Tuesday, October 28, 2014


JOHANNESBURG, RANDSBURG, RED MOUNTAIN---- A trinity of ghost towns---within a mile of each other---triangulated around a single mountain.

I plan to visit all three tomorrow.  Tonight I settle into the cool mountain pass and climb the adjacent mountain.  (pleased that I can still climb a mountain)  I look down and see that I have a visitor---a cop.
So I take a quick shot of Red Mountain

and 180 degrees to the left is Johannesburg.
I go down the mountain.  The Cop turns out to be a very nice guy who knows how to deal with a citizen.  Tells me he's investigating a report of gunshots. (I didn't believe him--but he needs a cover story to investigate) I use the opportunity learn about his work.  When the backup arrived, he was no doubt surprised to see us shaking hands) 

I've come to find the grave of "Burro" Schmidt.
Johannesburg cemetery  apparently serves all three of the towns.
I prepare myself for a long search---but this grave immediately catches my eye.

It turns out to be that of Toni Seger, the lady who bought Burro Schmidt's tunnel and house.  And guess what?  Burro is buried in the next grave over.
Toni's grave is a masterwork of memorialization.  But I seriously doubt if those dates are correct.  Did she really live to be 106 years old?
A brief history of her life is etched in stone. One interesting incident is recorded---her wishes to be removed from her cabin FEET FIRST.
And this group of people apparently paid for this interesting artistry.  I think all graves should show a little imagination and some detail like this one.
I wonder if living alone in the desert makes it more likely you will become eccentric.

I moved on to Red Mountain---one mile away.  Met this interesting guy en route
A cross country biker who has just pedaled a very long way across the desert-- against the wind.
Behind him you can see the red mountain the town is named for. 
I show you just one shot of Red Mountain---a vast junkyard with not a drop of civic price.  I count it as a minimal place to BE.
So, I moved on to Randsburg --a thriving ghost town that gets a lot of attention from tourist and off road riders.
It makes a effort to preserve its character.
I stayed the night right where I was.  (Watched my Alma Mater, LSU defeat Old Miss---the nation's number 2 ranked team)
Took an early morning walk all around town.
Something was happening a block away.
They were making a movie.  Look for it at your local theater.  Title:  "TICKETED"
Don't know his name---but he was putting his heart into the role.

RANDY PHILOSOPHIZES:  Dear God (or whomever) I love this freedom to drift around--with a full "set of stuff" (comforts and connections) ---doing whatever appeals to me. You probably could do it too---if you wanted.  
Next, I think I will share with you a bizarre encounter I had yesterday with an old lover.
And I'm very curious about this mysterious clump of thriving trees I spotted from the exit of Burro's tunnel-- out in the middle of a vast desert.  I'm going to find a way out there to see what's in them

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 the custom here--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.

UPDATE:  Here's another story about a super willed man and his digging: http://www.goodnewsnetwork.org/man-single-handedly-carved-road-mountain/
(thanks to Carol Maurer for the reference)

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 street...to.....

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.