Part 2: Trona Pinnacles to Cerro Gordo Ghost Town


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The Trip

We had fun taking photos of the stars as the wind was calm and the night was cool.  Next morning, it dawned overcast and breezy.  We were within cell service from Trona so we were able to get a weather forecast for our area: cloudy with a chance of thunderstorms and possible flash flooding.  Perfect, just what was desired when you are camping in the desert.  We broke camp and headed north past Trona over the pass and into the Panamint Valley.

The Photos

The photos below are what we saw.

The overcast added flat light to an otherwise awesome scene.

The pinnacles we light painted the previous night are visible in the distance.  These are huge pinnacles.

We passed through the main pinnacle area.  In retrospect, these would have been better candidates for light painting because you can easily get close to them and they were much smaller allowing my wimpy flashlight to work better.  Maybe next time.

We traveled north into Trona and from the highway we could see some of the salt mining facilities.  The salt products are extracted from Searles dry lake and then shipped by truck and train.

The train we saw the previous evening was still being loaded.

We continued north into the Panamint Valley.  To the west of the highway was a large volcanic cinder cone on the flanks of the ridge.  Note the twisted patterns in the bedding of the rock on the right side of the photo above.

This photo tells volumes about the tortured landscape of the Death Valley area.  Layered, uplifted, twisted, faulted and then eroded, the remaining cliffs expose a wealth of history.  Note large flow-bajadas at the mouths of the canyons and in particular the light-colored flow on the left canyon.  Landslides and slumps are visible in the upper reaches of the left canyon.

Further north near Panamint Springs there were blow-sand dunes.  Note the dark volcanic ejecta on the desert floor.

We were hungry and when we passed Panamint Springs we decided to get a burger.  This is an old, historic building.  The springs are one of the only reliable water sources in the area so all travelers of old were forced to pass here.  New roads followed old trails and the springs are still here.

The bar was quaint and the bartender friendly, so we passed our time talking about Thor, our travels both past and planned.  When I mentioned that we were headed toward the Cerro Gordo Ghost Town, the waitress said "Oh, would you take a pizza to Bob? We send him pizzas all the time."  Sure, why not?  After we finished our burger, we took Bob's pizza, secured it in the camper and headed up the grade from Panamint Springs to Keeler.  Panamint is at around 1940 feet, the pass is at 5260 feet and Keeler is around 3643 feet.  But, I did not realize that Cerro Gordo was at 8500 feet.  We had some climbing to do.

We struggled up a steep grade and finally reached the Father Crowley overlook point.  We drove past the parking lot on a dirt trail to the best viewpoint and I captured the panorama above resulting in a 17MB JPEG image (reduced for display above).  Panamint dry lake is visible in the distance at the base of the Panamint range.  The blow-sand dunes are in the center of the valley toward the left edge of the valley.  The dark zones are volcanic ejecta, ash and tufa.

A closer look at the northern portion of the valley.  Note the twisted bedding and exposed cliffs on the far valley wall.  The red hills in the foreground are volcanic cinders.

Further to the south, the dry lake bed is clearly visible as are the red ash layers.

To the south, highly mineralized areas are visible on the far mountain face as is yet another volcanic cinder cone.  The dirt roads service mining exploration areas on the mountain side.

The viewpoint was on a finger that was bounded on the north by a massive, steep canyon.  The trail to the viewpoint is visible on the top of the ridge on the right.

The bounding canyon was large, steep and treacherous.

We were on a pizza delivery mission to Bob at Cerro Gordo.  But, we were not aware of how steep the road was.  Thor was in low range and I was still seeing 1200 degrees F on exhaust gas temperature.  Thor was working hard!  When we hit a flat spot, I got out to let the motor cool and got a great view of the Owens Valley and Sierra Nevada range to our west.  Weather was approaching, so we wanted to get to Cerro Gordo before it hit.  Indeed, it rained later in the afternoon.

A particularly large Joshua Tree was next to our stopping point.  Note the upturned bedding on the hillside.

Further up the grade Kathleen stuck the camera out the window to get this great shot of the Owens Valley.

We finally arrived at the top of the grade at Cerro Gordo Ghost Town.  While some of the structures were dilapidated, many others were in good shape.  Bob, the caretaker, was a busy guy.  Back in the day, Cerro Gordo produced galena (lead) and silver in large quantities.

We gave Bob "something that he wanted and something that he needed."  He wanted the pizza; he needed 20 gallons of water.  Cerro Gordo is a dry camp so all his water must be hauled in from the valley floor.  Ugh.  The road to Cerro Gordo is so steep that Bob had special low gearing installed in his truck.

This house was open, so we went inside.  It was a fully-functional house with electricity and I think Bob said it belongs to the property owners and they use it from time to time.  It was actually a pretty nice place with a ton of VCR tapes, a player and a TV as the display.

We parked in a flat area and raised the top to the camper.  The house in the rear was not open.  We ended up spending the night where we stopped.

Bob sells old artifacts found at the site as part of his "garage sale" that he uses to fund site restoration.

This is an ore bucket that was part of a cable-way that carried ore to the valley floor.  Note the large pulley at the base of the bucket.

Some of the artifacts were interesting, some less so.

This was part of the ore loading station to get the ore into the cable way for shipment down the mountain.  The balance of the loading station and steel structures were recycled during WWII.

I remember using a jack similar to the center one when I was working underground on the track crew at Magma Copper.

One of the old saws used to cut mine timbers.  Most of the trees on Cerro Gordo Peak were logged for mine timbers, firewood or building materials.

An assortment of old carbide tipped drill bits.

A jack leg drill and support assembly.

There were many mines at Cerro Gordo.  The building contains the hoist house and head frame for one of the bigger mines.  The structure in the foreground is part of the ore loading system.

From the saddle at Cerro Gordo we could see east into Saline Valley.  Bob told us we could do the road BUT the trees would prevent us from getting through.  That's a shame, perhaps we will come back in from the other direction to see how far we get.

Outside the hoist house we spotted this plaque on a large rock.

The hoist house.

Cerro Gordo is a cool place.  If you come, Bob will want a donation of some sort and we were told by the folks at Panamint Springs that the best donations are water, gasoline or firewood.  But, liquor will work as well: Bob likes Crown Royal.

Tomorrow: down the mountain to Keeler and then north on US-395.

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