I’ve been meaning to visit Cerro Gordo for a long time and it was with great excitement that we turned up the dreaded road on Saturday afternoon. I have heard that the road condition is anywhere from an easy Sunday drive to a 4WD nightmare. Truthfully, the answer lies somewhere in between, depending on the time of year, the type of vehicle you drive, and your experience driving on steep and narrow mountain roads. In our Trailblazer, we made it up the nicely graded but steep and occasionally very narrow 7-ish miles in less than 30 minutes, including a few stops for photos. Compared to many other roads we’ve been on it was quite an easy drive, but someone who has never driven in the mountains or on dirt could very easily classify it as a nightmare.
With the road condition report out of the way…what’s so cool about this place? Cerro Gordo (‘Fat Hill’ in Spanish) is the ghost of a once busy silver mine. Still private property, there are caretakers that live on-premise, still work the mines, do upkeep and maintenance, and watch over the remains of the town. For a quite reasonable donation, you can wander through the ghost town and even see inside some of the remaining buildings like the fascinating step into history that is the American Hotel. Please be aware that this area is still private property, and it is best to call ahead if you plan on stopping by.
While experiencing a semi-operational ghost town was enlightening and fun, I think my favorite part of the visit was the view across the dry Owens Lake to the southern Sierra. It was a beautifully clear day and I could identify all of the peaks across the way, including Mount Whitney. Imagine waking up with that view from your front porch! I’m tempted to run away and become a Cerro Gordo prospector for that very reason.
If you visit
Cerro Gordo is at 9000 feet in the Inyo Mountains and subject to snow and other forces of nature. Although my road report was accurate for November 21, 2009, conditions can change rapidly on this terrain and by tomorrow it could be washed out or snowed in. For general information and a phone number visit the Cerro Gordo Website.
As a final note, it was heartening to meet ‘Mr D’, the current caretaker, who clearly loves Cerro Gordo and is very protective of the area. The long time owner and caretaker passed away earlier this year, and the fate of this historic place was unknown. Although things aren’t completely settled, the land is still privately owned and should be treated as such. Please treat the owners, caretakers, and history with the respect they deserve. I feel compelled to say this after seeing the destruction at non-cared for ghost towns, and hearing stories of people vandalizing and stealing from the remains of Cerro Gordo. It all boils down to a simple request: don’t be a jerk.
U2’s Joshua Tree
After leaving Cerro Gordo we headed towards Death Valley and made a quick stop by the remains of U2’s Joshua Tree. It fell down years ago, but there is a nice plaque and touching logbook at the location. Photos from the U2 tree are at the end of the Cerro Gordo album.