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Ghost Towning With CNN

Llano del Rio & Randsburg, CA



Gary B. Speck




THE phone call came around 11:00 on Friday, October 11, 1996.  I was busy with a customer, and our departmental secretary showed me a note that a gentleman named Jim Hill called, and wanted me to call him back.  Since being a municipal building inspector in Southern California pays the bills, and at that time I was acting as the public assistance counter inspector, I couldn't just walk away from my customer, to whom I was issuing a building permit.


First off a little background...


Ever since my book, Dust in the Wind – A Guide to American Ghost Towns, was published in August 1996 by White's Electronics, life has changed slightly.  The news media (television and local newspapers) have a tendency to publicize everything bad that happens in our local cities, and to combat this, we have a full time public relations person who constantly barrages the local media with news releases when anything positive happens here in our town.  About a week after my book officially came into my hands, she sent out a small press release to the two local newspapers.  It said something like..."Next time you come to city hall and talk to the counter building inspector, you just might be speaking with Gary Speck, who just had his first book published..." 


Anyway, that press release netted a phone call from a reporter at each of the papers.  The local weekly, published here in town, printed a small article, and two days later, it was followed by another one in the daily paper out of Riverside.  I enjoyed the positive press, and it boosted local sales of my book, as well as making it easier peddling it to bookstores.


About two weeks later I started receiving calls from the San Francisco Bay, and Central Valley areas of California.  The Associated Press picked up on the Riverside paper's article, and sent it out on the newswire.  The San Francisco Chronicle and the San Jose Mercury-News re-published the piece.


That got the ball rolling.


Then as previously mentioned above, I got THE phone call.  My customer recognized the name and media affiliation of the caller, and he told me "Go call him back, I can wait."


I did, and he did.


"Hello, This is Gary Speck, and I'm returning your phone call..."


Two hours later I was sitting in front of a television camera, being interviewed by Jim Hill, a reporter for Ted Turner's Cable News Network (CNN).  At the end of the interview he asked if there were any good ghost towns nearby that "we" could visit.  I said yes, as two of the ones featured in my book were within a two-hour drive of LA.


"Could you take us to them?"


On Monday Oct. 14, I didn't have to work, so I drove into Hollywood and met the camera crew and Jim Hill at CNN headquarters at the horrible hour of 5:00 A.M.  We all piled into a Chevy Astro minivan and headed out to the desert: an excited ghost town-chasing building inspector, and a seasoned television reporter and camera crew.


Our first stop, just as the sun was about to rise, was at Llano del Rio, an old Socialist colony site in the Mojave Desert, just east of Palmdale.  Long one of my favorite sites, this was also the first ghost town I wrote about in 1984 when "Ghost Town USA" debuted.  I thought it appropriate to use the site as an introduction to a televised tour of Mojave Desert ghost towns.




is located on State Highway (SH) 138, 20 miles east of Palmdale.  Here in 1913 Job Harriman, a political activist, and avowed socialist, purchased an old temperance colony site, and sold shares for a cooperative venture to prove to the world that true socialism could work.  Shares were sold for a dollar each, and enough people purchased them, so in October 1913, the Llano del Rio Company was incorporated.  By May of 1914, Llano del Rio's colonists began to build stone cabins with canvas tops, large barns and a beautiful rock pillared wooden hotel.


Within 18 months, 500 people lived in the self-sufficient colony.  However not all was rosy.  Water supply problems affected crops, the state dogged Harriman, and friction in the community threatened the very harmony of the colony.


By 1917 most colonists had left, and in 1918 Harriman lost Llano del Rio to bankruptcy. The Utopian Socialism experiment failed.  Today the rock walls of a dozen structures, including the old hotel, mark one of the most unique ghost towns in the country.


The three-person crew was impressed by the ruins, and I could see that they too had picked up the ghosttowning bug.  After an hour or so, we loaded up and headed north towards the hundred-year old gold mining town Randsburg, which sits in the heart of Southern California's premier mining district, the Rand District.  The Rand District consists of one true ghost and three semi-ghost towns.  Within a few miles are the ghosted remains of another couple towns and mining campsites.


When we rounded the turn into Randsburg the camera operator (who was also driving) slowed the van and made a comment like "Oh wow!"  I could hear the gears turning in her head as we slowly drove through the old town.


Location (present Llano):

·        Ctr E Sec line, Sec 21,  W Sec line Sec 22, T5N, R9W, San Bernardino Baseline & Meridian

·        Latitude: 34.5058282 / 34° 30' 21" N

·        Longitude: -117.8178409 / 117° 49' 04" W


Llano del Rio (Hotel ruins):

·        Ctr Sec 21, T5N, R9W, San Bernardino Meridian

·        Latitude: 34.506415

·        Longitude: -117.827114




is located in the northeast end of the Rand Mountains, a mile west of US 395. It is the best semi-ghost town in Southern California.  It is a well-worn desert gold mining town of about 200 folks, most of whom either work at the Yellow Aster mine, try to cater to tourists, or are retired from life.  Randsburg is not gussied up for tourists, and doesn't have the garish tourist traps that seem to inhabit so many historic old towns.  It is a real, honest-to-goodness, desert mining town still clinging to life.   


For more about this old mining town’s history, see our Randsburg page for additional details.


Wandering through the town with a camera crew attracted very little attention, and it was amazing how long it took to actually film a two-minute segment.  We wandered along some of the backroads, and they filmed chocolate colored wooden shacks, rusty tin roofs, and a leaning two-holer.  We drove up to Butte Avenue (the main street) and they filmed the buildings there.


Ducking into the store, I introduced myself to Mike Hillenbrand the owner of the Randsburg General Store & Boarding House (in 1996).  We chewed the fat for a few minutes while the camera crew interviewed one of his employees, a long-time resident of the old mining town.  Then we sat down for an inexpensive lunch, after which the four of us boarded the CNN van and headed back home.  To say that leading a Hollywood camera crew through a ghost town and a quiet semi-ghost is interesting is really not doing the experience justice. 


Unique is more like it.


Of course as we walked and talked I spoke about treasure hunting in general and how various laws have impinged on the hobby.  I also mentioned Western & Eastern Treasures Magazine (who I write a monthly ghost town column for), and how the magazine is in the forefront of education and awareness.  I showed them a copy of The Treasure Hunter’s Code of Ethics, and explained how responsible metal detectorists and ghost towners abide by its tenets.


Unfortunately, none of that was shown on film.  However, the general gist of the piece was good positive press for our hobby, especially since it appeared as a human-interest story on a national news broadcast.  I don't really know how many people actually watched CNN that night and saw the piece, but if only one person was made aware of treasure hunting and ghost towning in a positive light, then Ghost Towning with CNN was worth it!


I guess this shows that you never know what will happen when you reach out and try to share your love of the hobby!


Location (Fire Station)

·        E-Ctr Sec 35, T29S, R40E, Mt. Diablo Baseline & Meridian

·        Latitude: 35.3678963  / 35° 22' 04" N

·        Longitude: -117.6521884 / 117° 39’ 08” W



This was our GHOST TOWN OF THE MONTH for August 2002.




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FIRST POSTED:  August 01, 2002

LAST UPDATED: April 28, 2013





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