California ghost town famous for riches and rowdiness prepares to welcome guests
Dotting a rugged slope in the Inyo Mountains are the remains of one of early California’s great engines of prosperity.
During its 1870s heyday, Cerro Gordo, or “fat hill,” was a rollicking silver town of 4,800 people and 1,600 mules, ruled by the six-gun. It generated so much trade that the Los Angeles News editorialized in 1872: Should the link between Los Angeles and the mining town be severed, “we would inevitably collapse.”
Like dozens of California ghost towns whose fortunes rose and fell with the mines, Cerro Gordo was all but abandoned by the 1950s, its tin and wooden structures left to decay in the high desert wind. But now it’s attracting dreamers once again.
In 2018, a pair of entrepreneurs sank their life savings into the $1.4 million price for all 300 acres of Cerro Gordo. They’ve been at work ever since restoring the town and its 22 historic structures, among them a saloon, a church, a general store, and a small theater.
One of the new owners, Brent Underwood, 32, said the goal is to open Cerro Gordo as a tourist destination, with overnight accommodations in original homes and hotel rooms along with on-site camping. Guests could be welcomed as soon as late summer, pandemic permitting.
In contrast to the look-but-don’t-touch historical parks run by the state, such as Bodie, Cerro Gordo will be more immersive, Underwood said. “I’d love to create a place where people could come and really experience the history and stay in the exact buildings that the founder of the city stayed in.”
More than just a ghost town, Cerro Gordo is a magnificent perch. At 8,500 feet, it faces the plunging Death Valley from one side of the property and the soaring peaks of the southern Sierra Nevada from the other.
For quarantine-weary Californians, a place so removed from the ordinary could be a tempting escape.
Last year, Frank Foster, a photographer based in Victor Valley, made several trips out to Cerro Gordo for a photo project. He shared some of his images with the California Sun, below.
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