Monday, February 3, 2014

Burro Schmidt's Tunnel - El Paso Mountains

The title of this post should probably be "Burro Schmidt's Folly." 

William Henry (Burro) Schmidt was mining gold from this spot near the top of Copper Mountain. To have his ore processed, he had to bring it out of the mine, then take it down and around the mountain to a road that led to the town of Mojave, several miles on the other side. For some reason, he thought it would be less work to dig a shortcut through the mountain. I'm not sure what he was thinking, but it took him 38 years to dig the tunnel with hand tools through about a half mile of solid rock.

He began digging the tunnel in 1900.  By 1920, a road was built around the mountain, eliminating the need for the tunnel. Schmidt's nickname wasn't Burro for no good reason. By this time, Schmidt had spent way too much time in the tunnel. Despite the existence of the new road, he was obsessed with finishing his tunnel. I guess he figured he was almost done, so why not finish it. 

Finish it he did and it only took him 18 MORE YEARS!  When he was done with the tunnel he sold the whole thing and moved on. He never did use the shortcut to move his ore.

 It looks really dark in there!

 Maybe I'll just go in a bit and check it out.

The sunlight sure doesn't reach too far into the tunnel! 

 My flashlight made it look pretty eerie.

 It looks even weirder with a camera flash. It wasn't the eeriness of the tunnel that kept me from walking to the other side and back, it was the.... 


 I'm sure it wasn't healthy to breath this stuff in and I'm sure it was even worse on my camera. I turned around after about a hundred yards or so. Must have been my hallway phobia again...

 This is the view looking out of the tunnel. 

This is where Mr. Schmidt lived. It has been a museum of sorts for many years, but everything started to disappear so a fence and "no trespassing" sign were installed.

I've run across a lot of odd things, places and people in the desert, but I've got to say, this was one of the oddest. This guy was as stubborn as they come...
Burro Schmidt's Tunnel was one of the stops on my day with Death Valley Jim. He was a gracious host and showed us several great places. Including The Old Dutch Cleanser Mine, this place and a few others.



  1. It looks like a lava tube. Tunnels are always a little spooky. What persistence!

  2. Not even burros are that stubborn.
    Looks in good condition. Too bad it couldn't be made into an attraction or something.

  3. wow. really a hard-headed individual, i'd say. :)

  4. every time i see a place where people could potentially live, i'm surprised there aren't people living in it. or am i the only person who has fantasies of running away to a ghost town or hole in the ground?

  5. What a gutload of perseverance he had. And I could never have even gone even a step into that tunnel...

  6. What an incredible place, Pat, and terrific captures as always!! I've always wanted to go inside a mine, but think that in reality, I'm too chicken!! Glad there are people like you so I can still see scary and wonderful places!! Have a great new week!

  7. You lasted longer in that cave than I would have. I would have been afraid of a cave in!! That guy was dedicated, that's for sure.

  8. Love those eerie shots of the inside!

  9. That is very cool Pat! I expected to see Batman in there.

  10. He must have been severely OCD. I can understand his need to finish it, but wow, 38 years! It must have felt so wonderful to break through to the other side ... or maybe, like a really good book you can't stop reading, it was a disappointment to finally be done.

  11. Pat, you got to incredible place and I am glad that you dared to go inside and took fantastic pictures.

    I like so much to follow every your adventure. Pictures are so unique and very, very interesting!!!!

  12. He did it just because. I'm not sure if I would have the cojones to walk the whole thing, dust or not. Another amazing find, you always amaze me.

  13. What a fascinating story. I like your tunnel shots - I don't know if I'd go in there...

  14. Persistent man for sure... Can you imagine being willing to spend THAT many years building a tunnel??????

    When you walked in there, I shivered... Not sure I would have gone even as far as you went..... Yipes!!!!

    Great set of photos...

  15. Sharon Wagner - It does, but much more dusty! I agree with you about tunnels (also hallways).

    Alex - HA! You are so right! It does seem to be in good condition, it's solid rock and I didn't see anything laying on the floor that had fallen from the sides or the top. It's in a wilderness area, so I don't think they could (or would want to) do anything with it.

    TexWisGirl - I'd say the same thing!

    Lovkyne - Nope! You are not the only one. I'm pretty sure if we didn't have an RV to roam about in, we'd be living in the boonies somewhere.

    Shelly - You are right about that Shelly! Totally obsessed...

    Sylvia K - Thanks so much Sylvia! I was much more at home in this one, than the Old Dutch Cleanser mine. This one goes through solid rock. It doesn't even need any shoring or anything like that.

    Baby Sister - Believe me, I didn't last long, but I it seemed very solid and safe.

  16. ladyfi - Thanks! It was a bit eerie and it also felt like living history.

    Brian - That's funny Brian!

    Tracey - Severely OCD! I'm not sure how he felt when he broke through because there isn't anything there but a large ledge, a steep drop and a great view.

    Kaya - Thanks Kaya! I appreciate that. There are a million interesting things out there.

    Wayne - Yep! Just because! I'm so ADD that it would have taken at at least a hundred years! Thanks Wayne.

    Al - I liked the photos until the air started filling up with dust. I think my camera started coughing.

    Laura - A LONG time to dig and for no real reason! It's a great story though.

  17. I feel claustrophobic just looking at your photos..The tunnel does look eery! But the view outside from the tunnel is gorgeous!

  18. As the late Huell Howser used to say "that's amazing!" It really is amazing I can't imagine doing what this guy did.

  19. Nice pictures, I love that tunnel, a great adventure!

  20. That's the craziest thing I've ever heard I swear. I like eccentric, but that's .... well, something else entirely. Thanks for another new desert story. I love knowing about this.

  21. I'm way too claustrophobic to go into a dark narrow creepy space like that. You were very brave. The photos are great! I can't imagine digging a tunnel through a mountain by hand. That's stubborn with a little bit of crazy thrown in!

  22. So terrific that you went there. I think I recognize it from a Huell Houser episode. Yes indeed, that would give you a case of 'hallway' fear.

  23. When you come to things like that it would have been nice to know what made him persevere to the end and then do "nothing" with it? Mega dust - I would have turned back sooner than you!

  24. The thing that puzzles me is, given that he used only hand tools, why he made his tunnel so wide. Back home in the Lake District, many of the old mines feature what are known as "coffin levels" (with a cross-section shaped like, you've guessed it...), which allow miners to pass through but which involve removing the least possible amount of material.

    Mr Schmidt's story reminds me of the Chinese folktale "Foolish Old Man Moves Mountains", which I believe you've read Pat.

  25. Strange, very strange! But it makes an interesting story. ;))

  26. Oh, even though it's not a coal mine, I would have brought a canary with me.

  27. Betsy - He sure was! I can't even start to imagine it. Thanks Betsy!

    Icy BC - I think the are is so wide open and huge, that it makes the tunnel seem even more confining.

    James - HA! I can't image it either James.

    Leovi - Thanks Leovi! It was...

    Sallie - Yep, it's beyond eccentric, but it is a great story. My pleasure Sallie!

    Robin - Thanks Robin! I wasn't THAT brave... Stubborn, crazy, with a whole lot of obsession thrown in.

  28. Mama Zen - It sure is!

    Pasadena Adjacent - I must have missed that episode, but I'm glad we went there. Yep, I was feeling that phobia a bit in there.

    Jeannettstgermain - I don't think anybody knows, because it was clearly an obsession. I'm sure than doing all that work for that many years, just ruined him in a physical sense.

    dennis hodgson - Hi Dennis! I haven't seen any explanation relating to how wide it was. I know there were (and still are) rails in some sections, but it still seemed VERY wide. Remember, this guy dug for 38 years and might have made it this wide for a reason that would make no sense to us.

    EG CameraGirl - I agree. Strange but interesting...

    Altadena - It certainly couldn't have hurt! Overall, I have to admit this tunnel seemed totally safe.

  29. what a fascinating story, pat!the tunnel shots are just amazing!

    have a wonderful thursday~

  30. Not giving up on things is laudable - but this may have taken things too far! Crazy story.

    Cheers - Stewart M - Melbourne

  31. Obsessive much?
    When I read of things like this (granted, this is a little obsessive, like I said), I'm struck at the amount of work people were willing to do back in the day. Would this be something Americans would be willing to do today? Well, not THIS (obsessive), but you know what I mean.

  32. This was SO cool! (Looking forward to that Grandma post.)

  33. You are much braver than I, Pat.
    An intriguing place for sure.

  34. There's no way I'd go thru that tunnel! Who knows what critters, cobras, slithery, growly, monstery types you'd meet in the middle?????

  35. There's no way I'd go thru that tunnel! Who knows what critters, cobras, slithery, growly, monstery types you'd meet in the middle?????

  36. I dont blame you Pat. I would have turned back too - dust or no lol.

    Fascinating place though! Thanks for the trip. I would have loved to check it out with you.

    Great story too..

  37. love that tunnel picture with eerie lighting, Pat

  38. Oh my, such perseverance! Guess he had nothing else to distract him like all of us these days!

  39. That tunnel was kinda freaky looking...I don't blame you for turning around. Could have been the setting for Tremors.

    The from the tunnel looking out was awesome...maybe that kept Burro digging long past quitin' time.

    Great shots and story as always.

  40. Betty Manousos - Thanks Betty! I appreciate that.

    Stewart M - I'm right there with you Stewart.

    Ken Lynch - No kidding! Folks were made from stronger stock back in the day. But still...

    Bossy Betty - Thanks Betty! The post about my grandma, right?

    Pam - I don't know about that Pam. I didn't go all the way...

  41. Rosemary - I don't think there are any monstery types in there. You are funny Rosemary!

    Anthony - It was fascinating! I wasn't scared at all, it was totally the dust! Yeah, that's it, the dust! Maybe sometime you'll make it out this way. Lot's to see.

    DEZMOND - Thanks DEZMOND! It did come out pretty eerie.

    Reena - Yep, he sure had a lot of that. You are probably right about that, he didn't have to stop 20 times a day to check out his FB page.

    Chuck - Hey Chuck! It was kind of freaky looking, but also kind of cool. I don't think Burro had a quittin' time. Thanks Chuck!

  42. I'm almost speechless- what an amazing series of photos and a great tale.

  43. Another excellent photojournalistic series and backstory. Really fascinating. You are brave to enter that tunnel. The fourth one down with the flashlight reminds me of a still from an old timey sci-fi movie; specifically when someone might be about to travel back in time...

  44. I am pretty sure you went further into the tunnel than I would. i would have been sitting on a rock outside taking in that incredible view.

  45. Chrissy Brand - Thanks so much Chrissy! It was an interesting place and story.

    Stickup Artist - Why thank you! I appreciate that. It was a bit spooky, that's for sure. That whole area feels like you're walking back time.

    Mynx - I certainly understand that! The area is brutally rough, but so beautiful.

  46. Oh I love the scene looking out of the tunnel...not for me to go inside. But it is fascinating to think someone lived there.

  47. Nora - I'm with you! I liked it a lot better than looking into the tunnel.

  48. What an odd little story!!! Poor Schmidt!!! He certainly poured his soul into the tunnel!!! I wonder who bought it...and why???

  49. TheChieftess - Interesting that you should ask. Even after all these years, there is a dispute about who owns it. The BLM or a private party.

  50. Great tunnel pics, what fun! Loved looking at these.

  51. Ree - Thanks! Next time if there are less people (and less dust), I'll go all the way through.


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