North Through Southern California
It was time to start my journey back north towards my home in Seattle. I
took the desert Highway 395 much of the way north through Southern California
to Nevada. On the way I detoured to explore the mining areas around Randsburg
and Johannesburg, CA.
In the El Paso Mountains is Bickel Camp, the well preserved home of an
old prospector called Walt Bickel. I met Dave Cook, one of the friendly
caretakers who live on site to protect it from vandalism. I also talked with a
modern-day gold prospector who told me about using a metal detector, where to
look, and showed me some gold nuggets he'd found.
Walt Bickel's neighbor was William Henry "Burro" Schmidt, who spent 38 years
obsessively digging a tunnel with hand tools a third of a mile through a
mountain. It was refreshing to get out of the heat and walk through the Burro Schmidt
Tunnel, thinking about the man who spent his life working inside, inching
forward a little bit a day.
Continuing north through California on 395, I crossed into Nevada on Highway
6, and spent the night camping in the mining country hills east of Hawthorne,
NV., where I could look west down over the vast Hawthorne Army Ammunition
Depot. I noticed that there was a post driven into the ground nearby with an
ancient rusty metal cigarette cases nailed to it. What would be inside, I
wondered? Some kind of note? Actually, to my amazement, there was a folded
piece of paper inside! A mining claim from 1975 had been waiting for 31 years
inside that rusty box.