CALICO — California's early miners made their own fun, and you can do the same during Calico Ghost Town's annual Spring Festival. It's an old-time hootenanny during Mother's Day weekend, May 7-8.
The century-old ghost town in the high desert will come to life with bluegrass and country music, clog dancing and square dancing. More than 60 individuals and groups have already entered the fiddle, banjo, guitar and band contests to vie for $2,500 in prizes.
And anyone who entertains the crowd with an impromptu song or dance will be rewarded with an apple or cherry pie. (Rules for winning a free pie will be posted around town.)
Even if you can't join the spring festival, visitors are welcome every day of the week at Calico Ghost Town. It got its start in 1881 when silver was discovered in the colorful Calico Mountains a few miles east of Barstow.
Calico grew to a population of 3,500 as mines were dug that yielded ore worth millions of dollars. But when the price of silver fell in 1896, the miners moved on and the town died.
Calico was reborn 55 years later with the help of Walter Knott of Knott's Berry Farm fame. He wanted to restore the abandoned town as a tribute to his uncle, who grubstaked the prospectors that first found silver in the surrounding mountains.
Nowadays, Calico offers a bonanza for visitors who want to sample life in Southern California's early mining towns. It's back in business as a living ghost town.
Stroll along the boardwalks of Main Street, where the stores sell everything from sunbonnets to sarsaparilla. Ride the old mine train and explore tunnels on foot that lead to the Glory Hole. And be sure to hiss the villain at the melodrama theater.
From reading tombstone inscriptions on Boot Hill to playing on a seesaw in front of the one-room schoolhouse, families can spend an enjoyable day at Calico.
The 60-acre town site has been operated as a public park since 1966 when it was donated to San Bernardino County by the Knott family. Visitors are welcome from 7 a.m. until dusk; most shops and attractions are open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. The parking fee is $3 per vehicle.
Get to Calico Ghost Town from Los Angeles by heading east on Interstate 10 to join Interstate 15 northeast to Barstow. Then continue seven miles beyond to the Ghost Town Road exit and turn north toward the Calico Mountains.
Parking is below the town, and you can walk up the hill to Main Street or ride a cable car. Round trip on that tram is $1 (children 50 cents). A ticket that includes four other attractions costs $5.25 weekends, $4.25 weekdays (children $3.25 and $2.50).
History of Calico
With that ticket you can take a short ride on a former mine train, the Calico & Odessa Railroad, and listen to a recorded history of the town.
It also admits you to the Maggie Mine for a self-guided underground tour, and lets you try your luck in the shooting gallery and visit the Mystery House.
All of the other attractions are free, except for the Calikage Playhouse where melodramas are staged hourly throughout the day. Adults pay $1.50, children 75 cents for the two-person fun show that lets the audience know when to hiss, boo, groan, sob, applaud and cheer.
A novelty to look for is the bottle house, a structure made entirely of glass bottles of various colors. Most buildings in Calico were authentically rebuilt according to old drawings and photographs, and a few are original.
One is Lil's Saloon, where visitors drop in for a beer or sarsaparilla. On a wall are portraits of famous gunfighters.
Also dating to turn-of-the-century times is Lane's General Store, where you can still buy merchandise such as hard candy and cowboy hats. Across the street is Lucy Lane's house, now a needlepoint shop.
The weathered buildings offer a host of other items for sale, including leather goods, pottery, baskets and gemstones. In the rock shop is a wall built of translucent rocks.
Rustle Up Some Grub
At the bottom of Main Street, visitors dine on hearty fare at Calico House, a cafeteria-style restaurant. At the opposite end of town you can get sandwiches, drinks and other treats at the Top of the Hill Cafe and Ice Cream Parlor.
Look out for a man strolling the street with a six-shooter. He's Calico's sheriff, Lonesome George. Or it might be the deputy marshal, Doc Holliday, who's quick with a pair of handcuffs that he slaps on unsuspecting visitors.
Many more characters will be in town during the Calico Spring Festival. It runs from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. both days. Parking is free for the event, but admission is charged: adults $4 and juniors $2 (children under 6 free).
Below the town is a county campground with 114 sites that cost $9 a night but are only $7 a night during the Spring Festival. There are hot showers but no vehicle hookups.
Every Saturday night at 8 Sheriff Lonesome George presents a campfire program. On May 7, during the festival weekend, there will be bluegrass music instead.
For more information about Calico Ghost Town, the Spring Festival or camping, call the park rangers at (619) 254-2122.
Back in Barstow you'll find a lineup of motels on E. Main Street that includes the new Barstow Station Motor Inn, Holiday Inn, Howard Johnson's, Vagabond Inn and Desert Villa Motel. Among popular dining places are Steak Eaters Inn, LaScala and Canton. Ask directions to another favorite, Idle Spurs Steak House.
Get lists of restaurants and lodgings from the Barstow Chamber of Commerce in the California Desert Information Center, 831 Barstow Road. It's open every day from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Return to Los Angeles via Interstates 15 and 10 West. Round trip from Los Angeles to old Calico is 295 miles.