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SCVNews.com | Opinion/Commentary: Tunnel to Nowhere | 06-16-2016
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Commentary by Linda A. Castro
| Thursday, Jun 16, 2016
burroschmidt03

LindaCastroThere is an odd and mysterious tunnel in the Mojave Desert, specifically in the El Paso Mountains east of Highway 14 and north of the Redrock-Randsburg Road.

The tunnel cuts through about a half-mile of solid granite and does not lead anywhere. It merely emerges on a high ledge in the middle of nowhere.

This tunnel stands as a monument to one man’s perseverance, grit, and perhaps bizarre obsession.

It is believed that William Henry Schmidt, better known as “Burro” Schmidt, began building this tunnel so he could provide transportation to the railroad for his ore more easily. He had chosen to mine for gold in a mountain that required him to use a treacherous trail to haul ore to the smelter.

He decided to bore through the mountain instead.

Some accounts are that Schmidt began digging his tunnel in 1902, while others say it was as late as 1906. It is believed he was about 36 when he began digging the tunnel and about 68 when he finished. Depending on which account is accurate, Schmidt spent anywhere from 32 to 38 years accomplishing the task of single-handedly drilling a tunnel nearly half a mile long.

What is even more amazing is that the only tools he used were picks, hammers, hand drills and dynamite. He could not afford kerosene and instead used candles; he would make one candle last an entire day.

burroschmidt01On many occasions, he was seriously injured by his dynamite explosions while digging the tunnel because he refused to pay for long fuses which were more expensive. This earned him the name of “Jackass Schmidt” by some of the locals – which led him to take on the name of “Burro” later in life.

Schmidt removed rubble from the tunnel with a wheelbarrow and even carried it out on his back. Eventually, he installed iron tracks and a mine cart to transport debris. His leveling method was a bowl of water on the ore cart track he put down.

Today the tunnel is dead straight for 2,000 feet, with a sharp turn at the end that exists above Koehn Dry Lake and the town of Cantil.

Despite the construction of a road in 1920 that eliminated the need for his tunnel, he continued to dig. No one knows if he ever struck gold, but when he finally reached the other side of the mountain and reached daylight in 1938, he simply walked away from his life’s work. He packed up and left the mountain and lived the last part of his life in nearby Ridgecrest.

burroschmidt02Was Schmidt crazy? Many people thought so, since Schmidt claimed to be obsessed and unable to stop until the job was done. However, many believe he was following a substantial vein of gold through the mountain.

If you visit the tunnel today, you can walk upright through the entire tunnel in about 30 minutes. You will see a memorial plaque to Schmidt and will be treated to a spectacular view at the end of the tunnel.

Burro Schmidt Tunnel can be accessed by a dirt road (EP15) that is best driven with a high-clearance 4×4 vehicle. Signage for the tunnel is minimal and can often be missed. For example, the makeshift sign on Highway 14 is low to the ground and does not resemble an official Bureau of Land Management sign. There is, however, an official BLM route sign that marks EP15 at its juncture with Highway 14.

 

 

Linda Castro is a nature enthusiast and animal lover.  She is the Desert Field Organizer for the California Wilderness Coalition and serves on the board of the SCV-based Community Hiking Club.  Her commentaries relate to California’s deserts.

 

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61 Comments

  1. Kevin says:

    There’s definitely gold there. My brother and I walked through the tunnel 10 years ago and found gold on the ceiling just by shining a flashlight on it. Maybe someday we’ll find out how much gold the old man found.

  2. Brian says:

    GPS coordinates to the sign/turnoff would be tremendously helpful…

  3. Definitely worth a trip to see, take a flashlight though!

  4. Keith Wilson says:

    Went through the tunnel 35 years ago…there was a small building in front with pictures and artifacts there was a lady that would answer your questions along with a guest book you could sign.

  5. Justin Gomez Justin Gomez says:

    “El Chapo’? maybe ?

  6. Roger Rompal Roger Rompal says:

    Is that burro Schmidt tunnel

  7. Nick Pavelka Nick Pavelka says:

    Great place to stop with your dirtbike out there .I’ve talk to the lady before she passed away

  8. The Trona Railway runs near there and had a tunnel that closed due to a fire in the early 80s. Could be related.

  9. Johnny Vm Johnny Vm says:

    Jessica Razo lets go here

  10. Terry Is this the one we went through?

  11. Dan Seeder Dan Seeder says:

    Yes. Burro Schmidt tunnel.

  12. Do the rails run the whole way through??

  13. James King James King says:

    I wanna go explore, can we Wendi?

  14. Jason Greil Jason Greil says:

    Gerry McCarney, remember that weekend we went off roading and dirt biking and found this?

  15. Susan Mitchell says:

    I have been through it back in the 80s. Plan on taking our grandkids! Interesting

  16. Grant Moore Grant Moore says:

    Don’t hit your head lol

  17. This tunnel was.dug by hand by the husband of the lady nick Pavelka mentioned, she never could give a reason as to why he dug it tho

  18. El Chapo remember that his wife is in Lancaster in also is getting ready when he came to United States it’s going to be ready by the time he arrives to escape

  19. And also they used to be Area 51 back in the days

  20. Casey Payne is this the tunnel that you took Josh and I to?

  21. Danny Dang Danny Dang says:

    I was just in this mine a few weeks ago!

  22. Great story – what a Jackass (JUST KIDDING!)

  23. Isn’t this the tunnel in Death Valley ? The tunnel was dug by William Burro Schmidt. Dude miss calculated and realized he dug the wrong way I think. Crazy what one person can do with his bare hands.

    • Matt Skipper Matt Skipper says:

      Schmidt tunnel is in Redrock park. He thought there was a vertical gold spike in the mountain so he dug sideways to try and hit it. There was no such spike. Like a week or so after he finished he died.

  24. Brian Moen Brian Moen says:

    Road dirt bikes there many times from Dove springs.

  25. Oh hell ya I would go in a heartbeat

  26. Be careful out there, we used to live at the base nearby. Some of the mines are still privately owned.

  27. Tommy Prada Joe Bogna Zane Cassidy Michael Coleman our next hike?

  28. Ron Wachter Ron Wachter says:

    Digging this tunnel saved his life go on line and read the story. Burro Schmidt tunnle

  29. Zachary Finney, Cassie Allison, Steven Allison

  30. Tom Coulombe Tom Coulombe says:

    Been in that tunnel many times on desert rides. His Wife used to give us the tour and tell her husbands story. Classic. I think he was looking for gems or silver. Its only been about 27 years lol

  31. Been there many times!

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