Burro Schmidt tunnel

The dirt road adventure to the tunnel


On our way out to the Ridgcrest 50k earlier this month we took a long-awaited detour to the Burro Schmidt tunnel. I’ve heard about this tunnel from Morgan probably every single time I’ve been out toward Death Valley. What’s the big deal? This guy named William Henry Schmidt, back in the early 1900’s, laid claim to some land with mining potential. There was a small problem though: A difficult to navigate ridge between his land and Mojave, where the local smelter was located. The solution? Dig a tunnel.

The view from Burro’s tiny house

He got started in 1906.  At first he hauled out the rock on his back. Then with a wheelbarrow. Eventually he built tracks and used a cart. And eventually there was no reason for the tunnel. But he kept digging. Almost entirely by hand.  He rarely used explosives and when he did they’d have such short fuses due to his frugality that he’d often be injured by the explosions.  The dude was notoriously cheap.  He patched his clothing with flour sacks (punk!).  This page estimates that he cooked 25,000 meals of pancakes and beans on his tiny stove.

Looking out the end of the 2000 meter (half mile!) tunnel

He dug for 34 years. Long after it was of any use.  He just became obsessed with the tunnel itself. And the digging. But he made it. The tunnel is straight for a long time and then takes a 90 degree right turn before reaching the other side. The view is outstanding. He never did haul anything through it, but he moved nearly 6,000 tons of rock. By himself.

Our crew in the bright post-tunnel sun

So on one hand you have a guy who spent his life digging a tunnel to nowhere. On the other you have a man with a dream who woke up every day and worked to achieve it. And he hung out with two donkeys (hence the nickname Burro) and ate pancakes and beans for most meals. Not a bad life if you ask me!  Often what we do feels useless, but if we are driven to do it and we are doing it that is something in itself.  What is purposeful is subjective and the pick-axe is in our hands! Get digging.

Burro gave us a lot to think about camping that night and running 31 miles the next day (more photos)


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