Monday, March 11, 2013

Tunnel Vision - Burro Schmidt

Another Monday has rolled around, with more than 1100 miles covered from  the previous Tuesday to Friday. The main purpose of my from-Bay-Area-to-Joshua-Tree-and-back trip was to give a talk to the “Ridge Writers” section of California Writers Club in Ridgecrest and also to chat with a Ridgecrest book group. Great groups of folks, in both cases (and yummy tea and scones for the book club meet). There were also some lovely surprises along the way, including a “guided tour” of the Burro Schmidt Tunnel, by local Ridgecrest historian Alan Alpers.

Burro Schmidt by his cabin, sans burros. Postcard/photo from Historical Society of the Upper Mojave Desert, Ridgecrest, CA.
As you can probably tell from the name of the place, Burro Schmidt Tunnel is a piece of the “Old West.” William Henry (“Burro”) Schmidt dug this tunnel, hand-drilling all the way, for 32 years. He was 36 when he started, and 68 when he finished.

So just what was Burro Schmidt up to, anyway? Was he in search of gold and silver, hoping to get rich? Did he just plain enjoy the tunnel-making process—drilling, dynamiting, and mucking and so on? According to a website that talks about his life and this, his tunneling accomplishment, it says: “His intention early on was to provide easy transportation to the railroad for his ore, as no roads through to the other side's valley and railroad then existed.” But if that’s the case, why did his tunnel come to a T, shortly before punching through the mountain on the other side, and branch left and then branch right?

To my mind, it’s a mystery.

I wonder about Burro Schmidt: Who he was, and what drove him to make this tunnel. We cannot ask him, we can only guess and ponder, as Schmidt died in 1953, a few days short of his 82nd birthday.

I’d muse some more here, but one of the things I brought home from the trip was a nasty virus, and between the chills and fevers, I don’t think I can write a heck of a lot more.

For more about Burro Schmidt, his life, and his activities, check out

As for the rest, I’ll let the pictures tell the story…
Here's to Burro Schmidt... a man of determination and persistence! Photo: Bill McConachie
Tunnel entrance, with (left to right) Alan Alpers, Bill McConachie, and moi. Photo: Donna McCrohan Rosenthal.
Donna McCrohan Rosenthal at the exit to the tunnel. And what do we see...??? amazing view of wide-open spaces! But... how was Burro Schmidt planning to reach the railroad, which is waaaay below and to the left?

In the tunnel, looking back to the entrance. Remember: Burro Schmidt did all this solo (well, with the help of two burros), BY HAND. Photo: Bill McConachie


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