In the early 1900s, a reclusive miner named William H. “Burro” Schmidt decided to hand dig a mining tunnel that would help him transport precious metals without putting his beloved burros Jack and Jenny in harm’s way. William Schmidt had moved to a remote stretch of the Mojave Desert from the east coast in order to improve his health. Multiple members of Schmidt’s family had died of tuberculosis. Schmidt believed that the dry desert air would rejuvenate his lungs and help him stave off the disease that had devastated his family.
What began as a shortcut through a rugged mountain blossomed into an obsession that spanned three decades. William Burro Schmidt was a man of few words, so he never divulged why he spent the bulk of his adult life using simple hand tools and the occasional stick of dynamite to carve a tunnel into the side of an arid mountain. Some speculate that he was tracking a hidden vein of gold. In the end, William Burro Schmidt abandoned mining entirely to focus all of his time and energy on perfecting his tunnel.
A few decades into William Burro Schmidt’s all-consuming tunneling project, the state of California constructed a road that made Schmidt’s tunnel obsolete. There was now a smooth, paved road that made the inhospitable Mojave Desert passable. Schmidt was undeterred, and kept hammering away on his project for another decade.
When William Burro Schmidt deemed his tunnel finished, he offered tours to curious onlookers. Schmidt allegedly supported himself by doing work at assorted ranches with his trusty burros by this side. The handful of desert dwellers who knew Schmidt speculated that his tunnel morphed into a massive art project that replaced the need to dig for precious metals. During Schmidt’s lifetime, potentially valuable veins of gold and silver remained untapped. Perhaps hours of relentless hammering made Schmidt feel some sort of kindship with the secret riches of the desert.
Visitors can explore William Burro Schmidt’s handiwork, It takes a little under 30 minutes to walk through the compact tunnel. The area around the Schmidt Burro Tunnel is still fairly barren. It is incredible to consider that a lone miner could sustain himself in a bone dry climate with so few resources. Perhaps having a singular obsession is just as important as finding water in the desert. William Burro Schmidt certainly left his mark as few miners ever have.
Burro Schmidt Tunnel Road