My wife and I love exploring old, forgotten places that seldom (if ever) receive mention in a travel guidebook. That is one of several reasons why you will find us camped in the boondocks.
Seldom-visited attractions in remote areas equate to lack of supporting services like motels, restaurants, and RV parks. Such is the case with Bickel Camp in California’s El Paso Mountains.
Like the thousands of people before him, Walt Bickel came to the El Paso Mountains in the 1930s in search of gold. His diggings became known as Bickel Camp.
While he didn’t make much money mining gold, he did scratch out a living and called the place home until 1987 when the BLM came to evict the elderly Bickel considering him a squatter. Hours before their arrival, Walt suffered a stroke and was taken to an area hospital.
Outraged friends and family rallied to save Walt’s home of over 50 years, plus his impressive accumulation of equipment. A settlement was reached allowing the camp to remain as a museum for the benefit of the public.
Today the camp is cared for by the Friends of Last Chance Canyon. The cabin and grounds have been left pretty much the same way Bickel left them in 1987 and are considered to be a true representation of a depression-era mining camp.
Items at the site include antique tractors, mining equipment, vintage travel trailers, antique appliances, rock samples, and Rube Goldberg contraptions that only Walt himself knew what they were designed to do.
Visitors are welcome when the caretaker is on site (mostly weekends). The grounds are considered closed when a caretaker is not present. If the caretaker is not present, much can be seen and enjoyed from the perimeter of the camp. You can learn more about the camp by clicking here.
Bickel Camp is miles from the nearest paved road. It can be reached by high clearance two-wheel drive vehicles piloted by seasoned drivers, but a four-wheel drive vehicle or ATV is better suited as there are sandy washes along the route.
Where to camp:
Boondocking: If entering from Highway 14 from the “billboards” via EP15, the first decent camping spots can be found at N35° 29.600 W117° 56.565
If entering from the Garlock side via Mesquite Canyon, there is a nice boondocking spot just a ways up the road at N35° 23.443 W117° 48.982
The nearest developed campground is at Red Rock Canyon State Park. There are no hookups, so you might as well camp for free in the boondocks.
Exploring the enterprising spirit of Walt Bickel, just another adventure in RVing!
Dave Helgeson’s many roles in the RV industry started before he even had a driver’s license. His grandparents and father owned an RV dealership before the term “RV” had been coined, and Dave played a pivotal role in nearly every position of an RV dealership. He and his wife Cheri launched their own RV dealership in the Pacific Northwest. The duo also spent 29 years overseeing regional RV shows. Dave has also served as President of a local chapter of the Recreational Vehicle Dealers Association (RVDA), worked on the board of advisors for the RV Technician Program of a local technical college, and served as a board member of the Manufactured Home and RV Association. Dave’s reputation earned him the title of “The foremost expert on boondocking,” bestowed by RV industry icon, the late Gary Bunzer (The RV Doctor). When he’s not out boondocking, you’ll find Dave in the spotlight at RV shows across the country, giving seminars about all things RVing. He and Cheri currently roam in their fifth travel trailer, with Dave doing all the service, repair and modifications to his own unit.
Links to “learn more” and “map” seem to be broken and only go to a web page named BLANK.
Dave Helgeson - Adventures in RVing says
The link has been updated, please try it again. Thank you for letting us know.
Lee Delaney says
I worked for for the BLM in the 90’s in Ridgeçrest as the Field Manager. I transferred shortly after incident you describe. We fashioned an agreement with BLM Nickel Family the group 7ou mention and Maturango Museum and I am sure there are more 5hat I have forgotten. The intent was to preseve the area as a depression àreà example.
Lee Delaney says
Man, I cannot believe how many errors in my comment! Tried to do from a tablet. So let’s start over. I was the BLM Manager in Ridgecrest during the 1990’s. I moved there shortly after the incident you described. The incident was part of an effort by the BLM throughout the Desert to to assure compliance with the 1872 Mining Law. There were were hundreds of so-called miners who tried to appropriate public lands under the guise of the law. They were not miners in any stretch of the imagination. They simple were squatters. Walt Bickel was not one of these people. He worked very hard during the depression to develop mines and support his family.. He grew old over time and could no longer undertake the rigors of mining. However, he remained in his cabin. so technically he was breaking the law. However, this is a good example of where BLM was legally right but totally wrong on a social scale. In other words, BLM won the battle but totally lost the war in the publics’ mind.. After I arrived and assessed the situation with staff and the local public, we fashioned an agreement with the Bickel Family, the Group you mentioned,, Maturango Museum, Walt’s ex-son-in-law (he was designated caretaker), and several others that I forget. The intent of the agreement was to preserve an example of depression era mining in place for the public to enjoy. I am glad to see the site still exists 25 years later..
Ron Bickel says
Thanks for your support , we all appreciate it . Ron Bickel Sr.
Catherine Neubauer says
Walt Bickel is my Grandfather and it is somehow strange the way you describe his camp, It was to me family gatherings, not just my Mom [who is Walt’s daughter]and my Dad but all of Walt’s children and Grand children, all of us children called him candy Grandpa because he always had a big jar of candy he would give us, and he always had many cats to play with, or we would explore the old mine and just have a lot of fun it was great times, when we were kids, and my Brother Billy and I are the ones that put the rocks on the hill that say Bickel, I think they are still there and have been kept up by other’s, I am not sure I have not been there for many years, but I would like to Thank everyone who has kept this going and Loves his stories as much as all us Grand kids.