Cerro Gordo Mines

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Cerro Gordo
view of ghost town around mine
Cerro Gordo Mines and ghost town
Cerro Gordo is located in California
Cerro Gordo
Cerro Gordo
Locationnear Lone Pine, California
CountryUnited States
Coordinates36°32.2626′N 117°47.70186′W / 36.5377100°N 117.79503100°W / 36.5377100; -117.79503100 (Cerro Gordo Mines)Coordinates: 36°32.2626′N 117°47.70186′W / 36.5377100°N 117.79503100°W / 36.5377100; -117.79503100 (Cerro Gordo Mines)
Productssilver, lead, and zinc
Opened1866 (1866)
Closed1957 (1957)

The Cerro Gordo Mines are a collection of abandoned mines located in the Inyo Mountains, in Inyo County, near Lone Pine, California. Mining operations spanned 1866 to 1957, producing high grade silver, lead, and zinc ore. Some ore was smelted on site, but larger capacity smelters were eventually constructed along the shore of nearby Owens Lake.

These smelting operations were the beginnings of the towns of Swansea and Keeler. Most of the metal ingots produced here were transported to Los Angeles, but transportation difficulties hindered the success of the mines. Mining of silver and lead peaked in the early 1880s, with a second mining boom producing zinc in the 1910s.[1]


Discovery of the silver ore is credited to Pablo Flores,[2] who began mining and smelting operations near the summit of Buena Vista Peak in 1865. Increasing white migration to the area was met with resistance from the Native Americans, which limited early mining efforts. The establishment of Fort Independence allowed for the expulsion of native populations, facilitating the expansion of the mining town.

These early miners employed relatively primitive techniques of open pits and trenches and used adobe ovens to smelt the ore. Businessman Victor Beaudry[3] (younger brother of Los Angeles Mayor and developer Prudent Beaudry) of nearby Independence, California, became impressed by the quality of silver mined at Cerro Gordo and opened a store nearby. He soon acquired several mining claims to settle unpaid debts and proceeded to have two modern smelters built. Beaudry continued acquiring mining rights from debtors until he soon owned a majority of the richest and most productive mines in the area, including partial interest in the Union Mine.

In 1868, Mortimer Belshaw[4] arrived in Cerro Gordo (lit. "Fat Hill" in Spanish), attracted by the rich deposits of galena ore. After establishing a partnership with another stakeholder in the Union Mine, he brought the first wagon load of silver from Cerro Gordo to Los Angeles.[5] In Los Angeles he was able to secure financing to build his own smelter that was superior to all other smelters at Cerro Gordo, as well as to build the first wagon road up the mountain. This road became known as the Yellow Road from the color of the rock that it had been cut through. By operating the Yellow Road as a toll road, Belshaw was able to earn income and control the shipments of silver from the mountain.

In 1916 the town became electrified replacing the steam power that operated the machinery.[6]


Cerro Gordo is privately owned as a ghost town and tourist attraction, accessed by special permission. It has several vintage buildings, including the general store. The town was advertised for sale in June 2018[7][8][9] and sold with its 336 acres of land[10] the following month to two Los Angeles entrepreneurs, who planned to keep it open for tourism with historical preservation.[11] The buyers, Brent Underwood and business partner Jon Bier, purchased the property with additional investment from a collection of Los Angeles-based creatives.[12] The American Hotel, an icehouse, and a residence were destroyed in a fire on June 15, 2020.[13] As of 2021, Underwood is committed to the restoration project.[14]


Buildings in Cerro Gordo

The American Hotel was built in 1871 by John Simpson,[15] and was the oldest standing hotel in California on the east side of the Sierras.[16] Early in the morning of June 15, 2020, fire destroyed the hotel and neighboring buildings. The owners plan to build a replica.[17]

The Belshaw House was built around 1868 by Mortimer Belshaw, developer of the Belshaw Blast Furnace.[18]

The Gordon House was built in 1909 by Louis D. Gordon, who began the "zinc era" of Cerro Gordo.

In media[edit]

Remi Nadeau, a descendant of the family involved with the transport of ingots from Cerro Gordo across Owens Lake and by mule train to Los Angeles, has written books and articles on the period.[19][20][21][22][23]

Cerro Gordo, the Belshaw House, and the Inya Mine are featured in the season 19 episode of Ghost Adventures titled "Cerro Gordo Ghost Town", which aired in 2019 on the Travel Channel.[24]

In 2020, one of the town's owners, Brent Underwood, started a YouTube channel chronicling his intended development of the town into a functioning tourist destination and his exploration of mine tunnels.[25]


  1. ^ Rasmussen, Cecilia (October 8, 2006). "Old Ghost Town Is Getting a New Lease on Life: The mining site high above Owens Valley went bust in 1888. Now its owner is restoring it to a state of 'arrested decay' for visitors". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved June 29, 2018.
  2. ^ "Cerro Gordo". digital-desert.com. Retrieved 2020-09-25.
  3. ^ "CERRO GORDO". explorehistoricalif.com. Retrieved 2020-09-25.
  4. ^ "Mortimer Belshaw Biography" (PDF).
  5. ^ Babcock, Elizabeth (June 19, 2020). "The 'rich' history of Cerro Gordo mine". The News Review. Ridgecrest CA. Retrieved 2020-10-12.
  6. ^ Vargo, Cecil Page. "Louis D. Gordon & the Great Zinc Era" (PDF).
  7. ^ "Buyer of this authentic "ghost town" can own piece of the Wild West". CBS News. 2018-06-14.
  8. ^ Park, Madison (2018-06-14). "This California ghost town is for sale". CNN.
  9. ^ "Entire California ghost town for sale for under $1 million". Fox News. June 28, 2018. Retrieved June 29, 2018.
  10. ^ "We bought a ghost town". Nathan Barry. 2018-11-26. Retrieved 2020-10-24.
  11. ^ Graff, Amy (July 16, 2018). "Historic California ghost town sells for $1.4 million on Friday the 13th". San Francisco Chronicle.
  12. ^ "California ghost town sells for $1.4 million; buyers plan to develop it as a tourist attraction". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 21 July 2018.
  13. ^ Sahagún, Louis (2020-06-21). "California ghost town with a bloody past suffers a new calamity". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2020-10-12.
  14. ^ Chamings, Andrew (2021-02-23). "An influencer who bought a California ghost town is ready to die there". SFGate. Retrieved 2021-02-26.
  15. ^ "SCVHistory.com LW2377j | Mojave Desert | American Hotel at Cerro Gordo". scvhistory.com. Retrieved 2020-09-25.
  16. ^ "SCVHistory.com LW2373a | Mojave Desert | Map: Cerro Gordo Mining Camp". scvhistory.com. Retrieved 2020-09-25.
  17. ^ "Cerro Gordo fire | The Inyo Register". www.inyoregister.com. Retrieved 2020-07-01.
  18. ^ Cecile Page Vargo, Roger W. Vargo (2012). Cerro Gordo. Arcadia Publishing. p. 25. ISBN 978-0-7385-9520-7.
  19. ^ "Finding Aid for the Remi A. Nadeau Papers, 1948-1993". Online Archive of California. University of California. Retrieved 2018-06-14.
  20. ^ Nadeau, Remi A. (1997) [1950]. The Water Seekers (4th ed.). Santa Barbara, CA: Crest Publishers. ISBN 0-9627104-5-8. OCLC 36595807.
  21. ^ Nadeau, Remi A. (1999) [1965]. Ghost Towns & Mining Camps of California: A History & Guide (5th, rev. ed.). Crest Publishers. ISBN 9780962710483. OCLC 40818465.
  22. ^ first=Remi A. | last=Nadeau | title=Los Angeles: from mission to modern city | date=1960
  23. ^ Nadeau, Remi A. (1999). The Silver Seekers: They Tamed California's Last Frontier. Santa Barbara, CA: Crest Publishers. ISBN 9780962710476. OCLC 40592556.
  24. ^ "Cerro Gordo Ghost Town". Travel Channel. Retrieved 2020-07-01.
  25. ^ Underwood, Brent; Carter, Clint (2020-12-13). "I Bought a Ghost Town". Popular Mechanics. Archived from the original on 2020-12-25. Retrieved 2020-12-28.

Further reading[edit]

  • Likes, Robert C. (1975). From this mountain : Cerro Gordo. Day, Glenn R. Bishop, Calif.: Chalfant Press. ISBN 0-912494-16-6. OCLC 1976818.
  • Hertz, Richard (2005). Awesome Ghost Towns. Blue Note Books.
  • Vargo, Cecile Page; Vargo, Roger W. (2012). Cerro Gordo (Images of America). Charleston SC: Arcadia Pub. ISBN 978-0738595207.
  • Cragen, Dorothy Clora (1975). The Boys in the Sky-blue Pants. Pioneer Pub. Co. ISBN 9780914330073. OCLC 2136456.

External links[edit]