Burro Schmidt Tunnel & Camp
Burro Schmidt Tunnel & Camp
The Burro Schmidt Tunnel and camp is located in the El Paso Mountains between Red Rock Canyon and Ridgecrest, CA. From Mojave take Highway 14 North toward Ridgecrest. Once you are near the Isabella Walker Pass look for a small brown sign for the Burro Schmidt Tunnel. Turn down the dirt road, from this point the tunnel is about 8 miles.
Burro Schmidt came to California in 1894 with the hopes and dreams of most other people making their way out west, and that was to strike gold. He prospected for a couple of years around Kern County before staking his claim in the El Paso Mountains in 1906.
The problem he faced was moving the ore out of the mountains. Burro Schmidt spent 32 years digging a tunnel .8 miles long through twenty-five hundred feet of granite to facilitate the shipment of ore from his mine. Fourteen years after beginning his tunnel a road was built up Last Chance Canyon, which would render his tunnel pointless, but that didn’t stop Schmidt as he had become obsessed with completing the task.
In 1938 Schmidt would complete the tunnel, but he never moved a single ounce of ore through it. Upon completion he sold off his land to another prospector by the name of Mike Lee and moved off to another location in the El Paso Mountains. Burro Schmidt died in January of 1954 at the age of 83, he is buried in the Johannesburg Cemetery.
Mike Lee’s time in the area is not well documented. After Mike Lee’s death, Evelyn (Tonie) Ann Seger and her husband purchased Burro Schmidt Tunnel and the 800 acres surrounding it from the Mike Lee Estate in 1963. At the time they didn’t realize that they had purchased a historic location. They moved to the location, and within a few short months Tonie’s husband passed away. Tonie decided to stay at the location after her husband’s passing and ran a museum and antique shop out of the old Burro Schmidt house. She welcomed visitors to the tunnel, and gave tours. Tonie died in her cabin on May 30, 2003. She is buried at the Randsburg cemetery.
After Tonie passed the land was to be passed down to her daughter and David Ayers (whom helped look after Tonie during her last years). The Bureau of Land Management however had something else in mind and declared that Tonie, Mike Lee and even Burro Schmidt had actually been trespassing on federally owned property and that all sales had been illegal, the only rights Burro Schmidt had ever were mineral.
From this time forward the BLM has poorly managed the Tunnel and the surrounding area. The museum has had much of the items stolen from it, the camp buildings as well as the tunnel have been vandalized. Today the buildings are barbed wire fenced in, and not accessible to the public. The tunnel walls are marked with graffiti. You can still walk through from one side of the tunnel to the other, be sure to bring a flash light or two.
I revisited Burro Schmidt tunnel in June of 2012. To view those images click here.