Welcome to the second installment of Ghost Town Trails as we visit Tumco, California.
Tumco is an easy visit for snowbirds spending the winter in Yuma or boondocking along Ogilby Road.
Tumco is located in one of the earliest known gold mining regions in California, preceding the California Gold Rush by 150 years! Gold was first discovered by Spanish colonists as they traveled northward from Sonora, Mexico. According to local legend, two young Mexican boys returned to their camp one evening with their shirts stuffed with gold ore. These muchachos cargados (loaded boys) became the namesake for the surrounding Cargo Muchacho Mountains, where the Tumco gold deposits occur.
History of Tumco
Following the first discovery of gold, Mexican settlers worked numerous small mines for many years. Gold was “rediscovered” here January 6, 1884, by Peter Walters—and the rush was on. Soon a town that was then called Hedges sprang up to support the miners. Some of the mining claims assayed as high as 7.5 ounces of gold a ton, an extremely rich find. But with the nearest mill to process the ore 14 miles away, the transportation costs were too much for the average grubstake miner to make a profit.
In 1893, a group of California investors decided to take a chance on the mines and formed the Golden Cross Mining and Milling Company. They possessed the capital to develop the mines and build a mill. To operate the mill, a 12-mile wood pipeline was built to pump more than 100,000 gallons of water per day from the Colorado River.
Golden Cros facing financial trouble
At this point in time, the town had a population of more than 3,000. Golden Cross was soon facing financial trouble since the ore didn’t bring the high yield expected. They couldn’t make a profit operating the 40-stamp mill they had constructed. Inept management decided that a straightforward solution would be to add another 60 stamps. However, with a 100-stamp mill capacity, capable of crushing 167 tons of ore per day, the problems became worse. It was now necessary to mine some very low-grade ore to keep all 100 stamps going and the company slid further into debt. In an effort to postpone the inevitable, the firm began cyanide leaching of the thousands of tons of tailings that had amassed around the mines over the years. Within the next two years the company was bankrupt and a receiver was assigned to liquidate the holdings.
Hedges was largely abandoned by 1905 when mining was discontinued. In 1910, the mines were reopened and the town reoccupied under the name Tumco, short for Trumble United Mines Company. Tumco was a typical company town of its day, with workers essentially at the mercy of the mining company. Workers were required to purchase goods at the company store. Also, even though the company did not supply housing, $1 per day to live on company property was taken from their wages. Wages at the mine were $2 to $3.50 per day.
This newest attempt to make a profit from the mines again led to financial ruin in 1914. Tumco never regained its former glory and has been completely abandoned since 1949. Ultimately, more than 200,000 ounces of gold were taken from the mines in the area.
Our visit to Tumco
My wife and I boondocked within walking distance of Tumco during the fall several years ago. From our RV we were able to access, by foot, the self-guided 1.5-mile walking tour of the historic Tumco site developed by the Bureau of Land Management. The trail passes through the residential, business and mining areas of Tumco. We enjoyed learning about the town via the nine interpretive panels detailing the life and times of the town. Our walk took us past the remains of two cemeteries, ruins of the company store, hospital, house ruins, miners’ club, cyanide vats and other related mining features. We then ventured over to the nearby Gold Rock Ranch. It features a free mini museum with an assortment of pictures, artifacts and memorabilia from Hedges, Tumco, and the surrounding areas. Click here to view a video tour of Tumco.
Getting to Tumco
Take exit 159 off Interstate 8 located 12 miles west of Yuma. Head north on Ogilby Road approximately eight miles to coordinates N32° 52.964 W114° 50.351, where you will see a sign on the east side of the road for Gold Rock Ranch. Turn west to reach Gold Rock Ranch or turn east and travel a couple hundred yards to reach Tumco. Both options are via dirt roads suitable for two-wheel drive RVs.
Best time to visit is fall, winter or spring, as summer temperatures can reach 120 degrees.
There are acres of free camping between Ogilby Road and the Tumco town site on Bureau of Land Management land. There are some great campsites to be had with fire rings and other improvements made by previous campers. The view of the Cargo Muchacho Mountains cannot be beat, and the sunrises and sunsets are spectacular! Dispersed camping is allowed at the site for up to 14 days.
The Gold Rock Ranch offers full hookup RV sites.
Click here to see last month’s Ghost Town Trails entry.
Dave will be speaking at the FMCA Convention in Tucson, AZ March 25th and 26th. He would love to meet RVtravel.com readers that will be attending. Feel free to introduce yourself after one of his seminars.