Now, it sounds like I'm demeaning the place, but actually I like it a lot. The Kenny Rogers album, long out of print, is one of my most cherished possessions. My family spent a lot of time there, and I even did my senior thesis in the area. It is fun, but it is not "the Other California" of my current blog series. It's on too many postcards and tourist brochures. It turns out the "Other California" can be defined in a few different ways. The magic, to me, of Calico is beneath the surface of the town, and in the surrounding hills, the parts a lot of tourists never hear about.
The ghost town is a genuine historic mining camp. Silver was discovered around 1881, and despite the horrific lack of water and blazing summertime temperatures, the town grew to a population of 1,200 before a drop in the price of silver killed the mines in the 1890's. There are claims that more than $20 million of silver was produced. The discovery of borates nearby caused a brief resurgence in 1907, but the town was abandoned within a few years.
In 1951, the whole town was purchased by Walter Knott (there really is a close connection with the theme park). He took some of the buildings to Orange County to construct the core of his amusement park, but he also rebuilt some of the ruins, and made a tourist attraction in the desert as well. He donated the park to the county in 1966.
Like Bodie, the town was threatened for a time by plans for renewed mining, and the large hill just west of town is criss-crossed with roads for the drilling rigs. The company was probably considering a large open-pit mine at the site. The scheme was eventually abandoned, probably because of low silver prices.
So, what really is special about Calico and the Calico Mountains? That will be in the next post!