Cerro Gordo – Keeler, California - Atlas Obscura

Cerro Gordo

Keeler, California

A lawless ghost town deep in Death Valley, famous for its riches and its death rate. 


Although ghost towns are common in the rough and tumble California desert, Cerro Gordo stands out with its lethal legacy.

When silver was discovered on Buena Vista Peak in 1865, a town was soon established. Cerro Gordo brought in thousands of miners—and various unsavory characters.

With nothing much to do in those days, drinking was the usual pastime, and there were no shortage of saloons present. But where whiskey flows, so often does blood. At one point, the casualty rate was one soul per week. Even the doctor of the town had enough and left scared for his life. With no sheriff for miles around, killing was just a common occurrence.

But as with many of the mining towns that cropped up in the American West, Cerro Gordo’s existence was short-lived. After switching from silver to zinc, the Union Mine finally closed down in 1938, causing the town’s population to dwindle.

As of 2019, the town has a population of two. Robert Desmarais, coincidentally a former miner, serves as the town’s unofficial caretaker. In 2018, Cerro Gordo was purchased for $1.4 million by a group of entrepreneurs from Los Angeles. They hope to use the money to restore the town. Whether they will succeed or if the settlement crumbles back into the earth is a question only time will tell. 

Know Before You Go

Take Cerro Gordo Road off of State Route 136 in Keeler for about 8 miles. The road is made of gravel, so be careful when driving down it. Cerro Gordo is open all week (depending on road/weather conditions) from 9 a.m to 4 p.m standard time and 9 a.m to 5 p.m daylight savings time. Admission is $10 and free for children younger than 13.

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