New Works: Randsburg Rust- 2015

In September I had the opportunity to be in Randsburg at sunrise. A private collection of Desert remains was my subject. The morning light created additional warmth and color on these unique reminders of long ago.

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Burro Schmidt’s Tunnel- a Study in Perserverance

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Originally published in the East Kern Visions Magazine, January 2015

I was flipping through the channels the other evening, on my way to the News Hour, and I came across an episode of Huell Howser’s California Gold. It was his episode on the “California Underground”. The last half of the show was just beginning and guess who was on the agenda- Burro Schmidt and his tunnel.

I made my own trip to Burro Schmidt’s Tunnel in 2013 on a field trip with the Historical Society of the Upper Mojave Desert. Several of us did a car/truck caravan out to the location in Last Chance Canyon just this side of Red Rock Canyon State Park off of Hwy 14, (I highly recommend the HSUMD field trips, always interesting with lot’s of knowledgeable people).

Burro Schmidt, or William Henry Schmidt, was from Rhode Island. He came to California for his health, most of his family died of Consumption before the age of 30. On arriving in California he went to work for the Kern County Land Company and got interested in mining. Although he did do some mining in Copper Canyon, he began digging a tunnel in the El Paso Mountains through Copper Mountain in 1906, and this became his reason for life. He believed this tunnel would be a useful way to get ore mined in Last Chance Canyon over to Cantil and the train station on the other side of the mountains. Unfortunately it took him 32 years to complete the tunnel and by then there were faster forms of transportation. However digging this half-mile tunnel probably saved his life. He lived to the ripe old age of 81, dying just a few days before his 82nd birthday.

William got his nickname of “Burro” because his only companions were 2 burros he used for hauling supplies. He never married for fear of passing on the family disease.

During the summers he worked in the Kern River Valley on farms as a ranch hand earning money to buy the supplies he needed. In the winters he worked alone digging the tunnel with only a jack hammer, dynamite, a shovel and a single ore cart, which he pushed in and out by hand to remove the dirt and rock from the tunnel. His concern was not so much about the ore he was finding, but completing the tunnel. He lived in a small cabin he had built, insulated with magazines and newspapers, eating flapjacks and beans.

Near the end of his life, he offered the tunnel to the University of California for their studies on mineralogy, news spread and soon Schmidt was entered into “Ripley’s Believe it or Not” as the “human mole”. He eventually gave his interest in the tunnel to Mike Lee and when Mike passed on, Toni Seeger purchased the claim from the county seat, Bakersfield. She lived in a newer house next to Schmidt’s cabin. Her home was equipped with all the amenities, including pumped water from a well and power from a gas powered generator. When Toni passed on in 2004 at the age of 90, there was no longer a caretaker or guide to share the tunnel with tourists. Although I never met her I have heard numerous stories of her hospitality from others who used to visit on a regular basis. Toni is buried in the Johannesburg Cemetery and was loved by many in the mining community.

Since her passing the cabin sites have been ransacked and pretty much destroyed by those with no respect for the history of this place. The tunnel is still open and is well worth the trip. The view from the entry side is quite beautiful, Robber’s Roost, the Southern Sierras and Walker Pass. As you enter the tunnel, you will need a flashlight, as it gets dark pretty fast. It is a narrow straight run for most of the length with only a couple of side deviations. Near the other end there is a sharp turn to the right and then you are soon out on the other side of the mountain with an incredible view of Koehn Lake and Cantil in Fremont Valley, and off to the left is Hwy 395 and the Rand Mining District.

Burro Schmidt’s tunnel is really worth the trip. An amazing tribute to the power of what a focused individual can achieve.

Wildflower Photo Workshop

The Winter weather here in the Mojave is creating a lot of excitement for wildflower enthusiasts. And although Ridgecrest will not be having an official Wildflower Festival, there are many of us who are still putting some events together to celebrate the flowers. The weekend of April 10-12, 2015 is the planned celebration weekend, and I have decided to offer…

Exploring Fremont Valley, CA

This article was originally published in The Daily Independent July 10, 2014 How many people here know where Fremont Valley, California is? Raise your hands! Until last year when the latest proposal for a new solar plant and water banking endeavor came to light in Fremont Valley, I did not know. I had been driving through it on Garlock Road…

The Petroglyph Festival in Ridgecrest is Just a Week Away!

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This article was originally published
by The Daily Independent, November 5, 2014

This long-term project that began with a dream by Meris Lueck and her husband Doug, head of the Ridgecrest Convention and Visitors Bureau, is finally coming to fruition. There is a great story in the October 2014 East Kern Visions Magazine that gives you the history about how this has all come to pass, I suggest you check it out if you want to know the story.
I personally have been affected by visiting the Little Petroglyph Canyon, art made over 10,000 years ago that still exists right here in our desert, I find very exciting. It is believed that this desert has been a gathering place for centuries. Shaman from all over the Great Basin gathered here to perform their rituals and tell their stories.
The Petroglyphs in our desert are a natural fit to enhance our place as a tourist destination, and it has been developing quietly as such for years through tours sponsored by the Maturango Museum. By artists adding the symbols throughout our town, in sculptures, paintings and carvings, we not only develop a signature theme, or brand, but also increase the interest travelers will have to visit the real thing.
This Petroglyph Festival has captured interest way beyond our borders and one of the things I have also noticed is that this festival is bringing Ridgecrest together to work on something beneficial for all. The City, the County, even the Federal Governments are all working together to bring this festival about. Local businesses, artists, and non-profits are also bringing their presence, dollars and ideas, and talents to make this festival a success.
The final piece to this puzzle in creating a successful event is getting everyone you know involved. Attending the events, concerts, and Pow Wow (which is inter-tribal, more people working together!) is crucial to make this festival a success. We need you to post it and share it on Facebook, Twitter, or whatever your choice in social media is. We could use more volunteers to help with the many different jobs on the event days. If you can help with a few hours of your time, please call the RACVB at 760-375-8202.
This is an exciting opportunity for us all to work together to bring in a success. So get out and enjoy the crowds, the artwork on buildings, in the new park, and all the happenings that are being created for the benefit of us all. It’s been happening in this Valley for 10,000 years, let’s keep up the good work!

Fall Color in the Sierra Nevada

This article was originally published October 1, 2014
by The Daily Independent in Ridgecrest, CA

Also a slightly different version was published in the Scenic 395 and Beyond, 2014-15

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I used to think one had to travel all the way across the country to see the Fall season color. Then I grew up and realized that they just had a better marketing campaign then the other parts of the country!
Here in the Eastern Sierras, we have magnificent forests of aspens, oaks, and cottonwoods, all of which change color in the Fall. Then mix that with our pine forests, granite walled canyons, alpine meadows, and lakes with a background of brilliant blue skies, our Fall season is spectacular. Now is the time to get out and view it. From Mono County where the color is in full swing all the way down to the Tehachapi’s that are just beginning to turn, the HWY 395 corridor is beautiful!
There are now several websites and pages dedicated to bringing you the latest information about where the color is happening, and here are a couple of the ones to which I pay attention to help you along. You can also check in at a visitor’s center in the area you plan to travel that may have some expert advice on hiking, boating, or fishing locations, including maps and other information about all the secret sweet spots in their location. California’s Fall weather is one of our best kept secrets. So get out and enjoy the cooler temperatures and beautiful scenery before the cold and winter weather sets in. The fresh air will do you good!

It’s Cooler Among the Giants- Sequoia Redwoods


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This article was originally published July 17, 2014
by the Daily Independent, Ridgecrest, CA

Aaah, July in the desert…
Not my favorite time of the year here. It’s hot, it’s humid and downright miserable. So today I thought I would share a day trip to the Sequoia National Park’s Trail of 100 Giants up above Kernville. And hope to inspire you to get out of the desert for at least a short and much cooler respite.

I have always been inspired by the Redwoods. They are some of the oldest living beings on this planet. My first trip to the Sequoia’s was in 2011 and I keep going back over and over again.

The Western slopes of the Sierra Nevada in California at 5000 to 7000 feet elevation is the only place these trees are found; they are closely related to the Coast Redwoods which are located in Northern California, the Giant Sequoias are a little shorter with thicker trunks. They are all magnificent.

I like to leave early, before sunrise and get above our valley on Hwy 178 as the sun is coming up. This time of year the skies often have a few clouds in the air, just enough to create a dramatic sunrise over the valley. It is a wonderful way to start the trip and leaving the desert while it is still cool helps to ease you into a happy adventure.
There are 3 ways to get there from Ridgecrest, I like to go around Lake Isabella through Kernville, so I can start thinking about where I would like to stop on my way home for a treat. There are lot’s of options around Circle Park as well as antique shops and art galleries.

On leaving Kernville, you head north across the bridge, and take a left on Sierra Way which turns into Mountain 99. It is a winding narrow mountain road, so plan to take your time and enjoy the view. You will be traveling along side the Kern River, stop if you like at one of the campgrounds by the river and dip your toes in the icy cold water, but don’t get to far out, remember this can be a dangerous river, even when the water level is low as it is this year. Also along river you will pass the Kernville Trout Fish Hatchery, which you can stop and tour if you like, it is free.

Continue on across the Johnsondale Bridge, the higher up the mountain you go, the bigger the trees get and the forest gets thicker too. Watch for birds and deer and lot’s of other wildlife critters. On my latest trip, I had to stop twice for deer crossing the road.

Eventually the road changes to M-50, continue on until you get to M-90 and follow the signs to the Trail of 100 Giants. There is easy parking across the street from the trail in the day park. The cost per car is $5 and it is on your honor to put the money in the box. You can also pick up a printed guide sheet that gives you more information as you walk along the trail.

This is a wonderful park with a self guided, interpretive trail that is completely paved with easy access for wheelchairs, and strollers, and there are benches along the way, so everyone can enjoy the trip. There are also campgrounds and picnic areas. To find out more about what is available in the park here is Giant Sequoia National Monument website:

As you walk along the trails, there are informational guides that help you learn about these amazing trees, some of them over 1500 years old. The largest trees in this grove are 220 feet tall and 20 feet in diameter.  These trees have very shallow roots that spread up to 100 feet across to help support the height of these giants. Some of them have fallen in heavy winds and are laying along or across the trails. Many of them have burn marks from fires and they often grow together to form rings, almost like a fairy ring. I found it incredible to stand in the midst of 5 giants 3 of which were completely connected at the base.

So here is one more adventure that makes Ridgecrest the perfect place to live. We are so close to so many wonders of the world. Give yourself a break and get out and enjoy. Memories are made from summer days like these!