Man Spends 32 Years of Grueling Excavation to Create a Tunnel That Leads to Nowhere


William Henry “Burro” Schmidt‘s nickname as the human mole is fitting. In the Mojave Desert’s El Paso range, he managed to dig a strange tunnel 2,087 feet long, all solid rock, up on the way to the Copper Mountain. Many may think that he’s done this for the view or for hidden treasures, but no, the tunnel just emerged on a high ledge because he wanted to have it there.

Schmidt spent 32 years single-handedly digging the tunnel through the solid granite mountain. When asked about the bizarre project, he simply said that it served as a shortcut. To where, nobody really knows, as he is a man of few words.

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In the late nineteenth century, Burro migrated from Rhode Island to the California desert to help improve his health. It was believed that he started tunnel in 1902 where he staked a mining claim. He then started carrying out the excavation using picks, hammers, hand drills, and explosives. He then used a wheelbarrow to remove the rubble, although there are times when he carries them out on is back. Later on, though, he managed to install iron tracks to the tunnel, transporting debris with the help of a mine car.

He may have gone on with his daily business, but most of the people who lived in the region thought he was crazy. Burro lived alone and earned the reputation of being a miser. According to those who did know little about him, he mended his clothes with flour sacks and his shoes with crushed tin cans. He had been seriously injured by his own explosives as he was digging the tunnel because he decided against using a long fuse.


At some point in his life, the locals started calling him “Jackass Schmidt,” but later on he took on the name “Burro.”

There is still no answer as to why he decided to build the tunnel—up to this day, it is still considered a source of awe and mystery. In fact, many curious bystanders still wonder about the tunnel years after his death.

Burro was said to have no formal training in tunnel-digging and excavation, but anyone who has ever been to see his work would vouch that his accuracy would say otherwise—he seemed to know exactly what he’s doing, it’s kind of hard to believe he just picked up some skills as the project was progressing.

Still, the question cannot be shaken off: why would anyone want to make a tunnel that leads to nowhere?


Many theories came up about his project, after all, why would a single man want to dig for so long? Among the possibilities locals came up with included rich ore deposits, or a vein of gold that he’s been protecting through his tunnel, although none of it was ever shipped out.

Other speculations noted that Burro may have created a shortcut to bring his gold ore from the mine to the market, but road construction being made as he was digging his tunnel made the effort unnecessary. Still, he went on with the grueling, back-breaking work for years.

The theory also does not hold water as he lived a simple life, so hidden treasures just didn’t seem to be the case. There are people who tried to explore the land, but Burro did not leave any records to give anyone a clue regarding his motivation either.

Due to the lack of evidence, people eventually accepted that he was just a bizarre man with a personal project. He could have started his project in search of treasure, but later on, he may have been doing so out of habit.

Nobody knew whether or not he ever struck gold, but it was said that when he broke through the other side in 1938, he simply walked away. After 32 years of exhausting excavations, he packed up and left the mountain to live in a nearby town. Later, he took on a partner, Mike Lee, and together, they started giving tours of the tunnels.

When Burro died in 1954, he took all the secrets of the tunnel with him to his grave.

Today, people still visit the tunnel, which they can walk upright through in about half an hour. The structure is fairly solid, and along the walls are exposed mineral veins that people could possibly identify. Upon reaching the ledge is a spectacular view waiting for curious tourists. Located in a remote area, the Burro Schmidt tunnel, which has been featured on Ripley’s Believe It or Not is a huge tourist attraction for people around the world.

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