Just what keeps the memory of this old town alive more than a century after it was born in the midst of the mining boom of the 19th Century? Walk down Butte Avenue and, in the middle of the block, you will surely find the answer at the Rand Desert Museum.
Founded in 1943 and given over to Kern County in 1948, the museum is the heart and soul of the old town. When Kern County couldn’t bear the expense of maintaining the museum, it was given back to Randsburg proper.
To this day it is run by the residents of the Rand Mining District. Even more that a hundred years later, there remains life in these hallowed hills.
Once a year the Randsburg Old West Day happens here, and the town lives on in spirit and prosperity. Not quite like the gold strike of yesteryear, but enough to keep the town and the museum alive.
Local merchants are open on this hot day in September, and the food and drink are plentiful. Antique shops sell their wares, and the world is at peace, 1890s style. This year, the 16th annual Old West Day took place on Saturday, September 16, 2017, right on the main drag thru town, Butte Avenue. I like big buttes, I cannot lie.
This family fun day was filled with a pancake breakfast, live bluegrass music, vendors, Old West gun fights, a car show, gold panning, beer, Indian Tacos, snow cones and much more.
Randsburg is more than a special day in September. During Thanksgiving, as well as New Year’s Day weekend, the town is flooded by off road enthusiasts; most ride into town on motorcycles and other off-road vehicles.
Butte Avenue is considered a legal trail, and all manner of motorized carriages can be found in abundance. Naturally, there are still the occasional cowboys riding into town on horses. Even mules. It is a town living in the glory days of the Old West.
The General Store’s ice cream parlor is famous for their original 1904 soda fountain brought by a Clipper Ship from Boston, Massachusetts around Cape Horn then brought in by mule and wagon. The store has been running continuously since 1896 from one owner to the next.
Besides juicy burgers and phosphate sodas, they are famous for their Black Bart sundaes, which consists of their specialty ice cream, hot fudge sauce, bananas and nuts topped with whipped cream and a cherry. The ice cream parlor rings a bell when the order is ready.
Fun Fact: Country crooner Dwight Yoakam’s 1989 video for “Long White Cadillac” was filmed in the Randsburg.
The White House Saloon was established in 1897 and has served a wide assortment of miners, cowboys, clampers and happy families throughout the years. They specialize in charbroiled burgers and adult libations. Be advised, they only take cash, so come prepared. There are no banks in Randsburg.
“Clampers,” for the uninitiated, are members of The Ancient and Honorable Order of E Clampus Vitus (ECV). A fraternal organization dedicated to the study and preservation of the heritage of the American West, and fun bunch of guys to hang around with, as well.
Another popular watering hole is The Joint, which has been in Randsburg since the 1950s. It closes if there’s no customers, so hurry on in. Remember, bring cash.
Fun Fact: Walter Glenn Macomber invented an internal combustion rotary engine while he was employed by the Randsburg Water Company. As reported in the San Francisco Call, he obtained a patent on the Macomber Rotary Engine on September 13, 1909.
Fun Fact: Actor George Brent starred in the movie “South of Suez”, which filmed in Randsburg in 1940.
Be sure to check out Randsburg’s End of the Trail post office, featuring a bovine skull above its doorway.
Fun Fact: Most of the placer gold has been recovered from dry placers at Stringer or in the Rand Mountains north of Randsburg.
Three prospectors, John Singleton, Charles Burcham, and Frederic Mooers, discovered gold near the present town site of Randsburg and founded the Rand Mining District in 1895. The mine they discovered was at first called the Rand Mountain Mining Company and later became the Yellow Aster Mining and Milling Company.
Randsburg was formerly called Rand’s Camp.
The area was named Rand after the famous Witwaterstrand mining area of South Africa.
Rand Mining District quickly boomed and by 1897 an estimated 2,500 people were residing there.
In 1898 the Randsburg Railway reached what is now the town of Johannesburg and for the next 16 years Johannesburg served as the supply center for the Searles, Panamint, and Death Valley mines.
By 1899, when the Butte Lode Mining Company was formed, ore valued at approximately $140,000 USD had been produced. The most productive mining periods were 1896-1912, 1916-1921, and 1925-42.
“After a few years, the Santa Fe Railroad built into the Randsburg District from Kramer, a distance of twenty-eight miles. This, of course, put an end to the stage line. There were many mines being opened up. The “Yellow Aster” was making a wonderful showing and there were many smaller mines operating. Some of them turned out to be heavy producers like the Big Butte, Kinyon, Wedge, King Solomon, Winnie, Santa Ana, Sunshine, Pinmore and others.”
—Harmon Rittenhouse Wynn
August 5, 1922: “AT RANDSBURG, Kern County, Calif., active work is going on in thirty-five shafts, according to the U. S. Geological Survey. The Yellow Aster is using diamond drills in prospecting its ground. Twenty stamps of the mill are dropping. There has been excitement over a strike in the Mizpah mine, near Johannesburg.” — Engineering and Mining Journal Press
Tungsten was discovered in 1903 in an area south of Randsburg, which was to become known as Atolia, named after two men who developed the mines there by the names of Atkins and Degolia.
During World War I the demand for tungsten caused a boom which resulted in a town of 1,500 people being established. It quickly died out after the Armistice was signed.
Silver was discovered in 1919 in what is now know as Red Mountain. The California Rand Silver mine, was the richest silver mine in California during the 1920s and produced many millions of dollars worth of silver.
In the early 1980s Rand Mining Company reopened the famous Yellow Aster Mine, and many of the adjacent mines. Using the art of “Heap Leach” they produced 80,000 ounces of gold per year.
At current prices for gold, silver, and tungsten, the Rand Mining District has produced over a half billion dollars worth of product.
August 31, 2006:Goldcorp acquired Glamis Gold for $8.6 billion USD, creating one of the world’s largest gold mining companies with combined assets of $21.3 billion dollars.
The mines now employ over 80 people and work around the clock. While its unknown what the current production is for the Rand Mining Company, rumor has is that it turns out about 5,000 ounces of gold a month.
Randsburg has experienced many devastating fires during the late 1800s. Randsburg currently has its own dedicated fire department, Kern County Fire Department Station 75. Good to see they have a sense of humor too.
The quaint town offers a museum, antique stores, tasty food, ice cream and liquid refreshments. Be advised the majority of the town curls up early. Many stores and the museum are open only on weekends and holidays.
During holidays, local actors don costumes and perform skits and melodramas for audiences at the Randsburg Opera House.
Goat Sky Ranch is a Bed and Breakfast Inn. Randsburg Inn and Commercial Hotel, near the Randsburg Opera House and My Place Dance Hall, also offers guest lodging. Rustic Airbnb’s are also popular, especially during holidays.
The Rand District Cemetery is not part of the museum complex. They support the cemetery by adding names to the pioneer plaque when research shows that a pioneer of the District was buried in the cemetery but the headstone is missing.
The cemetery was established in 1897, and is still in use today. Please refer to our accompanying article featuring the Rand District Cemetery for further details athttps://www.thedesertway.com/rand-district-cemetery/ or use our handy tab at the bottom of this page.
Rand Desert Museum hours of operation: Open 10 a.m. to 4:00 p.m., Saturdays, Sundays and holidays or by appointment. Please call 760-608-7776.
The two-cell jail at the entrance to town with its mannequin prisoners is open 24 hours a day.
From San Bernardino: Travel north on I-15 to Hwy. 395. Take Hwy. 395 north 75 miles to the Randsburg turn-off. You will have passed through the outskirts of Red Mountain (formerly called Osdick), Atolia and Johannesburg.
From Ridgecrest: Take China Lake Blvd. south to Hwy. 395. Turn left and travel 15 miles to the Randsburg turn-off.
From Los Angeles: Travel north on I-5 to Hwy. 14 then north on Hwy. 14 to Randsburg/Redrock Road to Randsburg.
From Bakersfield: Travel east on Hwy. 58 to Hwy. 14. Proceed north on Hwy. 14 to Randsburg/Redrock Road to Randsburg.