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The "Spirit" of Randsburg



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The world vocabulary is littered with oxymorons: jumbo shrimp, pretty-ugly, rap music, government work, urban cowboy and Major League Pitcher Barry Zito to name a few. But when considering the East Kern community of Randsburg, the term "living ghost town" actually makes sense.

With Halloween coming, you knew there would be mention of ghosts somewhere, even if the spookiest thing about Randsburg is the roar of motorcycles on the weekends. Still, this left-over from the boom days of mining has managed to survive, and even flourish, while keeping a firm grip on its Old West charm.
No stop-lights, no shopping malls, none of the craziness associated with the rest of the world intrudes on this isolated hamlet. Despite being just a stone's throw off Highway 395 south of Ridgecrest, the tiny berg has managed to avoid the creep of time.

A visit to Randsburg is a visit to the past, back when small towns really were small towns. The 2000 census put Randsburg's population at a whopping 77 — about the size of a good family reunion—or the typical crowd at a Florida Marlins game. When the mining camps of the Mojave were boomtowns the region was famous for its rich deposits of gold, tungsten and silver, Randsburg was a bit more metropolitan, with about 4,000 souls calling it home. That's a Marlins game on a weekend, if they're giving away free hot dogs.

Late in 1897 the town caught fire. Little damage was done, but that was an omen (another spooky movie). Just a few weeks later, a second fire charred nearly half of the town. A third blaze several months later destroyed what was left of Randsburg. The town rebuilt to some extent, but it never again came close to its gold rush glory.

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The boom faded, as they all do, but like Michael Myers (another obligatory Halloween reference) the town would not die. A few hardy folk remain and keep the, uh, spirit of Randsburg alive. The town survives off of a little mining and a lot of tourism.

The heart of the town hasn't changed much since the first solid buildings went up. Butte Avenue is the main drag and it is more of a meandering path than a boulevard. I'm convinced there isn't a straight street or right-angle corner in the entire town.

The paved streets and overhead power lines are among the few clues that you haven't wandered onto the set of "Silverado". Thanks to the combination of historic buildings and movie-style false fronts, complete with an old church at one end and a pillbox jail at the other, you can be forgiven if you catch yourself waiting for Kevin Costner to challenge Jeff Fahey to a gunfight.

I saw the movie put your money on the star.

Like many of the old small towns, life seems to revolve around the general store. Located in the center of town, the century-old structure is a combination market and soda fountain in the classic sense. It's seen a number of owners over the past few years but the atmosphere remains the same. A long counter and malt machines dating back to the 1930s will have you feeling the urge to mosey up to the bar and order a sarsaparilla in a dirty glass. Okay, the health department would probably frown on that, but you get the idea.

From the front door you're little more than an arms length from the local saloon, eatery, antique shops, and an eclectic bed and breakfast. Just up the street is the Rand Desert Museum, open only on weekends, which houses an impressive collection of mining artifacts and memorabilia. This is the hub of Randsburg.

If you're stuck with the feeling you've been there before, don't be surprised. Movies and TV commercials are frequently filmed in and around the town. Randsburg is a popular stop for photographers, antique car clubs, honeymooners and families.

And bikers. The quiet is often shattered on the weekends by the roar of engines. The nearby Spangler Hills are a favorite of the off-road crowd, and Randsburg makes a convenient launching point. The population grows exponentially when the trails are hopping, adding some zest to the atmosphere.

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