Part 3: Cerro Gordo to White Mountains


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The Trip

We spent the night at Cerro Gordo mine and ghost town and learned some interesting facts.  Cerro Gordo was discovered my Mexican miners in 1865 and during it's operation produced $17M worth of silver, lead and zinc.  The steep access roads to the mine sites (there were multiple claims) were constructed by Chinese coolies.  Cerro Gordo, during it's heyday, had it's own China Town, complete with opium den.  Supplies were brought in via mule train and ore was shipped out via an aerial tram way as well as by mule train.  Most of the tram was salvaged after the minerals played out, but some of the cable ways are still visible.  The current property that we camped on has passed hands many times, finally resting with an individual who has no interest in developing the property.  So, Bob lives on site as the care taker and resident historian (and pizza eater).

The Photos

The photos below are what we saw.

We slept good and the sun was shining when we got up.  We had coffee sitting in our camp chairs and took in the surroundings.  The morning light illuminated the Owens Valley to the west with rain squalls pelting the upper valleys.  The building on the left is the Cerro Gordo hotel.

We went into the hotel and found a huge oven that was used 24 hours a day during Cerro Gordo's heyday.  The stove took several hours to come to temperature so the easiest thing was to keep it going all the time.  Plus, Cerro Gordo mines had two shifts and after 12 hours underground, miners have a tendency to be a bit hungry.

The large building is the bunk house.  The small building just to the right is an outhouse and the next bigger building is the shower house.

Bob did not tell us what this building was, but from the gabled roof, one would suspect it was a church of some kind.

The mine dump railway is visible on the skyline.  The building in the foreground now serves as the Cerro Gordo museum.

Just down the hill was a chimney of one of the smelters at Cerro Gordo.

Happy Birthday Thor!  He just turned 100K (kilometers).  He had 30K when I bought him in 2010 and rescued him from sitting in a dusty yard in La Junta, CO.  Thor's story and construction details can be found on this web page.

The road to Cerro Gordo is very steep.  Going down, I was over-revving the motor in 3rd gear low range so I had to gear down AND use the exhaust brake.  The cliff-hanging trail gave us an awesome view of the Owens Valley.  Note the rain squall on the far side of the valley.  We would experience rain off and on all day.

The Cerro Gordo peak area is riddled with old mining infrastructure.  The wooden chute was used to load ore.  The mountain is peppered with tunnels and shafts.  The excavation from several tunnels can be seen toward the upper right of the photo above.

As we got further down the grade we had a clear view of an impressive road on the other side of the valley.  I am guessing the road is quite scary and the consequences of a mistake fatal.

The squall to the northeast increased in intensity.  The rain sheets are clearly visible.

We hit a switchback that gave us a clear view to the southwest over the dry Owens lake bed.

We passed plenty of mining infrastructure that was abandoned.  Note the tower on the skyline at the upper left of the photo above -- it was part of the aerial tram used to deliver ore to the bottom of the mountain.

In the distance, some of the tram towers were visible.

A zoom shot reveals that these towers remain, complete with cable.  The tram chose "the best path" and the more recent power lines followed the historical choice.

Note the cables that drape over the top of the wooden ore chutes.

Further down the canyon, the cables were now laying on the rock faces.  The towers had collapsed or were scavenged.

The cables were visible on the skyline.

Lower in the canyon, the cables were still in place and went to a large cable supporting structure visible on the right.

Lower still, we passed a side canyon that had an ore car still hanging.  The lower cable (hanging) was used to power the buckets on the way up, and slow them on the way down.  Bob told us that a fellow flew a drone over that bucket and photographed it.  He analyzed the photo and claimed that the bucket still has ore in it!

I can only imagine the power required to take a strain on the 1" cable used for the tram.  I wonder how they got the massive cable up the mountain.   It was spliced, for sure, but even so, the segments would have been very, very heavy.

Near the exit to the canyon we passed these vertical beds that are a testament to the intense geologic forces that made these mountains.

We exited the dirt road and traveled to US-395 and then north.  At Manzanar, we decided to check out the exhibits of the old Japanese internment camp.  From the parking lot we got an awesome view of the still snow-covered Sierra Nevada to our west.  Manzanar is an interesting study in politically correct apologetic revisionist history. 

The face of the mountains must have been a daunting sight for early travelers attempting to cross the rage to get to the 1849 gold fields.

To the east, the Inyo Mountains had colorful bands of highly mineralized ridges.

The monument at the Manzanar cemetery was an impressive sight with the massive peaks of the Sierra Nevada in the background.

Further north outside of Lone Pine, the weather degraded giving us intermittent rain.

We headed east into the White Mountains with the expectation of seeing the Bristlecone Pine grove, but were overtaken by the clock.  The road was very steep and Thor was maxed-out at 25mph.  We rolled into Grand View campground and despite the overcast, got a grand view of the Owens Valley to the west.

We ended up doing two laps of the campground looking for a site that was acceptably level.  We chose the best one we could find, but still had to block the wheels to get the living quarters reasonably level.  The rain found us shortly after we parked.

Cerro Gordo is worth the effort of a visit.  The caretaker, Bob, will want a donation and something functional like water, fuel, firewood or Crown Royal would be preferred to money.  Bob has a long drive to deal with cash, but other items are immediately usefuly.

Next, a speed run to Reno.  I wish that we had planned for 2 more days, but we did not.  So, we have a 250 mile day tomorrow.  This seems trivial in a real car, but in Thor, in the mountains, with steep grades and tight turns, it will be a full day.

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