If you are afraid to jump out of an airplane at high altitudes, but the risk of getting stabbed by a crackhead or dying of a heat stroke in a desolate, sandy location appeals to you, then read on, it’s time for a little rural exploration!
In 1939, a pumice deposit, now known as the Calsilco, was first worked northwest of Bonanza Gulch. The Insulpum Corporation worked this deposit in 1945. A year later the Calsilco Corporation took over operations. The pumice is worth approximately $50 to $80 a ton for use in a variety of products ranging from paint fillers and oil absorbers to toothpaste.
The photo above has little to do with urban decay, in fact I think it surpasses rural in terms of way the hell out there. It’s a picture my father took in January, 1984 of the Calsilco Mine in Last Chance Canyon, an annual camping destination of ours for several years during the late 70’s and early 80’s. He figured it was so beat up, there was a good chance that it might not be there the following year.
He was correct. All that was left of the building the following year were a few planks of heavily charred wood and a pile of metal. It was at about this time my passion for finding and exploring abandoned buildings started.
There are still plenty of other structures seemingly frozen in time in and around Last Chance Canyon. Burro Schmidt, the El Paso mountains most famous resident, set up camp shortly before he started his 38 year quest in 1906 to single-handedly bore a hole through 2,087 feet of nearby Copper Mountain. Other notable residents include Toni Segar who acted as caretaker for Burro’s “Camp” from the 1960’s until she passed away in 2003, and Walt Bickel, who started mining gold there in 1934 and ended up moving in permanently after he was discharged from the Army in 1944. The area is also significant for the nearby archaeological sites including villages, rock art, and lithic scatters.
High atop the El Paso Mountains, above Last Chance Canyon, exists today a monument to one man’s determination and perseverance. William Henry Schmidt, better known as “Burro” Schmidt, spent 38 years accomplishing the task of hand-drilling a tunnel nearly a half-mile long. ~Burro Schmidt Tunnel
If there wasn’t enough to do there during the daytime, the night sky is absolutely breathtaking out there. If you want to catch some skies for nighttime photography, free of smog and light pollution, this is the place!
While most exploration focuses on a more urban environment, there are rural gems tucked away in just about every corner of every state. California is rich with mining history in its mountains and deserts. Many of the structures that were built during the turn of the 20th century are still intact and standing due to the dry arid conditions and enough distance from civilization to keep the respectable hooligans away. Four-wheel drive is the best way to get there, and remember, the sand doesn’t care if your camera lives or dies, protect it!
Coming soon: A picture is worth…Part 2: Closer to home