Cerro Gordo Ghost Town

Introduction:

What? : An old large mining town that is now a privately owned Ghost Town and open for tourists to enjoy this unique place.








Where? : The town is located high in the Inyo Mountains, near Lone Pine, California. From lone pine you need to drive 12 miles east on highway 136 to the small “town” of Keeler. Here you will find the unpaved road entrance that will lead you east into the high mountains.

Google Map Link

 



Nearby attractions blog links:




When? : Year round, summer here is hot although the high elevation temperatures are much colder than the valley below. In winter (up to may) it can get snow, even a lot of snow that completely block the road. make sure to check road conditions and do not drive if you think this is unsafe.

 

Due note 1: High clearance AWD is recommended but usually the road is in good conditions and although can be bumpy in sections the road can be driven also by any car. This is steep, 7 miles long, and winding road so drive carefully, please remember that during winter it can be blocked by deep snow.


 

Due note 2: This is on private land, respect the owners and their requests.

 

Due note 3: I asked one of the volunteers and he told me that you do not need a pay for visiting here. I did not find place for paper-bill donations…

 

My thoughts: I wanted to visit here for long time … always when I was nearby, I did not have a chance to drive up here, finally I made it and I was not disappointed. I came in early March 2022 cold winter day, right after it snowed here during the night. It was relatively light snow but some sections of the road were covered with snow.


 

The visit:

 

Cerro Gordo Ghost Town is considered one of the best ghost towns in California (the old town of Bodie is another famous ghost town, located near Mono Lake).

The town past story is interesting but also the current stat has it unique story.


Today the old town of Cerro Gordo is privately owned and operated by the Cerro Gordo Historical Society. Because this is on private land, permission to visit must be obtained but I do not expect any issue with coming and visiting this interesting site.

I was asked by one of the maintainers not to take video, when asking about pictures he answered that there is no problem with me taking pictures (as long as it is not for commercial use).

Do not try to enter close buildings without approval and do not remove any items from this historic site.

Respect that this is a private property and do not create any damage.

 

The Mining History:

Cerro Gordo ("Fat Hill"), the peak sits eight miles east and 5,000 feet above Owens Lake. It became part of the Lone Pine Mining District, formed April 5, 1866, in response to the discovery of silver and lead mines.

In 1868 an eight-mile toll road was open that lead up the mountainside, it name was the Yellow Grade Road (named for the yellowish shale). This road help to expedite the town expansion and at the same year steam-powered smelter was built near the mountaintop.

 

Cerro Gordo's population at boom years of the 1870 was 4,500, most living in bunkhouses and earning $4 per day. The mining camp sported general stores, saloons, restaurants, at least two hotels, two competing dance hall-brothels, doctors', lawyers' and assay offices and blacksmiths …. but no church, school, or jail.

Back ate the late 1800 Cerro Gordo was known as a “wild west town” with little to no law and order and bloody record of shootings during the bonanza days, shootouts were frequent and there was around at least one murder a week.

In the 1870s, a mine collapsed and trapped around 30 Chinese miners, who were never rescued and are still buried underground.

 

An estimated $17 million worth of silver and lead ore ($400 million in 2013 dollars) mined and produces out of the Cerro Gordo mines in Inyo County. From the late 1860s to the late 1870s, the ore was transport by 14 mules’ wagons for 200-plus-mile journey, three-week trek, to the emerging pueblo of Los Angeles.

 

All major mining activity slowed after 1876.


 

In 1907, high-grade zinc ore was discovered at the 900- to 1,000-foot level in the Union Mine. A cable tramway was strung above the Yellow Grade Road to carry the ore down in buckets.

Cerro Gordo was booming again. A 5.6-mile, gravity-powered wire-rope aerial tramway was strung above the Yellow Grade Road and moved 20 tons of zinc ore daily to the railroad at Keeler.

Electricity and telephones arrived in 1916. Old tunnels were extended, and new tunnels were driven; one, the Estelle, about two miles below town, reached the impressive length of 8,100 feet.

The mines fell silent in 1959 and this was the end of the long mining era of Cerro Gordo.

 

The Present:

In 1938, the last inhabitants packed up and left the depleted mines behind.

The dying town was owned by few people and when they died the property was owned by their son, Sean Patterson.

The 300-plus acre Cerro Gordo property sold in June 2018 for $1.4 million to Brent Underwood and hi business partner Jon Bier, with a plan to revive the town for visitors while preserving its history.

 

In March 2020, Brent decided to take a “little break” of the COVID crisis, he drove from Austin, Texas, to Cerro Gordo. At the night he drove up the mountain the area was hit with a snowstorm that left him stranded for few days, this is how the latest chapter of Cerro Gordo began.

As of today, Underwood is staying at the town for 2 years (when the covid started) and he is committed to the restoration project. There is an active YouTube channel that promote this vision.

The popularity of the YouTube channel attracts many people that volunteer here and help to restore the old building, maintain the town and to revive the tourist activity.

 

The visit:

When you drive up the steep Yellow Grade Road (1 mile climb in 7-mile-long road, maintained by the county) into the remote mountains you appreciate the miners.

The view from this road leading up is amazing, stop at one of the turnouts (look at the picture bow to find the exact curve in the road with the best view), where it safe and you do not block the road, and look on the view to the west.

Owen valley and the dry salty lake is spread below you and the high snowcap Sierra Mountain range lineup from south to north on the other side of the valley.



 

Once reaching the town you should park on the small parking lot just before the town buildings.

Today the General Store in the center of the town is used as a local museum, here you can see some of the colorful history of the mine and life in the town.



Visit the old garage building that was recently rebuild and transform into Cerro Gordo's first Chapel in 2009.

 


The 1904 large Bunkhouse (the large building on the left side of town) was built during the zinc era to house the miners, today it is being used as a house for the volunteers. When walking outside I was invited by one of the volunteers visit inside.

He told me that he stayed there for the weekend helping with maintenance and he is waiting that night snow will melt and it will be safe to drive down the steep road back home.

As you enter the first room you will see the huge wood oven in the kitchen on your right and the dining table and library on your left.


The rest of the large house is one long corridor with sleeping rooms on both sides.


 

The small and restored Assay Office located above and to the left side of the general store. This gives you a peek into the past mining activity. Just nearby you can find an old house with few rooms with a child crib.



 

Up at the hill on your left you can see the large mining structure, this is remaining of the aerial tramway that led Zinc to the valley below.



Few other buildings are the American Hotel built in 1871 and the Belshaw House built in 1868.

 

There are plans to build a new hotel and I learned from one of the volunteers that it at final stages of fire department approval and they expect to finish building by the help of volunteers in year or two.

 

Overall, I stayed here for an hour, walking among the buildings, and enjoying seeing how this town start to be live again.

When driving back down the snow on the road was melted…

 

 

www:

https://cerrogordomines.com/

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCEjBDKfrqQI4TgzT9YLNT8g

 

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