Friday, October 24, 2014


THIS IS THE MAN THAT DUG THE TUNNEL  ---Picture taken sometime before 1938 when he completed his tunnel.  Here's the story in brief:                                                
  1. "Burro" Schmit  has intrigued me for years---since I saw a documentary on him.  This man made a decision and did a deed that staggers the imagination.  Details later.
I decided to go to the spot where he did it,  Waaay out there in the El Paso (Ca) mountains.  So I gas up at the nearest town that has fuel---Inyokern, Ca.
Follow the directions to a gravel road turnoff----disconnect my trailer---take water and supplies and head out.
The road turns a bit rugged but is doable if you drive carefully.

The road is labeled EP15 (El Paso mountains 15) and has occasional and reassuring markers like this.

This was Burro Schmidt's mining claim and workshop---and for 38 years he called it home,

Yours truly at the entrance to the famous tunnel.

It is like thousands of tunnels all over the west.  So why is this one so famous?  Why would they make a documentary about it?  Why would Ripley feature it in his believe it or not? There was no gold here.

I enter with 2 flashlights and my camera.  I take a selfie at about the spot where the amazing decision was made.
Very near this side tunnel for tool storage. (now locked)
It is about half a mile long,  Here I'm approaching the end.

It gets shorter and narrower here.  He was running out of enthusiasm.  I bumped my head once,
Keep in mind that he carved this tunnel largely with pick ax and hammer and hand drills.  Later he got hold of some dynamite and nearly buried himself.

Coming out the south end---this grand view of Kern dry lake.

The exit
He began digging the tunnel as a short cut to that road to avoid a harsh canyon crossing.
Bear with me and I'll tell you why this tunnel has intrigued so many--including me.
I make my way back to the entrance---pausing midway to sit in total darkness awhile to meditate and imagine the  Super willed desert spirit that once occupied this very spot---working by candlelight--heaving a heavy pickax at a literal stone wall.   I found the darkness soothing and even quoted out loud a dark poem: Invictus:  "Out of the night that covers me
                                                    black as a pit from pole to pole
                                                     I thank whatever gods may be
                                                    for my unconquerable soul...etc

As is customary--I penned my initials on those boards
And take a photo of this plaque celebrating Schmidt's determination and perseverance

RANDY EXPLAINS AND PHILOSOPHIZES: This tunnel is so famous BECAUSE IT WAS POINTLESS, Shortly after Schmit began digging his shortcut---a road was built that made the tunnel unnecessary. He now had (relatively) easy access to the smelter at Mojave.
BUT SOMETHING HAD HAPPENED INSIDE SCHMIDT'S HEAD to change his focus.  He discovered that he ENJOYED DIGGING.  THE MEANS HAD BECOME THE END.  He found it satisfying to dig a hole through a mountain.  And so he did----for 38 long years he dug and dug---working occasionally at a ranch for supplies---then hurrying back to his shack in the mountains to dig.

And then one day he broke through to the other side.  The game was over--the challenge was met--the thing was done.  He sold his tunnel and moved to town----AND BECAME FAMOUS.  No one else had ever dug a hole through a mountain---just for the joy of it.  And for the  the remaining 18 years of his life he was regaled as a minor celebrity.  He died in 1954--- is buried in Johannesburg, Ca.

So sweet people---what have we learned here?  That meaning exist in our minds --not in our projects--which may be ridiculous.  I suspect that we are all--ultimately-- DOING POINTLESS THINGS to give ourselves pulses of satisfaction. (meaning).  I typically "dig unremarkable short tunnels" and settle for small pulses of meaning---so I stand in awe of Schmit's 38 year long hole through a mountain.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014


WHEREVER ANGRY PERSONALITIES GATHER---A NEGATIVE VORTEX IS FORMED--- WITH INTERESTING CONSEQUENCES.  I happened across such a place----stayed awhile to experience it.

It's located far out this road on the way to Death Valley

On the far side of this 100 sq mile dried up lake.
Has a population of 50

I've been here several times---always too afraid to spend the night.
But this time I resolve like Thoreau: "if it should prove mean--then to get the full meanness of it."
So I settle in by an abandoned swimming pool. 
Only a block from the heart of things.

Surprisingly, It still has a post office with a very nice postmistress who gave me much local info.

I also engaged Henry--a temporary resident---doing archaeology on the dry lake.  Told me lots of ancient civilizations lived along the lake.

An old gas station has been refurbished to serve as home

to this nice family.

I also made friends with these two--ever lonesome--glad to see me.

So where is all the scary dark energy?  It's located in a few square blocks in the Northwest area where a series of walled-in fortresses have been constructed.

Walls of junk

Walls of dirt

walls of boards

old cars

walls of hodge podge
The bravest thing I did was walk this back alley between the walls. 

This is all I could see beyond the barbed wire.
An interesting assortment of homes:  In rail cars---



Don"t think anyone lives in this---but it evokes the ambient mood and shows the 15 ft bushy walls.

As does this old building---which made me think of Heartbreak Hotel---"when yo baby leaves you and you have no place to dwell---go down to the end of lonely

A political statement outside one of the fortresses.

RANDY COMMENTS:  My courage failed me here.  I was  unwilling to penetrate any fortress and hence unable to experience the personalities that live in them.  I was told that fierce hatreds exist here.  I believe the walls suggest pathological darkness of spirit.  I may be wrong.
But on the 3rd day of my visit I received a clear warning that my presence---picture taking and odd hour strolls all over town were unwelcome.  I "proved" my courage by staying another 3 hours and then left.  I think I learned here that sometimes my inquiries taper into intrusiveness--that mysterious strangers with unclear agenda are unsettling to a community.  Good lesson for me: Make my good intentions transparent.

Friday, October 17, 2014


LONE PINE CALIFORNIA IS THE MECCA OF COWBOY MOVIES----over 500 of them have been made here---for a very good reason!

I found myself a scenic free spot only a block from the center of things. I'm parked outside the estate of  Louis Statum--rich guy who invented medical stuff.
But every spot in Lone Pine has a scenic view.  This is the view from McDonalds.
One of those peaks up there is Mt Whitney---14,494 ft--highest point in the continental 48 states.

So I do the tourist thing---take a pict with a young John Wayne.
And here's a skin tight Lone Ranger and stolid Tonto.
And a gold clad Elvis.
And the most famous man in the world (for a few years) Roy Rogers.
But just outside town is the big draw---the famous Alabama Hills---miles and square miles of boulder filled backdrops ---just perfect for movie making.
(named during the civil war by local southern sympathizers to honor the amazing confederate battleship Alabama that had no equal in the Yankee Navy---boarded 450 vessels---captured or burned 65 Union ships---took more than 2000 prisoners without a single loss of life of prisoners or her own crew) Curious? read about it here.

Here's an over view hinting at the hundreds of nooks ready made for Western movies.

Festival people place movie shots at the precise spot it was filmed.  Hundreds are scattered around the area letting you relive some of your favorite scenes---if you're old enough to remember.

This classic spot was used over and over.

Fascinating to walk around--
see how movie people can utilize a spot
like this

And of course they had a parade.  Here's a Hopalong Cassidy look-alike.
And John Wayne---all American hero. 

RANDY PHILOSOPHIZES:  This area will make you feel good about the BLM. (Bureau of Land Management)  They preserve this historic scene and keep it open for free use by campers.  Movies are still made here.  Don't leave town without visiting the movie museum at the end of town and the BLM visitor center just south of town.  Also, there's an abandoned monastery within hiking distance in the mountains.

PREVIEW OF COMING STORY:  I'm on my way to a slightly dangerous situation:  I mean to penetrate the dark innards of an occupied ghost town. A town listed in the encyclopedia of forlorn places.