The American west has always held an allure for Brent Underwood, who grew up watching the television show Gunsmoke with his grandfather every single day. After working in the hostel industry for years, when the opportunity to own an authentic former mining town of his own finally came up, he knew he had to take it. The only problem is that for the time being, he is stuck there.

One of the most prosperous silver mines in California’s history, Cerro Gordo was established in 1865, and by 1890 there were close to 5000 miners calling it home. According to Brent, the demand for supplies was so high that the closest port city – Los Angeles - needed to grow fast to meet the growing demand, which led to it becoming the booming destination is it today. Today it is one of the most authentic “ghost towns” still standing, and remains in similar shape to when it was abandoned 100 years ago. After pouring his life savings into the purchase of it, Brent had big plans to transform the town, with overnight accommodation set to open in May. This was abruptly interrupted with the spread of COVID-19.

Cerro Gordo.JPG
Brent has stayed longer than expected due to COVID19 and a series of snow storms © Brent Underwood

“The caretaker Robert has been here for nearly 21 years. When the coronavirus crisis hit, he went home to be with his wife, so the town would have been left exposed to elements and other threats. I packed up my truck in Austin and drove nearly 24 hours straight to get here. I originally planned on being here maybe two weeks before resupplying and reassessing, but a few major snow storms hit and changed those plans. I’ve now been here for over a month,” Brent explained to Lonely Planet. 

Cerro Gordo At Night
Cerro Gordo was one of the most prosperous silver mines in California's history © Brent Underwood

At the moment Brent is living at Cerro Gordo without running water, and is surviving off canned goods, but says that he is trying to stay positive, with the experience having granted him perspective on life. He is also trying to work towards a future when he can open.

“It will be quite some time before people are traveling broadly again. That obviously hurts from a financial position but the safety of the world is most important. So I’m just doing what I can do with the property. Trying to control what I can control and not stress about what I can’t. That means I’m up here fixing up more of the buildings,” he said. Brent has been learning to build decks, refinish old floors, and repair roofs.

“It’s an interesting time to be at Cerro Gordo. Every night I walk past the cemetery that has the remains of miners who died from the Spanish Influenza. That pandemic took Cerro Gordo by storm and a number of miners died here and in the surrounding towns. Now, I’m here during this pandemic. Sitting in the same buildings, walking the same roads. For me, the time forces reflection,” he said.

From almost every building on the 400-acre site there are views of Mount Whitney and Sequoia National Park across Owen’s Valley. On the backside of the property guests will be able to see Death Valley spread out before them. 

More information on Cerro Gordo is available at the official website.

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