September 2004 Issue Explore Historic California - Magazine for Enthusiasts









By God, to Bodie! tour (motel or camp). Sept.  11-13     


Golden Leaves and Golden Trails tour (motel or camp). Sept.  18-20  Click on images for details.

Click here for information on all our 2004 tours.


Monache Meanderings

trip, June 2004. Click the photo

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


Growing Up On the Old Fat Hill

by Cecile Page Vargo

              My primary vision of Cerro Gordo has always been one of a bustling mining town, full of the men that worked in the mines, and the businessmen who provided the necessary supplies and services that would have been needed for day to day life. The few women in town would have been those like Lola Travis and Maggie Moore who ran the dance halls, and palaces of pleasure. There were no churches, or schools. Yet, in spite of that, some of those miners and businessmen actually did bring wives and children to live on the hill with them.

A Stroll Through Town

            In The Story of Cerro Gordo, by Mrs. J. S. Gorman, better known to readers of Explore Historic California as young Lulu Wapplehorst, the first bride of Cerro Gordo ,  we are given a rare glimpse into what life was like growing up on the old Fat Hill. As we walk through town, through the eyes of Mrs. Gorman, we are reminded of the cabins on the outskirts of town that not only housed miners, but in some cases, their families as well. While there were cabins that were well built with two or three rooms, proper doors and windows, apparently others were put together in such hast that they really didnít look much different in the 1870ís than they do in the year 2004. Mrs. Gorman describes the latter as sagging and dipping at their corners and creaking horribly with the almost constantly howling wind. Old sacks and pieces of flattened out tin served as windowpanes instead of glass.  Pity the poor family that had to live under these circumstances!

View of Cerro Gordo circa 1916, during the zinc mining era. The Union Mine hoist house is at the far right.

            In addition to the cabins, the blacksmith shops stood on the fringe of town. Imagine the loud clanking, ringing, banging, as the great freight wagons, stagecoaches and others were repaired, and the horses and mules that drove these vehicles were shoed. Also imagine the flying dust as these various modes of transportation found their way through town. Proceeding further into town, small eateries, boarding houses, saloons and dance halls, doctors and lawyers offices would have appeared.

            Only a few restored buildings and remnants of others remain on the mountain today. At one time main street was full of restaurants both plain and fancy and there were two double storied hotels breaking the otherwise barren skyline.  The buildings were so many and so close, that they actually elbowed each other. Late in the afternoons, the men came from the mines and smelters in such groves, that the young Lulu Lewis could barely force her way along the streets. Except for dinnertime, the miners would surge in and out of the saloons and dance halls. The flare of the Beaudry and Belshaw furnaces lit the town as the men gathered in groups on the street late into the night.

The Jingle of the Freight Wagons

             Although Remi Nadeauís freight contract had expired long before Luluís wedding took place, his wagons must have been the most fantastic spectacle that ever came up and down the mountain - the chain of three blue painted wagons, the long string of 14-20 mules, and the jingle of the lead bells they wore. The muleskinner sat a top one of the wheelers, shouting and cursing as he popped the blacksnake whip, and the mules snorted, coughed, and whinnied, as their hooves thundered along the dirt streets. The lead ďschoonersĒ each had wheels five feet high and six inches wide. The wooden hulls of each wagon were tall and narrow, and carried the necessary water barrels on each of their sides. The freight capacity of each wagon was ten tons, but most loads ran a bit less than that.  Heading out of town, when the mining was at itís best, they would have carried 170 silver ingots that weighed 87 pounds each.

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Our Tours with Ecological 4-Wheeling Adventures

We're climbing into 2004!

Please check here  for our 2004 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 15 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 Copyright © 2004, All Rights Reserved.                           Powered by