This was a trip for the few, the brave, and adventurous. Non-stop rain in Santa Cruz caused some to bail out at the last minute. However, we still had a decent contingent, and as soon as we cleared the pass at Tehachapi, the rain stopped and we had two nights of good skywatching. Friday I got out of town at 9am, stopped in Paso Robles at the library for a bit, and arrived at Red Rock Canyon State Park at 4pm. We snagged our favorite sites - 48,49,50 - set up the scopes, and set up for a pasta dinner. The gang helped out; Donna made our salad, and Jim worked on getting the campfire going. After dark, we studied the available inner (Mars) and outer (Saturn) planets for a little compare 'n contrast action. Then the Orion Nebula star forming region, various open star clusters, and various binary stars before the clouds came in.

Saturday morning I fixed my trademark breakfast - French crepes, sweetened with maple and vanilla soy, and filled with fresh fruit and yogurt. Then, on to our geological explorations. Up the road 10 miles to the jeep trail turnoff to Burro Schmidt tunnel. Our caravan was willing to take it to the edge, dodging vernal pools all over the road, some impressive ruts, and careening kids on 3-wheelers. First stop was Holly Cleanser Mine. A mine for.... kitchen cleanser?! Absolutely, Holly cleanser was a favorite of the early 20th century kitchen. A mile away was the Dutch cleanser mine (I have a dim childhood recollection of seeing Dutch cleanser around the house I was born in, back in the LA suburbs). We pondered remnants of the mining equipment, and talked about the volcanic origin of the pumice formations. Onward to Last Chance Canyon and beautiful formations of oxide colored sediments amid the volcanics, and then up the Burro Schmidt camp and tunnel.

The story of Burro Schmidt is classic - a bizarre character who epitomizes the strange people that inhabited the California desert generations ago, digging a tunnel through solid granite clean through the top of a mountain by pick and hand. For 38 years. A very old friend of Burro Schmidt (or relative?) named Toni lived there in this lonely little cabin high on a mountain the absolute middle of NOwhere for a long time, and died only recently (in her 90's, in 2003?). On our visit here in 2001 we were treated to her recounting of some history of the tunnel and Burro Schmidt for a small donation. She lived on these donations, and the help of her daughter who drove up from L.A. and braved the maze of 4WD roads up the mountain once a month for supplies. You can see a picture of Toni and more history here. Donna is a photo student, and we both wandered through the cabin, photographing the ancient newspaper and magazine clippings posted up on the walls and ceiling by Burro Schmidt, from the 1930's and before. In the tunnel, I pointed out various ores, and described the environment suitable for grainless extrusive volcanics, and the large grained plutonic granites making up most of the interior of the mountain. A half mile later, emerging from the other side and overlooking the Garlock Fault and Koehn Dry Lake, I presented the story of the geologic history of the Basin and Range province, and California in particular, and the relationship to the inner planets.

Back to camp, we prepared an asian rice dinner, and then had a long session in front of the campfire as we waited for the clouds to clear. They did, and we returned to the telescopes (Scott had brought along his 8" scope on GM8 mount) and added a few new targets - the globular cluster M13, and the galaxies of the Virgo cluster, the Sombrero Galaxy, and the Whirlpool galaxy.

Sunday morning, we had a breakfast of granola and french toast, scrambled eggs, and fresh fruit. Then, on up the trail we had a final lecture on the tilted morphology of Red Rock Canyon State Park and the El Paso Mountains we'd visited Saturday. All in all, it was a pretty good trip! Enjoy the photos below, and also see Scott Early's. He's put together his own page of photos from our trip. Check out especially the silhouette from inside the tunnel, and the close-up of our little mouse right below it - really nice work, Scott!

A cistern at Holly Mine

Our crew, at one of the Holly Mine pits

Jim inspects one of the centrifugal separators

Leanna and Nate guage the bullet holes in this separator

Leanna checks out the gears on this old conveyor

Yep. Bullet holes here. Lots of them.

Burro Schmidt's cabin

Headlines and icons on the cabin walls and ceiling.

Old kerosene lamp and mason jar in the cabin

At the entrance to Burro Schmidt tunnel

Donna, inside the tunnel at a copper ore vein...

...suddenly gets dollar signs in her eyes when I point out the gold ore beneath the copper vein.

A little friend deep inside the tunnel

Final lecture, on the ridge above the campground