The historic Burro Schmidt Tunnel is located in eastern Kern County, southern California, in the El Paso Mountains of the northern Mojave Desert.
It is a 0.5-mile mining tunnel that William "Burro" H. Schmidt (1871–1954) dug in the El Paso Mountains of eastern California for 38 years using hand tools and dynamite.
"Burro" Schmidt confronted a perilous ridge between his mining claims and the smelter to the south in Mojave when mining gold in the El Paso Mountains. Schmidt declared that he would never use his two burros to carry his ore to the Mojave smelter down the back trail.
His tunnel was therefore built in 1900. The tunnel was roughly 10 feet wide and 6 feet tall. There was little need for shoring because it was carved through solid granite bedrock. Schmidt, however, frequently suffered injuries and was repeatedly trapped by falling rocks. Finally, he put a mining cart on the tracks.
The tunnel was no longer necessary when a road connecting Last Chance Canyon and Mojave was finished in 1920, but Schmidt insisted on finishing the tunnel.
He excavated through almost 2,500 feet of solid granite by 1938, using just a pick, a shovel, and a four-pound hammer for the first part then meticulously placed explosives with infamously small fuses for the balance of the excavation. With just a wheelbarrow, he was thought to have carried 5,800 tons of rock to finish the job.
Schmidt never used the tunnel to transport ore from his mine. He sold the tunnel to another miner and left.
He was called "The human mole" in "Ripley's Believe It or Not!" the cartoon that celebrated the achievement. Schmidt's cabin, located below in Garlock, has been mostly deserted and is still largely in condition, thanks to the dry climate.
The tunnel today
The United States government retains ownership of the land underlying a mining claim, which is managed by the Bureau of Land Management, with only mining rights transferred to the mining claim owner.
The Friends of Last Canyon, a tiny organization of history aficionados and outdoor enthusiasts, are actively preserving the site, but unresolved arguments over ownership of the mining claim and ancient structures continue to stymie preservation efforts.
Schmidt's cabin has become the victim of vandalism as a result.