April 4, 2009

The trip to the Earp mines and camp-ground.

Between March 26 and 29, Phil Gessert of Pharobank.com and I went out to Vidal, California for four days of historical fun and treasure hunting.

Our camp

Phil Gessert owns the mineral rights to the Lucky Day mine and we went out there to seek out the second mine shaft known to exist. We had hopes of also locating the Earp trash pit.

The first night we arrived before sunset into the desert camp site used by Wyatt and Josie Earp in the early 1900s. I was very skeptical (naturally) at first. I admit thoughts crossed my mind that my friend had been duped. That all changed when I saw his comparison photographs of the campground. There are at least two known photographs showing Wyatt and Josie in the very location we were to camp in.

Shaft #2

I helped Phil set up his period wall tent and then quickly erected my simple dome tent. I knew I did not set it up right and it was beginning to get pretty windy. Phil and I sat in the quiet windy night looking up at the stars and talking. The discussion of animal like in the area came up and I mentioned the possibility of bob-cats and mountain lions. We had a toast and set off to our respective quarters for a good nights sleep so that we could begin the adventure in the coolness of the morning.

In the wind I knew there was a good chance that my tent might collapse in but I didn’t care much. I’d fix it properly in the morning. As predicted my tent did collapse around me and I drifted off to sleep. What I didn’t know is that my tent was not yet done falling in on me.

Hoping against all odds to find gold

Some time after I fell asleep the rest of the tent fell in on me. The top outside of the tent has an upside down bowl looking thing that hit me on the upper back. It didn’t hurt so much as it felt (in my mind) just like the paw of an imagined mountain lion trying to pin me down for a bite. I awoke … and screamed like a little girl. I laughed myself back to sleep … keeping one eye open.

The second day (Friday) was filled with mine hunting, ore crushing, gold panning, and using the metal detectors around the mines and camp area. No gold or great artifacts were found, minus cans and nails. Unfortunately, in the 1930s, after the Earp’s time, the mines were again worked by a company so the items we did find may have been from either period.

Some of the interesting finds
including the dead turtle in shaft #1.

The two mine shafts are pretty easy to get into. It is volcanic rock and they have been there since at least 1908, which means they have survived 3 or 4 major earthquakes in that area. I felt they were rather safe to go into, although my back injury kept me from going deep into the main shaft due to a small drop that I was not about to try. It was about a 45 degree bank to climb down using a rope to hang onto. The walls are covered with veins of quartz and turquoise or copper. Bats kept Phil from venturing too deep into the mine but he was able to reach the end the following day when David and Andrew, friends of Phil’s came out. David video taped their underground excursion which is currently on Youtube.

Friday night we BBQed up some steaks and had a nice star filled evening. My tent was properly set up and I slept soundly.

Me by the historical marker to the Earp house, Vidal, Ca.

Saturday I went to the Wyatt Earp house in Vidal, owned by Terry Clanton. He has really fixed up that property. The house has been nicely restored with a large marker outside. I had a nice afternoon with old and new friends.

Me, Terry Clanton and Gilbert at the Earp house

Sunday we poked around the area more with metal detectors and then prepared for the journey home. I began to get ill in the afternoon. I guess it was just too much sun. Once home I slept for 12-13 hours and it took me a couple of days to get back to normal.

The photograph below shows the comparison of two taken nearly 90 years a part. The circled rocks have hardly moved in that time.


  1. Fascinating tour and story. I just discovered Vidal (and Vidal Junction) last week. Love your comparison shots of the locale. But I doubt Wyatt Earp camped in any dessert; I doubt there were even restaurants back then, much less a la carte choices. And showering would have been a major task: can you imagine waking up in ice cream or chocolate pudding?

    Jason Houston

  2. Jason, thanks for writing. You get your just "deserts."

  3. Jeff, Very cool. I just recently visited the earp cottage. Nice hard rock mine and (human powered)rock crusher. :) anyone else find it ironic that a Clanton ends up owning Earps cottage? dying to know how much he paid for that place. lucky bastard!

    1. It is ironic that Terry Clanton bought the Earp house. Thanks for writing!


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