are the furnaces, and each one goes and digs as much ore as he pleases, carries it to a furnace and smelts it. The furnaces used are very small and ordinary, being but a foot or two in width, three or four feet long and five or six high. In all they take out with these six furnaces about twenty five to thirty pounds of silver per day. Most of this is sold in rough bars in to which into which it is molded at a small town called Pine Grove, where they all go to purchase their provisions.  There is but little coin in circulation, silver bars of various sizes being used instead. One of the bars shown us weighed six pounds, the other about one pound.

           Bernarda says that the man who first puts up a large and well constructed furnace at these mines will make a fortune. He brought the bricks that he extracted to us to this city, in order that by having them correctly assayed he might find the exact value of the bullion they are producing. The bars look as well as those produced here. In this mountain neighborhood, an abundance of pure and malleable lead is found, as well as significant amounts of zinc, and a perfect amount of copper ore or astounding richness. There is quite an excitement among the Mexicans at the north end of the city about the new mines.”

          “Wait a minute…. whose this Bernarda whatever his last name is, guy?  I thought it was somebody named Pablo that discovered the mines?” one of the four asked.

          “Don’t worry… I’m getting to that,” the cowboy said, as he reached in the pocket of his heavy suede coat and pulled out another yellowed newspaper clipping. “This one comes from the Mining and Scientific press in December of the same year. I won’t read the whole thing, but here’s the part about Pablo.”  

           The cowboy sipped from his tin coffee cup that was just served him, carefully unfolded the old piece, then continued, “ The first mine discovered here was by Pablo Flores and two other Mexicans. They started from Nevada two years ago last March, on a prospecting tour and traveled southwest over the different ranges of mountains, but did not find any mineral until they reached this place. After they had satisfied themselves that there were rich silver and lead mines, here, Pablo Flores’ two companions started for Virginia City for supplies, and he remained at the mines. 

           As they did not return at the appointed time, nor for a long time afterwards, Flores left, on account of being out of provisions, to look for them fearing that they might have been killed by the Indians. he made his way to Virginia City and could learn nothing of them from his countrymen, and they have not since been seen or heard of. The Indians no doubt killed them. Flores told his friends about the discovery of these mines, which induced many of them to come here with him, and last summer there was quite an immigration of other Mexicans. During the summer and early fall several Americans located the mines."

          “That’s more like it, that’s the story I know,” someone said, and the four all nodded their heads in agreement, 

          “That’s not all there is to the story”, the cowboy informed them, “Haven’t you wondered what brought them here….of all the places they could have gone, what guided them to this particular mountain? 

          They looked at each other, then one said, “And you think you know what it was?” 

          “I don’t think, I know what it was,” and the cowboy stopped talking and looked at his watch, as a yawn overcame him. “Well, that’s it for me….we’ve got a long day ahead of us tomorrow, so I’m turning in.” 

          He carefully folded his newspaper clippings and put them back in his coat pocket, then stood up, tipped his hat to his three friends, then headed out to the door to his own dwelling further up the steep dirt road.

          Dawn the next morning, the four met again at the cabin, and enjoyed a stout black coffee, and omelets, cooked on the small pot bellied stove that had struggled to keep them warm the night before. Silence filled the room while the four nourished themselves.

          “Got some work to do at the hoist house today, could sure use a hand,” the cowboy said, as he wiped a crumb from his mouth with a paper napkin. “But maybe before we do that we should head down the back side of the mountain, what do you think?”  and the others noticed a twinkle in his eye as he said it. 

          Breakfast dishes were piled into a wash pan to be tended to later, as men often do, and they hurried out to start their day. The sun was starting to heat up, and the wind was dying down, thankfully. There was an old Jeep, outfitted with seats for four, waiting for them.  The cowboy took the driver’s seat, and the others climbed in after him. He started the engine and slowly meandered up the narrow dirt road ahead of them. As he got to his own place, a dog ran out to greet them hoping to go for an adventure. The cowboy stopped for a brief moment to point the dog back to his place, then proceeded up the road, past the hoist house, and over the crest of the hill.  There they stopped to enjoy the view of the dry lake bed below, and towering mountain ranges behind it, then they continued down a deep ravine that served as road.

          The old Jeep maneuvered easily over the pathway that twisted and turned until it branched off to the east. At this point the four found themselves in a virtual Joshua tree forest. They abandoned the Jeep here and set out on foot up a deeply rutted footpath. They followed it, the cowboy in the lead, until they came to a cabin so hidden by Joshua trees and giant boulders, that it was obvious to the others that the cowboy knew it was there.  The cowboy took a swig from a bottle of water, then passed it around to his friends. His face had a slight grin on it as he pointed further up the where vegetation refused to grow.  


The sun was shining through a notch in the highest point on the mountain.  One of the four knew a Kodak moment when he saw it, and lifted his camera to his eye and began setting up his shot.  The other two followed the cowboy into the cabin.  The door had a padlock on it, and the cowboy had the key. Inside, the cabin, while the same size as the one they had stayed in the night before, was better furnished, but  only one person to stay in, as opposed to three. One wall  had a dry kitchen, with rough cabinets that was full of non-perishables. There was a small wooden table with only one chair, a cot sized wooden bed minus blankets, a small bookcase with some reading material, a pot bellied stove, and a large trunk.

          Again, the cowboy smiled a knowing smile, as he bent down to put a key in the large trunk. At first glance it appeared to have bedding wrapped in plastic, but there  further down was a tiny tin chest, with a tiny padlock on it. The cowboy searched through his key ring and found the appropriate key to match it. He made a big production of opening it, adding to the suspension that thickly filled the cabin. By this time their fourth companion had walked in the door to join them. A piece of checkered cloth, perhaps an old napkin, was at the top of the chest covering the prize inside. The cowboy lifted it, to find a ziplock bag. He picked up the ziplock bag and held it up for everyone to see, before he opened it. Inside was a worn leather diary with ink smudges on the front. Before turning the pages of the diary, the cowboy looked up at his friends and grinned.  

“I came across this broken down cabin a few years back, and decided I needed a place for a vacation once in awhile to get away from it all,”  and he laughed, the others joining him. “ I actually use it as a base camp so I can poke around at some of the old mines on the hill when I’m alone up here looking for something to entertain me. I was out hiking around one day when I nearly stumbled into a vertical mine shaft. Fortunately, I caught my balance just in time.”  and the cowboy laughed again. “ I can’t pass an opportunity to look down an old mine shaft, of course, even when it nearly consumes me, so I took a peek, and sure enough there was a pretty sturdy wooden ladder, so I went down it.  I had every intention on going down as far as that ladder would go, but I hadn’t gone down too far, when I noticed an old miners lunch pail sort of  stuck between the ladder and the rock wall of the shaft. I pried it lose from it’s spot, and inside was this diary. I’m not sure how it kept so dry, and in such good condition, but the way you see it now, is as it was when I found it.” The diary was passed around and examined by each of them. The last to receive it gingerly flipped through the pages as the others had, then turned it back over to the cowboy.

          “I want you to remember that notch in the mountain with the sun shining through it,” the cowboy winked. There was a long moment of silence as if he was savoring what he was about to read, and once again enjoying the anticipation he was building up in his companions.  Then finally, he opened the diary again, and read from it.





            At this point the cowboy stopped reading, although there were pages more. He walked towards the cabin door and threw it open and motioned for the others to follow him. When he got to the spot where they had first viewed the mountaintop with the unusual notch in it he spread out his arms and grinned ear to ear as Pablo Flores’ friend had, then  he announced in his best Spanish accent, “My dear compadres,......I too have found the lost gunsight.  Welcome to my mountain!”  

             My sincerest thanks go to our dear friend, Mike Patterson, who pointed me down the road that eventually led to the notch in the mountain and the fabled Lost Gunsight. 

             Thanks also to my new friend Bob Likes who discovered the mountain long before I knew of it's existence, and helped me to understand it's important place in California history.


A Mine of Her Own-Women Prospectors In The American West, 1850-1950

(chapter on Ferminia Sarras)

by Sally Zanjani

University of Nebraska Press


Lost Mines of Death Valley

by Harold O. Weight

The Calico Press

Twenty-Nine Palms, California


Cerro Gordo Bugle of Freedom, Volume 1 Issue 1 

Article quotes from:

Territorial Enterprise, May 14, 1867

Virginia City, Nevada


Mining and Scientific Press, December 14, 1867

San Francisco, CA     



Reprinted from Explore Historic California, April 2006.


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