Cerro Gordo Mines

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Cerro Gordo
view of ghost town around mine
Cerro Gordo Mines and ghost town in 1980
Cerro Gordo is located in Northern California
Cerro Gordo
Cerro Gordo
Location within Northern California
Cerro Gordo is located in California
Cerro Gordo
Cerro Gordo
Location within California
Cerro Gordo is located in the United States
Cerro Gordo
Cerro Gordo
Location within the United States
Locationnear Keeler, 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
Greatest depthat least 1,100 feet (340 m)
Opened1866 (1866)
Closed1957 (1957)
CompanyBrent Underwood

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, zinc ore, and more rarely gold ore and copper ore.[1] 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.[2]

During its peak, Cerro Gordo was home to some 4,700 people and the site is known as a California ghost town today.[3]


Discovery of the silver ore is credited to Pablo Flores,[4] who began mining and smelting operations near the summit of Buena Vista Peak in 1865. Increasing 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[5] (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[6] 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.[7] 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.

Between 1879 to 1880 in Cerro Gordo district, 4,223 short tons (3,831 t) of ore was raised and treated, $3,307 ($88,088 in 2021) gold bullion produced and $140,517 ($3,742,932 in 2021) worth of silver bullion produced.[8] During its entire operating history from 1865 to 1949 mines produced over 35,000 short tons (32,000 t) of lead, 4,400,000 ounces (120,000 kg) of silver and 11,800 short tons (10,700 t) of zinc, with an estimated worth of over $17 million.[1]

By 1907 high-grade zinc ore was found in Cerro Gordo and ore shipments begun and by 1912 Cerro Gordo became the largest producer of zinc carbonates in the US.[9]

In 1916 the town became electrified replacing the steam power that operated the machinery.[10]

In 1920, about ten miners still worked, mostly mining silver-lead ore. Mining had largely ceased by 1938.[11] As of 2019, a former high school teacher was the only miner; the then-70-year-old had been collecting small amounts of silver underground since 1997, selling the silver to tourists, while searching for a productive vein.[12]

The Cerro Gordo mines were the most extensive with more than 30 miles (48 km) of underground tunnels in the Cerro Gordo Mining District.[8]

The ghost town of Cerro Gordo was purchased in June 2018 with the intent to turn it into a tourist attraction, accessed by special permission. At that time it had several vintage buildings, including the general store[13][14][15] and 336 acres (136 ha).[16][17] The buyers, Brent Underwood and Jon Bier, purchased the property with additional Los Angeles-based investors.[18] The American Hotel, an icehouse, and a residence were destroyed in a fire on June 15, 2020.[19] Despite these challenges, Underwood says he is still committed to the project.[20]


Buildings in Cerro Gordo

The American Hotel was built in 1871 by John Simpson,[21] and was the oldest standing hotel in California on the east side of the Sierra.[22] On the morning of June 15, 2020, a fire destroyed the hotel and neighboring buildings. The owners plan to build a replica.[23][24]

The Belshaw House was built around 1868 by Mortimer Belshaw, developer of the Belshaw Blast Furnace.[25]

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

Underwood broke ground and commenced to rebuilding The American Hotel in 2022.

In popular culture[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.[26][27][28][29][30]

In 2013, an episode in the series Artbound entitled "Agh20: Silver and Water" features Cerro Gordo's role as a source of silver for the nascent film industry in California.

Cerro Gordo, the Belshaw House, and the Inyo Mine are featured in the season 19 episode of Ghost Adventures titled "Cerro Gordo Ghost Town", which aired in 2019 on the Travel Channel.[31]

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.[32]

In 2021, it was revealed the previous owners had sold the mining claims of the nearby area to K2 Gold Corp.[33] There are plans to start a cyanide opencast mine using cyanide in the adjacent Conglomerate Mesa Formation area.[34]


  1. ^ a b "Cerro Gordo (MRDS #10310600)". USGS - Mineral Resource Data System (MRDS). Archived from the original on 2021-07-16.
  2. ^ 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.
  3. ^ Varney, Philip (1990). Southern California's best ghost towns : a practical guide (1st ed.). Norman : University of Oklahoma Press. pp. 11–16. ISBN 0-8061-2252-8. Retrieved 8 November 2022.
  4. ^ "Cerro Gordo". digital-desert.com. Retrieved 2020-09-25.
  5. ^ "CERRO GORDO". explorehistoricalif.com. Retrieved 2020-09-25.
  6. ^ "Mortimer Belshaw Biography" (PDF).
  7. ^ Babcock, Elizabeth (June 19, 2020). "The 'rich' history of Cerro Gordo mine". The News Review. Ridgecrest CA. Retrieved 2020-10-12.
  8. ^ a b Karen K. Swope, Carrie J. Gregory (2017). "Mining in the Southern California Deserts - A Historic Context Statement and Research Design" (PDF). U.S. Department of the Interior - Bureau of Land Management. Archived (PDF) from the original on 2021-07-16.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: uses authors parameter (link)
  9. ^ Linda W. Greene (March 1981). "HISTORIC RESOURCE STUDY - A HISTORY OF MINING IN DEATH VALLEY NATIONAL MONUMENT-VOLUME I OF 11-Part 1 of 2" (PDF). Archived (PDF) from the original on 2021-07-16.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: uses authors parameter (link)
  10. ^ Vargo, Cecil Page. "Louis D. Gordon & the Great Zinc Era" (PDF).{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  11. ^ "History". Cerro Gordo Mine. Retrieved 18 July 2021.
  12. ^ Park, Victoria (30 July 2019). "'I've spent 22 years searching for silver in a ghost town'". BBC News. Retrieved 18 July 2021.
  13. ^ "Buyer of this authentic "ghost town" can own piece of the Wild West". CBS News. 2018-06-14.
  14. ^ Park, Madison (2018-06-14). "This California ghost town is for sale". CNN.
  15. ^ "Entire California ghost town for sale for under $1 million". Fox News. June 28, 2018. Retrieved June 29, 2018.
  16. ^ "We bought a ghost town". Nathan Barryl. 2018-11-26. Retrieved 2020-10-24.
  17. ^ Graff, Amy (July 16, 2018). "Historic California ghost town sells for $1.4 million on Friday the 13th". San Francisco Chronicle.
  18. ^ "California ghost town sells for $1.4 million; buyers plan to develop it as a tourist attraction". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 21 July 2018.
  19. ^ Sahagún, Louis (2020-06-21). "California ghost town with a bloody past suffers a new calamity". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2020-10-12.
  20. ^ Chamings, Andrew (2021-02-23). "An influencer who bought a California ghost town is ready to die there". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved 2021-02-26.
  21. ^ "SCVHistory.com LW2377j | Mojave Desert | American Hotel at Cerro Gordo". scvhistory.com. Retrieved 2020-09-25.
  22. ^ "SCVHistory.com LW2373a | Mojave Desert | Map: Cerro Gordo Mining Camp". scvhistory.com. Retrieved 2020-09-25.
  23. ^ "Cerro Gordo fire | The Inyo Register". www.inyoregister.com. Retrieved 2020-07-01.
  24. ^ A ghost town's caretaker,CBS News, Young Kim, August 22, 2021. Retrieved August 24, 2021.
  25. ^ Cecile Page Vargo, Roger W. Vargo (2012). Cerro Gordo. Arcadia Publishing. p. 25. ISBN 978-0-7385-9520-7.
  26. ^ "Finding Aid for the Remi A. Nadeau Papers, 1948-1993". Online Archive of California. University of California. Retrieved 2018-06-14.
  27. ^ Nadeau, Remi A. (1997) [1950]. The Water Seekers (4th ed.). Santa Barbara, CA: Crest Publishers. ISBN 0-9627104-5-8. OCLC 36595807.
  28. ^ Nadeau, Remi A. (1999) [1965]. Ghost Towns & Mining Camps of California: A History & Guide (5th, rev. ed.). Crest Publishers. ISBN 9780962710483. OCLC 40818465.
  29. ^ Nadeau, Remi A. (1960). Los Angeles: From Mission to Modern City. Longmans, Green. ASIN B0007E0OI2.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: date and year (link)
  30. ^ Nadeau, Remi A. (1999). The Silver Seekers: They Tamed California's Last Frontier. Santa Barbara, CA: Crest Publishers. ISBN 9780962710476. OCLC 40592556.
  31. ^ "Cerro Gordo Ghost Town". Travel Channel. Retrieved 2020-07-01.
  32. ^ 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.
  33. ^ "K2 Gold (KTGDF) Shares Rise After Entering Option Agreement to Fully Acquire Cerro Gordo Project". www.investorsobserver.com. Retrieved 2021-08-16.
  34. ^ Sahagun, Louis (2021-03-14). "A corporation wants to mine for gold near Death Valley. Native tribes are fighting it". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2021-08-16.

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]