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:
(thanks to Carol Maurer for the reference)


Rob said...

He did what he wanted to. Nice.

Anonymous said...

I wonder what he felt the day he broke through...

satisfaction? ....sadness? ...relief?

Glenn Morrissette said...

I bet it felt a bit like how I often feel when Randy keeps saying he's going to make his point...and then finally does. I kid. Sort of.

Wayne (Wirs) said...


Anonymous said...

Another fantastic post! And as interesting as Burro is, and, being a strong, determined woman myself, I feel that the story of Evelyn "Tonie" Seger is just as fascinating! Thank you for the hours of research and entertainment I have invested in looking up these people and their stories! Linda

Randy said...

Thank you Linda---and here's an interesting synchronicity: as I was reading your comment, I was sitting beside that fascinating lady "Tonie"--(sort of) in the Johanisberg cemetery. She and Burro Schmidt are buried side by side. Her grave is dramatically decorated with pictures and even her whole life story is inscribed. Apparently lots of people were charmed by her. Will add the picts in a separate post.

Anonymous said...

He was mining for gold as well per the Wikipedia link you provided. I owner if the tunnel was part of the gold mining or was he mining somewhere else which would have made it more impressive.

Randy said...

Anonymous: I don't know if he was mining elsewhere. There are other mines in the immediate area---sooo maybe yes. Geologist who have explored the tunnel say there are no veins showing in it.

Anonymous said...

Hi Randy,
Burro may not have found gold, but perhaps he found something more precious in his labor of love and we each have our own gold to mine in our own way. When I had the good fortune to meet you, I believe you introduced yourself a "miner of intellectual gold".
Steve from Canada