Last Chance Cyn

Bickel Camp Overview


Bickel Camp and its cabin is a historic 1930's era mining camp close to Ridgecrest, California, in the El Paso Mountains. Thanks to the Garlock fault, geothermal action, and other geological events, the El Paso Mountains are a picturesque, colorful, and mineralized area. Native Americans revered Black Mountain, the highest elevation within the El Paso range at just over 5000 feet. The Native American Indians left an abundance of petroglyphs, tool chippings and house rock rings in the area. Early miners were attracted by gold-bearing ancient river channels that lie exposed. Walt Bickel prospected, and came to stay in the early 1930s, at what is now known as Bickel Camp. Walt was a heavy equipment mechanic and machinist by trade. His camp has equipment and tools today that are irreplaceable and unique. They testify to the inventiveness and capability of a man living with the land and nature. Walt strove to learn about those things that would help in his understanding of the land he lived: botany for edible plants, archaeology for knowledge of Indians and their ways, geology and mining techniques, astronomy, etc. He was constantly applying ingenuity towards a task. An example on site is a self-made well digging machine that is comprised of several car frames, engine parts, gears, etc. that he used to dig a 90 foot well. Few people today would be capable of achieving such a task. During WWII, Walt invented tools to aid soldiers in battle, and he received decoration for his efforts.

In about 1986 the BLM embarked on an ambitious effort to remove "squatters" and all "potential drug lab" cabins from public land. Public opinion was effective in having Walt's cabin and artifacts kept onsite at the time, but not before Walt suffered a mild stroke and had to be hospitalized and in a rest home up to his death in 1996. The camp was watched over starting in the mid-1960's also by Walt's then son-in-law, Larry O'Neil. Larry helped keep the mining claim active, and proudly showed off his large nugget he had on a necklace and wore during special occasions. Larry was also a decorated WWII veteran, having served in the Marines at battles such as Iwo Jima. Larry was effective in watching over the camp and its contents up to June of 2004, when he moved to his family in Hesperia. Larry has many stories on living alone up at the claim as well. Hopefully we can add some of those here soon.

Today the camp is still there to be visited by the desert traveler. Luckily there is a caretaker on site to help explain and protect the remaining historic artifacts. The site has seen its fair share of vandalism, but fortunately has not suffered the same fate as Burro Schmidt's cabin, which after having no caretaker since May of 2004, has been plundered and stripped bare. Joel Nalley is the current Bickel Camp caretaker, and he is eager to help show the visitor around. Joel subsists on our donations of canned food and water, etc. If you've the inclination, your generosity would certainly be appreciated. You are invited to visit this site, and see how an enterprising individual named Walt Bickel lived with nature. The patient visitor at Walt's sees much of our history in a unique setting; mixing the timeliness of geology and nature with an individual's creative implementation of technology. Hopefully we can help sustain Walt's legacy for our children to enjoy too. Follow this Link for Map, travel suggestions, and road condition information before venturing to the camp.

ęSIMCIA / June 2004