Desert Gold Mining Town
Randsburg, Johannesburg and Red Mountain are three small towns along U.S. Highway 395 between Ridgecrest and Boron, California. They are the mining district towns of the Rand area, the gold and silver mining belt of Kern County, named after the Witwatersrand of South Africa. Video on Randsburg
I had seen the sign for Randsburg many times in the past and had always wondered what was up that road. Finally, I decided to take the short drive there. As I approached Randsburg, I saw the huge tailing piles that are located behind it -- quite an impressive sight. Randsburg is a living ghost town. The Yellow Aster lode mine and other significant lode gold properties were remined during the 1980s and 1990s and were designated as the Rand Mine project.
Glamis Gold Corp. is the current owner/operator and works the old mine tailing.
Randsburg and Red Mountain sprang from old mining camps. In 1896, Randsburg was called Rand Camp, and Red Mountain was originally called Osdick. Johannesburg was established in 1896 as the planned service community for the mining camps. It was the only Rand area town laid out with straight streets and right-angle intersections. All three towns still retain remnants of the past and have been able to maintain their unique ambiance through their efforts to renovate and preserve their history.
The Rand area extends over a hilly plateau at an elevation of 3500 feet. The climate is typical of the high desert -- summers are hot and dry, reaching average highs of 110 degrees F. Winter temperatures can drop as low as 10 degrees above zero and snow is not infrequent. With spring comes desert wildflowers -- primroses, prince's plumes, indigo bushes, lupines and asters. Late summer is thunderstorm season.
Time for some shopping
Kit foxes, jackrabbits, cottontails, hawks, eagles and coyotes are some of the animals that live in Randsburg year round. Costa's hummingbirds visit during the summer. Tarantulas and desert tortoises migrate through the area.
I mined some claims in the open area just north of Randsburg, and often saw tortoises while prospecting. In fact, one day a desert tortoise climbed right into my gold pan. I left the tortoise alone and just observed it from a distance. It's against the law to handle tortoises because any shock or fear may cause them to release their water storage, which could lead to dehydration and death.
Randsburg is a popular stop for photographers, antique car clubs, honeymooners and families. Movies and TV commercials are frequently filmed in and around town. Food and rooms are easily available in Randsburg. Places like the White House Saloon offer visitors relaxation, a cool drink and good food served in a historical atmosphere.
The Randsburg Museum is open weekends and long weekend holidays, 10:00 AM to 5 PM. I talked to Bart Parker, the local historian, and got his view on the future of the area. They want to keep the historical feel of the Old West, and at the same time, to increase the number of tourists who visit. Be sure to stop at Randsburg on your next trip down Highway 395. You'll love the old west charm, and the people are as friendly as they get.
Be sure to check out Randsburg's Old West Days celebration in September.
The sunset as we headed home.
By Jim Bremner
There are motels in nearby Ridgecrest, CA, with something for every taste and price range. For more information and a complete list, click here. (Rates, availability and reservations online.)
There is also camping in the area.
See also Gem Trails of Southern California for a good book on rock hunting.
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