Silver was discovered in Cerro Gordo (“Fat Hill”) in 1865 by Pablo Flores—the first major silver strike in Owens Valley and a defining feature of the Lone Pine Mining District. Between its discovery and 1938, mining in Cerro Gordo generated $17 million. Today, it is a privately held mining ghost town outside of Lone Pine, California. It is infused with history and accessible by a rough dirt road.
A Flourishing Mining Town
Come 1867, Cerro Gordo had become a destination for prospectors. Miners were extracting high grade silver, lead, and zinc ore from the hillsides. Ore could assay as high as $300 per ton.
One of the many who saw promise in the new silver strike was Victor Beaudry, a nearby businessman who opened a store that served the miners. In the course of settling unpaid debts, he came into ownership of a majority of Cerro Gordo’s profitable mining claims, including a partial ownership of the Union Mine.
Mortimer Belshaw was attracted to Cerro Gordo for its galena ore. Belshaw brought the first wagonload of silver ore to Los Angeles. He invested in Cerro Gordo, building a superior smelter and the Yellow Grade Road, a wagon toll road to access the incredibly remote townsite.
To this city, Cerro Gordo trade is invaluable. What Los Angeles now is, is mainly due to it. It is the silver cord that binds our present existence. Should it be unfortunately severed, we would inevitably collapse.”
– Los Angeles News,
Mining Slows In Cerro Gordo
Production began to flounder in 1875 due to a scarcity of ore, water, and legal complications. Even as ownership of the Union Mine was resolved and water returned to the site, the deposit appeared to be played out. Falling lead and silver prices dealt the final death blow to the town. Or so it may have seemed.
New Life for Cerro Gordo
It was not until 1905 that interest was revived in Cerro Gordo. New mining technology meant that the tailings from previous mining efforts could be reprocessed at a profit. The Great Western Ore Purchasing and Reduction Company bought Cerro Gordo with the intention of building a 100-ton smelter to process the ore. They hit a new type of pay dirt in 1907 when they discovered high-grade zinc. Mining continued until 1938, when commercial extraction concluded.
An Authentic Ghost Town
Today, Cerro Gordo is open to tours where visitors can see the remaining historic structures and artifacts from the mining community. The Hotel bar remains in a remarkable state and a make shift museum houses mining and assaying equipment as well as an extensive bottle collection. As the land is private property, casual wandering is not permitted and visitors must check in.
Cerro Gordo For Sale
The state of the historic mining town is in flux, however. When we visited the site, it was under the watchful eye of the town’s care taker. Yet, ownership is up for grabs. The town has been recently listed for sale for just under a million dollars. It is an open question wether the site will remain open to visitors, become another manicured tourist destination like Calico, or be completely changed.
Still, we maintain hope that little will change aside from who possess the deed.