By James Dorsey
February 26, 2012
Reporting from Randsburg, Calif.
I half-expected to hear someone shout, "There's gold in them thar hills," as I rolled into Randsburg, Calif., which sits just off Highway 395 in the Mojave Desert south of Ridgecrest. The discovery of that precious metal gave birth to the town in 1896 when John Singleton, F. M. Mooers and Charlie Burcham filed a claim they called "The Rand." Within a few months, a saloon, barber shop, general store and even an opera house had sprung up to form what was known as Rand Camp. By 1897 it was called Randsburg, a boomtown of almost 4,000 people.
More than 110 years later, the Rand Mining Co. still operates 24 hours a day and employs about 80 workers. One miner I approached refused to confirm the rumor that 300 pounds of gold are taken from the mine each month. He just smiled when I asked him, but I noticed that he had a small golden nugget on his watch chain.
As the number of mining claims dwindled, so did the population, but not Randsburg's spirit. Many hardy souls who had founded the town stayed on, and today there are about 80 full-time residents, occupying houses as eclectic as their owners. One house is made entirely from garage doors and another only from windows, with trees in the front yard made from cast-off soda bottles. Almost every building is colorfully painted, and there are more than a few outhouses.
Butte Avenue, the main drag, is home to the White House and the Joint, authentic saloons complete with boot rails and spittoons. No liquor is served, but you can get a shot of spiced sarsaparilla. The barber shop, with its traditional striped pole, advertises baths and cigars, and the opera house opens from time to time for special events.
I followed the hitching posts that line the wooden boardwalk to discover the wonderful little Rand Desert Museum, a natural history museum manned by town volunteers in period costume eager to spend an afternoon sharing local lore with visitors.
On the edge of town a mule tethered to a hitching post tried to lick my camera, and I passed a weathered tortoise out for a leisurely stroll. Randsburgians love their tortoises; these desert tanks are treated as valued pets and claim protected status. Residents make a point of telling visitors that tortoises do not handle stress easily, as it causes them to pass water, making them vulnerable to the desert heat.
Residents also love their town and have gone to great lengths to keep it as it was a century ago. The wall outside the Rand Mining Co. sports a faded sign that reads, "Everything for Blasting" and "Explosives, caps and fuses," while the local post office has a sign over the door that proclaims "End of the trail."
As I ambled through town, it realized how apt that sign was. Time has truly stood still at the end of the trail in Randsburg.
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