Cerro Gordo Ghost Town

For those of you in CA that have not taken the Swansea to Cerro Gordo Trail you have missed one of the most scenic trails in CA. The trail begins about 10 miles east of Lone Pine CA along the north shore of Owens Dry Lake at what used to be the community of Swansea. Now only 1 house on the north side of the Hwy. The trail is relatively easy with only a couple of obstacles that might challenge stock 4x4s but it is steep as it climbs from about 4000 ft. elev. to about 9000 ft. . At the top of the Inyo Mtn. range it proceeds south east for several miles along the way passing the amazing remains of an old tram that hauled salt for 16 miles from the Saline Valley up and over the Inyo Mts to Owens Lake where it was loaded on steam ships to travel across the lake to the town of Cartego. After you pass the Salt Tram Transfer Station and the rebuilt crew quarters you proceed to the well preserved Ghost Town of Cerro Gordo. The town is privately owned and there is a resident caretaker to prevent vandalism and theft of hundreds of mining artifacts left from when the town had thousands of residents and some of the most productive silver/lead mines in the country. The caretaker will allow access to the remaining buildings, including the American Hotel for a small donation. Robert, the caretaker, has lots of information about the towns history from the mid- 1800s to the mid-1900s .
Roger Mullins
JustRuns 4 WD Club


3/4/22 – Cerro Gordo changed hands in 2018. The ghost town has a website, Cerro Gordo Mines . They schedule tours and ask a $10 donation from adults. The owner, Brent Underwood, has a pretty active Youtube site, Ghost Town Living .  -oksteve

AmericanHotelCerro copy
The American Hotel burned down in June, 2020.

Cerro Gordo Frieght Co

Early CerroGordoHistory


The Bonanza Era

The Owens Valley trade brought instant prosperity to Los Angeles and, by the end of 1869, 340 tons of bullion had passed through the city. Cerro Gordo’s silver ingots became a common sight in the city, and were proudly displayed at most hotels and banks, as well as many business establishments along Main and Spring Streets. Any citizen could describe, in detail, the affairs of the mines at Cerro Gordo. Many jackass prospectors found “easy pickins” for a grub stake with rumors of rich strikes and new bonanzas circulating from every street corner.

Local farmers and businessmen found an ever increasing market for their surplus produce in Nadeau’s Cerro Gordo bound wagons. Sacks of flour, sugar, potatoes, and nuts, barrels of wine, crates of fruit, bales of hay-every staple item from picks and shovels to crated live chickens rolled north. The county’s entire surplus barley crop was consumed by the mules of Remi Nadeau and other freighters. Within a year, Los Angeles’ business life was dominated by the mines of Cerro Gordo.

With two daily stages from Owens Valley serving the camp, Cerro Gordo was well established as a mining town by 1871. The main street was being lined with buildings as fast as the lumber could be obtained. The two-story American Hotel was completed that year, as were several other permanent structures. High false fronted general stores, restaurants, and saloons soon replaced the canvas shacks scattered throughout town. just over the divide, at the head of San Lucas Canyon, small clusters of stone and canvas dwellings were strung down the canyon floor. The predominant structure was the large shafthouse covering the 300 foot vertical shaft of the Newtown mine. Either side of the canyon was covered with prospect holes and miners’ shanties.

Cerro Gordo was also classified as a “wide-open town” with only a semblance of law and order. Although the law was available, it was not respected by most of the town’s inhabitants. This lawless element found Cerro Gordo’s remote desert location a comparative safe refuge, and was responsible for the bloody record of shootings compiled during the bonanza days.

The combination of whiskey and women made the dance halls, and the red-light houses of Lola Travis and Maggie Moore, the principal scenes of gunplay. Dr. Hugh McClelland, physician at Cerro Gordo, reflected upon one such incident the night he accompanied a young man wishing to visit one of the dance halls. A hot-tempered Mexican girl overheard McClelland explaining to his younger companion the reason for her odd nick-name, and came at the good doctor with a stiletto in her hand. An Irish girl caught her by the wrist and disarmed the screaming Mexican, but not before a Mexican man was shot dead by George Snow when he tried to plunge a knife into McClelland on behalf of his girlfriend. This ended in a general shooting until the lights were extinguished.

In another editorial, P. A. Chalfant described Cerro Gordo as being a shooting gallery, stating that “pistols continue to crack and good men go down before them.” He went on to suggest that perhaps a little judicious hanging and a strong jail might be needed at Cerro Gordo to restrain its inhabitants from reaching too quickly for the weapons at their side. Despite Chalfant’s efforts, the six-shooter and knife continued to be the authorities called upon when justice was to be administered.

From this Mountain – Cerro Gordo” by Robert C. Likes and Glenn R. Day

Cerro Gordo History by Cecile Page Vargo