Cerro Gordo Californa

Located in the Inyo Mountains on the eastern side of Owens Valley, Cerro Gordo California is a currently a ghost town after almost 100 years in operation from 1866 to 1957.  Several buildings still survive, including the general store, assay offices and hoist house. Cerro Gordo, spanish for “Fat Hill” is located on private land and permission to visit must should be obtained.

Cerro Gordo overlooking the then full Owens Lake.
Cerro Gordo overlooking the then full Owens Lake.

The town site is currently on the ridge of the mountain range, and accessible from either the western side in Owens Valley, or from the East from the Saline Valley Road.  Founding of the site is credited to Pablo Flores who began mining near Buena Vista Peak.  Initial development of the area was hindered by Native American activity in the area.  The establishment of Fort Indepence helped “control” this activity and the amount of activity in Cerro Gordo increased.  Early efforts were primitive with most mines being open pits or trenches and smelting was done in adobe ovens.

Mortimer Belshaw
Mortimer Belshaw

The location began to develop with the foundation of the first store at Cerro Gordo by Independence businessman Victor Beaudry.  He soon acquired several claims in exchange for payment of debt at his store and soon built two smelters.  

In 1868, Mortimer Belshaw established a partnership with another stakeholder the Union Mine.  He secured financing from Los Angeles, and built the first road, a toll road known as the “Yellow Road”, which gave him a lot of control over shipments coming down the mountain.

Cerro Gordo was famously a rough and tumble town and claims that a murder a week was commonplace. Water is not available at the townsite and several attempts were made from bring the life sustaining liquid to the town. For a time, water was piped in from several springs many miles away. The springs dried up when the Owens Lake was drained by Los Angeles in the 1920’s. Water was brought up by burro and for a time it was pumped up from 600 feet down the Union Mine. The ore was delivered down hill to Keeler utilizing an aerial tramway. From Keeler, the ore was transported some 275 miles to the small port city of Los Angeles.

The townsite was place for sale and the ghost town was sold for $1.4 million dollars along with some 360 acres surrounding and 22 structures remaining. The development group which features Brent Underwood is hoping to turn the town into a destination of sorts. While undergoing renovations, the American Hotel burnt down on June 15th, 2020 along with the ice house and a nearby residence. Brent Underwood is currently living full time in the town and uploads videos about once per week on a YouTube channel.

It is clear from his videos that Mr. Underwood has a passion for the area, the town, the history and some point, I would love to pay him a visit.

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Hunter Mountain Road

Hunter Mountain Road is a lightly used moderately difficult road which delivers you to one of the most remote and beautiful parts of Death Valley National Park, California. Starting at Teakettle Junction, the twenty four mile route climbs up over 7,128 feet about sea level over a high mountain pass. 4×4 is recommended and you will encounter loose rock, sand, washes and wash boards.

Hunter Mountain Road start at Teakettle Junction in Death Valley National Park
Hunter Mountain Road start at Teakettle Junction in Death Valley National Park

Racetrack valley is one of the most remove portions of Death Valley, and Hunter Mountain Road is empty compared to it. It is likely that you will not encounter another vehicle while in this area. The route is technically not difficult, however it is possible to find deep sand in a few places. There are no services in this route, so be sure to plan accordingly. Cell phones will probably not work in the area, so you are on your own.

The trail is an excellent route to see some beautiful back county. There are many places of historical interest such as mines shafts and mining camps. This is an excellent area for nature lovers, bird watching and just a great scenic drive.

The Lost Burrow Mine is located off Hunter Mountain Road in Death Valley National Park, CA
The Lost Burrow Mine is located off Hunter Mountain Road in Death Valley National Park, CA

From the Hunter Mountain trail, you can visit other fun destinations to explore, including:

A sorting screen at the Calmet Mine in the Goldbelt Springs Mining District, Death Valley National Park, California
A sorting screen at the Calmet Mine in the Goldbelt Springs Mining District, Death Valley National Park, California

Our last trip to up the trail was cut short by thunderstorms. We did an overnight at Home Stake Dry Camp and watched lightening strikes all night. When we drove the trail, it was a bit muddy and the sand was saturated with water. We had no issues from the overnight showers, but when it started to rain on us again at Goldbelt Springs, we opted to be cautious and turned around. I really would like to spend more time exploring this area.

I need a Go Pro…

Trail Summary

NameHunter Mountain Road
LocationDeath Valley National Park
Distance24.7 miles
DifficultyEasy to Moderate

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Goldbelt Springs

A discovery by the famous prospector “Shorty Harris“, led to the founding on the Goldbelt Springs mining district off Hunter Mountain Road in Death Valley National Park, California. The earliest known occupants of this area were a seven member family Saline Valley Panamint Indians who, despite the higher elevation, would winter in the area.

A sorting screen at the Calmet Mine in the Goldbelt Springs Mining District, Death Valley National Park, California
A sorting screen at the Calmet Mine in the Goldbelt Springs Mining District, Death Valley National Park, California

Gold was discovered in the area, just a few miles away by Frank “Shorty” Harris in the later half of 1904. Following “Shorty”, miners migrated into the area utilizing a route from Ubehebe via Willow Springs. Soon, small claims were staked out on the northwest slope of Hunter Mountain. Harris, L.P. McGarry, E.G. Padgett (Pegot or Paggett), Joseph Simpson, and W.D. Frey were among the first credited with strikes. In January, 1902 the Gold Belt Mining District was established and recorded.

A sign clearly marks the Calmet Mine
A sign clearly marks the Calmet Mine

Initially the site looked good for mining development. There was a water source and fuel to facilitate mining operations. High grade gold ore with small silver veins was discovered on four foot ledges prompted optimism in the sight. The ore was assayed at $8 – $176 or $38 to $240 in gold depending upon the source. On this news, plans for a town were starting to be developed.

A completely flattened structure at Goldbelt Springs, Death Valley, California
A completely flattened structure at Goldbelt Springs, Death Valley, California

In February of 1905, enough capital was available from investors from San Francisco to allowed expanded exploration of the area. Not much is available of this exploration, however by the fall of 1905 and exploration was abandoned. It could be inferred that the ore quantity and quality was not sufficient to justify the expense to those investors.

Regardless, smaller operations continued in the area of Goldbelt Sprints, from 1905 to 1910 including operations by Annetta Rittenhouse of Los Angeles, H.W. Eichbaum of Venice, L.P. McGarry of Pioneer, and W.S. Ball of Rhyolite.

More Ruins near the old mining camp
More Ruins near the old mining camp

In 1916, “Shorty” Harris again road into the area near Hunter Mountain. World War I had increased the price of tungsten. Harris pulling from his previous exploration probably knew of the mineral, and soon found a tungsten mine. By March, he had produce several hundred pounds of tungsten ore worth some $1500.00.

An abandoned truck silently waits for its owner to return in Goldbelt Springs.
An abandoned truck silently waits for its owner to return in Goldbelt Springs.

Throughout the 1940s and 1960’s various small operations were mining the area. This would include mines called Calmet and also nearby Quackenbush. The site today has smaller ruins. A truck and mine are still visible and an ore sorting platform is standing at the Calmet location. The wooden structures are completely flattened by time and the elements.

An old mine tunnel
An old mine tunnel

Mine Summary

NameGoldbelt Springs
LocationHunter Mountain, Death Valley National Park, California
Latitude, Longitude
ProductionGold, Silver, Copper, Tungsten, Talc
Year Productive1904 –
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Teakettle Junction

Located at the intersection of Hunter Mountain Road and Race Track Valley Road, Teakettle Junction is a unique point of interest in Death Valley National Park, California.

Teakettle Junction at the intersection of Hunter Mountain Road and Race Track Valley Road, Death Valley National Park, California
Teakettle Junction at the intersection of Hunter Mountain Road and Race Track Valley Road, Death Valley National Park, California

Aside from the mile post at the intersection, the only thing which causes you to take note is the odd tradition of hanging teakettles from the sign. Typically, teakettles are decorated with fun messages and greeting along with the date of their trip. Our family participated in this tradition and it was a big hit with my son. The National Park Service will periodically remove the teakettles, where, I am sure the send them to the National Archives.

Ryan and I hanging our teakettle at the sign.
Ryan and I hanging our teakettle at the sign.

The origin of the tradition and name of the site is not completely known. There are rumor’s around that it could be so named because the roads in the area will bounce you around like a teakettle.

The site is located about 21 miles from Ubehebe Crater and offers access to Hunter Mountain Road, Racetrack Valley, Lippincott Mine Road and Saline Valley beyond.

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Ubehebe Crater

Ubehebe Crater is a volcanic crater located near Grapevine Canyon in Death Valley National Park in California. The crater is approximately 600 deep and one half mile across and a popular spot for visitors in the park. The crater is created by a Maar Volcano, which is a shallow volcano caused when groundwater comes in contact with volcanic magma.

Ubehebe Crater, Death Valley National Park, California
Ubehebe Crater, Death Valley National Park, California

The crater was originally known as “Tem-pin-tta- Wo’sah” from the Timbisha Shoshone Indian phrase for Coyote’s Basket. At some point, the crater was renamed to “Ubehebe” which is the name of a near by mountain and comes from the Paiute Indian name for “Big Basket”. Regardless of the name, the crater does remind one of a basket in the earth.

A Panorama looking from Ubehebe Crater overlooking the cinder fields, Death Valley National Park
A Panorama looking from Ubehebe Crater overlooking the cinder fields, Death Valley National Park

The road into Ubehebe serves as the starting points to the Race Track Valley Road, Teakettle Junction and Hunter Mountain Road.

Hiking

There are a few separate hiking opportunities while exploring the crater.

The crater rim trail, which is about 1.5 miles long, circumnavigates the crater and allows access to Little Hebe crater. The trail has some slight elevation gain, however could be more difficult to hikes with balance issue due to the unstable soil.

There is also a trail down the the bottom of the crater. This is a short trail and very easy going down. The difficulty is hiking back up the 600 feet elevation lost on the way down, in loose volcanic soil.

Ubehebe Crater Trail Map

References