Hiking to Burro Schmidt Tunnel in the Mojave Desert
Don’t expect logic from oddball desert hermits! At Burro Schmidt Tunnel, that’s to our great benefit. It took 32 years for William “Burro” Schmidt to dig through a mountain in a remote part of the north Mojave as a shortcut for taking his ore to a smelter. Long after new roads rendered it pointless, Schmidt kept at it. He finally broke through in 1938—a truly amazing feat of one-man engineering that we can readily enjoy today.
You’ll find the tunnel, plus the cabin where Burro Schmidt lived, on the northern slopes of Copper Mountain in the El Paso Range down a long dusty road in Last Chance Canyon northeast of the town of Mojave. Schmidt dug the nearly half-mile-long passage through solid granite using only hand tools and an occasional stick of dynamite. His two donkeys aided in hauling rock away—hence the nickname “Burro.”
Visitors are free to enter the tunnel. Headlamps or strong flashlights are a must—there are no lights inside, nor sunlight visible at the far end, since the tunnel makes a turn before opening up. The experience can be fearful and claustrophobic for some, but the challenge is more psychological than physical. The tunnel is structurally sound and the reward is the same far-side vista that must have delighted Burro Schmidt. You emerge onto a south-facing mountain ledge high above Fremont Valley with fantastic views of Koehn Dry Lake (a salt flat) and the El Paso Mountains.
Although most of Schmidt’s homestead has seen better days, his one-room wooden plank shack remains mostly intact. The walls and ceiling inside are covered in layers of vintage product packaging, newspapers, and magazines—some dating to the Depression era—tacked up by Burro himself for insulation.
Final note: Burro never transported any ore; the tunnel itself became his obsession.
STAY: If Burro Schmidt’s tunnel puts you in the mood for more old-time mining experiences, you can stay overnight in an old miner’s cabin in the nearby “living ghost town” of Randsburg. Several cabins there have been renovated and are now listed as affordable vacation rentals on Airbnb, including this one.
To get to Burro Schmidt Tunnel, take CA-14 about 34 miles north of Mojave to Last Chance Canyon Rd. (EP-15) and turn right. Continue 6.3 miles and bear left when EP-15 joins EP-30. Continue 2.2 miles and turn right on Burro Schmidt Tunnel Rd., a spur that leads to the site. (Other routes require 4WD and high clearance.) Friends of Last Chance Canyon, a nonprofit group, is attempting to preserve and restore the Burro Schmidt site, which is managed by the BLM. Please be respectful and tread lightly. Dog-friendly!
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