**Please note: As of 5/1/17 the following protocol should be followed before planning a trip to Cerro Gordo Mine.
From-Sean Patterson of Cerro Gordo Mines.
“We encourage all of our guests to contact us via email before heading up, [email protected] We are not accommodating overnight lodging at this time. Tours are $10 for adults, and kids 5-12 are free. All proceeds go to the Cerro Gordo Historical Foundation 501(c)3, founded to preserve and improve the town site of Cerro Gordo. Our goal is to continually upgrade amenities and keep the town intact to be enjoyed and explored as a true historical site in California. When you have a chance, go check out our new website cerrogordomines.com. On the website, you will find our WAIVER. All of our guests must complete a SIGNED WAIVER upon arrival. Thank you for your help! Take care. Sean M. Patterson Cerro Gordo Mines Phone: 760.689.2443 Email: [email protected] Website: cerrogordomines.com”
We’d spent the last 3 days camping primitively in Death Valley National Park and had quite a few fairly rugged miles under our rigs and trailers, so were feeling pretty confident. We’d tackled Lippincott Road with ease, endured the washboards around The Racetrack and found our way to some very cool old mines like Lost Burro. Today our 4th day, we’d leave Saline Valley and head for Cerro Gordo Ghost Town. I’d contacted the owner via email a few weeks ago about a tour and had received a curt “The town is closed” response, but had also heard via forums that Robert the caretaker is super friendly and always happy to show you around if you just turn up unannounced. It was Thanksgiving Day, so I admit I was a little concerned about interrupting him and his wife.
We broke camp early at around 8am and were heading south along Saline Valley Road by 9am. It’s an easy road that has some washboarding but nothing like The Racetrack. The road climbs gradually up from the valley floor though Grapevine Canyon with the Nelson Range to our west. The canyon obviously has good ground water as there were Willow and Cottonwood trees growing that looked stunning with their yellow fall leaves. Almost at the top of the canyon, the road passes Hidden Valley Road, another easy trail that eventually takes you to Tea Kettle Junction at the NE end of The Racetrack.
It was already 10am by the time we reached the start of Cerro Gordo Road at Lee Flat. We’d only traveled approximately 15 miles as it was slow going hauling loaded trailers up the canyon. As the name implies, Lee Flat’s is a flat high desert area with an impressive Joshua Tree forest. Continuing through the forest we eventually reached San Lucas Canyon and headed NW between the Nelson Range and Santa Rosa Hills. After another 5 or so miles we turned west and started climbing up the Inyo Mountains. At this point there were no markers, so we were relying solely on GPS. The trail immediately became rougher and “less trail like”. At this point I started questioning the trail rating of 2 or indeed were we even on the correct trail? The GPS assured us we were. Without trailers, taking the wrong trail is rarely a problem…..with trailers, things can get interesting fast! As we continued up the “trail” I started really questioning the GPS, continually stopping and checking. At this point, Lori shouts out…”let’s stop worrying about this and go for it”…..yes, my partner in crime is way more “adventurous” than I…
Another 2 miles of slow crawling through rough terrain and through washes, we commit the ultimate mistake. Hey, why go left along the trail, when you can go right along a wash with a downed tree across it? Luckily, I realize this mistake about 100 yards in before it became too crazy! It did however mean a double 100 yard trailer reverse through a rock garden! 40 minutes later and a lot of sweat and swearing, we’re back on track…….they say it’s not a real adventure until something goes wrong.
Another few miles and an hour later we eventually break out of the rough stuff and reach the summit at 8100 ft. We’ve obviously taken the correct direction and the GPS wasn’t telling lies, but the guide books estimation of the trail rating is way off. It had been the roughest trail we’d ever taken the trailers on, but we managed it and felt great! This was why we do this stuff and will definitely give us a lot of confidence tackling more rugged trails in the future.
Over the summit we drop down into Cerro Gordo Ghost Town and we’re greeted cheerfully by Robert, the caretaker. He looks at us and says..”Did you come up from Lee Flats with trailers??”. With a quiet sense of accomplishment we acknowledge we had.
After an hour with Robert and an amazingly interesting tour (don’t forget to give Robert a little gratuity for his time and efforts in keeping this ghost town going), we start heading down the western side of the mountain towards Owen’s Valley. We’ve driven approximately 40 miles off-road over 5 hours and we’re getting tired. It had been an adventurous day where we were stretched, nervous and excited all at once….a perfect overlanding adventure. Oh, did I mention my Tacoma’s brakes over heated and failed on the way down….but that’s another story…!