South and East of Ridgecrest

Rademacher Hills south of Ridgecrest above Cerro Coso College

Head toward the hills on any number of roads – Downs, College Heights Blvd, Sunland, Richmond, etc.

There are trails on the ridge east of the college; there are many, many roads and some motorcycle trails all through the hills, but it’s a “limited use area” – wheeled vehicles must stay on existing roads.  There are plenty! Some dead end in canyons, some go to the top of the ridge and east, south, and west from there.  It’s easy to get lost up there! Mountain biking paradise! Watch for horses as the locals often do endurance rides up there. No facilities, no camping, no water, no shade.  Sometimes cells phones work when you can see Ridgecrest…

BLM Wild Horse and Burro facility

east on Hwy 178 – right turn right at the top of the hill above town at the sign .2 mi;  there is a dirt road around the corrals; horses seem to be on the east side, burros on the west side.

The government has decided that there are too many non-native wild mustangs and burros, all left over from mining days 100 years ago, roaming BLM lands.  They are eating forage that the native animals, particularly mountain sheep, would be eating, and they foul up water holes that are needed by quail and tortoises.  So several times a year BLM folks, often with helicopters, round up stray burros and horses and bring them to this facility.  Your tax dollars pay for the round up, and then the feeding of these animals.  They are all available for adoption!  If you see a furry friend you’d like to take home with you, talk to the folks at the Fire Station.  There is a fee and some regulations, but these animals all tame down well and make great pets!  Take a bag of carrots up there and make some new friends.  They’re quite used to humans now.

Wagon Wheel and Spangler Hills Open OHV Area

East on Hwy 178 to the “Trona-Red Mountain Road” in Salt Wells – go uphill until you see the open OHV area and Wagon Wheel boulder fields.  Primitive camping allowed, all types of wheeled vehicles allowed. No water, one pit toilet, no shade, no trash pickup – take your own with you!

Garlock, Mesquite Canyon, Burro Schmidt’s Tunnel, Bullion Trail, etc.:

*south on 395, west on the “Garlock cutoff” to Garlock. To reach Burro Schmidt’s tunnel, head west from Garlock about 2 miles and look for a marked white barrel where you turn right. Follow “EP 100” signs. The road to the tunnel turns south at the sign.  A trip up into the hills brings you to Burro Schmidt’s tunnel. Miner Schmidt hand dug a ½ mile-long tunnel right through the mountain – the view south into the Fremont Valley and Koehn dry lake is spectacular!! Usually you can do this with 2wd high clearance and good tires but be sure to stay on roads marked EP 100.  The washes have deep sand which require 4x4, but you shouldn’t be getting into washes to get to the tunnel.  Take a flashlight.  The tunnel is solid and quite safe to walk through.  Unfortunately the interesting people who used to live there are there no more, and the quaint little cabin is not in good shape.

A side trip to Bickel Camp is in order if you have high clearance and 4x4 is needed due to soft sand in the washes. Check their website, and BLM maps for directions. It’s a wonderful collection of innovative machines and mining tools, a unique home – just an interesting place of a real gold miner!

You can access Bickel Camp and the Holly Ash mines from Hwy 14 as well – watch carefully for the signs to Burro Schmidt’s Tunnel, turn east, and then be careful to not get into trouble on those remote roads!  These and Last Chance Canyon are now in Red Rock Canyon State Park.

Other roads in the hills can get quite rough. BLM is developing a series of interpretive signs and road numbers to connect various of the mining camps in the El Pasos and neighborhood – go get a map so you know what roads to take. Ask them which require 4x4!!

Garlock was the headquarters for miners in the Rand District and the hills behind Garlock for quite some time because there was good water nearby at the Tamarisk trees. When water was piped to Randsburg from the “steam wells” NE of Red Mountain, the buildings and people of Garlock just moved up the hill! A few interesting buildings remain, but some of the land is private property – respect the fences!! A historical marker tells interesting tales of this little town.

Unfortunately the school is falling down, and the ex-brothel is being torn apart by vandals and the weather.

Ask BLM office in Ridgecrest about the “Bullion Trail” project they are working on to sign and connect some of the interesting mining claims and sites in the El Paso mountains. They have maps and directions. Some requires 4x4, most not, just high clearance.
No facilities, no water, no gas, no shade.

Randsburg/Rand Mining District:

*south on Hwy 395 about 20 miles, turn right one mile to the town of Randsburg

 Recently celebrated the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Rand Mining District, Randsburg hasn’t changed much. Old buildings along the main street are full of charm and interesting things, antiques, even an old marble saloon bar and soda fountain in the General Store. Some of these buildings were moved up the hill long ago from Garlock when gold was discovered in the Yellow Aster. The mine has always been a rich source of gold but it has been shut down because it’s just too expensive to remove the overburden.  There’s still a lot of gold there!  The Museum is open on weekends and has a fine collection of mining era relics and photos. Visit the 5 stamp mill behind the building and picnic area. The nearby communities of Johannesburg and Red Mountain are of the same vintage. Interesting stores, bars, hotels are still standing. Both limited strip mining and underground mining take place today in the area.

Johannesburg grew up as a townsite to support the mining, and the Randsburg Railroad from Kramer Junction ended here.  Drive uphill and visit the interesting cemetery near the King Mine.

Red Mountain also has a colorful past history with the Kelley Silver mine and many other mines, some still active today.  Red Mountain is in San Bernardino County, Randsburg in Kern County – and they were connected by tunnels – when the Sheriff came, illicit activities and folks just went to the other county, underground!! 🙂

Atolia Mining District has tungsten which was much needed during WWII.  There are still some relics of the mining era here, but all the property is private, including the huge head frame west of Hwy 395 which was set on fire in 2014.

Be careful when you explore!! Respect private area signs. The Kelly Mine area and all of Atolia tungsten mine areas are private and the new owners really don’t want you there at all. Beware open mine shafts!!

Trona Pinnacles Natural Landmark:

*east on Hwy 178 about 20 miles, south on signed dirt road 5 miles: caution – don’t go if it has just rained!! The whole place turns to a quagmire!!

 These strange formations are actually tufa towers just like those of Mono Lake, only these are bigger and thicker. Tufa forms underwater from a reaction of a fresh water calcium-laden spring coming up from earthquake faults  (the end of the Garlock fault system) and mixing with the carbonates of the Pleistocene lake waters with the help of precipitating blue-green algae. As you drive out to the towers, note the “bathtub rings” all around the valley from the ancient Searles Lake which was over 600 feet deep as the glaciers melted from the last “ice age” in the Sierra, some 25,000 years ago. This is when the tufa formed. The 500 strange calcium carbonate towers are quite delicate, some 140 feet tall – please don’t climb on them!! They can’t be replaced. The whole area is open for exploration – just don’t get stuck. Better to walk around than to drive… Take pictures at low light, dawn or dusk. Movie companies use the area a lot!! Star Trek has filmed here several times.  A bunch of recent vehicle advertisements have been filmed there!
one pit toilet, no water, no shade.

Trona/Searles Lake:

*east on Hwy 178 about 25 miles; elev 1659 ft.

  Searles Valley Chemical Company is the main presence in this conglomeration of West End, Argus, Trona and Pioneer Point. Once a year in October, usually Columbus Day weekend, the Searles Valley Gem and Mineral Society holds their annual show with lake tours for hanksite crystals, and the plant is open to tours. The Trona Historical Society has a small museum open on weekends. Searles Lake is partly owned by SVC and partly by BLM. It is incredibly rich in many minerals which were deposited over the eons by continual erosion and deposition from the mountains. Borax and related chemicals are extracted from the mile-deep sediments. The lake brine is mixed with carbon dioxide at the Argus plant and soda ash is produced. It is used extensively in the production of glassware. The Trona plant boils the brine to extract potash, used in fertilizers, and borax products. The Westend plant produces boric acid and other sodium sulfate products. These products are shipped all over the world by way of daily trucks and the Trona railroad. The huge coal-fired cogeneration plant produces steam for the plants but also a whole lot of electricity to add to “the grid.”
Gas (sometimes), stores, restaurants, rest stop with nice bathrooms.   A history of the activities in the Searles Valley, mineral explorations, etc.

On your way there – the white mud hills in Poison Canyon near “fish rocks” have Pleistocene fossil snails and clams in them from when this whole area was underwater during the last ice ages. They’re small, 5-8 mm, white, fragile, but 20,000 years old! Stop and have a look!!

Hwy 178 ends at the Pinnacles road officially, but the road continues through Trona, over the Slate Range and into Panamint Valley and on to Death Valley, Panamint Springs Resort, Hwy 190 – Olancha to Death Valley, Darwin Falls,  etc.

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