We were due for another country drive yesterday. Getting off to our usual late start, we headed east in to the badlands under moody skies. In the mountains beyond Santa Clarita the sky burst open and torrential rains made for treacherous conditions.
The west-bound lane was completely clogged due to an accident. Fearing the same for us, we slowed to a crawl and worried that we wouldn’t make it to our destination. But finally the rain eased up and we passed through the desert-edge cities of Lancaster and Palmdale, before spilling out on to the barren plains of the Mojave. The town of Rosamond was our quest, and we finally arrived there around 3 PM.
Our first stop was the Cat House aka The Feline Conservation Center, a breeding facility for big cats. This small zoo cares for large felines with the intention of eventually releasing them back in to the wild.
Though it was a chilly day, most of the cats were active. We saw a mountain lion, jaguars (including a powerful-looking black one), leopards, snow leopards, a Canadian lynx named Thumper, a fishing cat, a serval, ocelots, and various other obscure species we were unfamiliar with. Also, many peacocks roamed the grounds unsupervised, strutting about like peacocks.
We learned that fishing cats like to get into the water to hunt for fish. They use their flattened tail like a rudder when paddling around. Fishing cats are found in South and Southeast Asia and were classified by the IUCN as endangered.
Though it saddens us to see animals out of their natural habitat, a volunteer said that many of these cats have nowhere to go, as their previous habitats are infested now with humans. Our $7.00 admission (each) helps support these creatures, and if we ever win the lottery we will support them even more.
As it’s a rather small place, on a day trip from L.A. you will surely have time to fit in some other attractions too, as we spent less than an hour with the kitties. Though it was windy and cold, we did enjoy it an ocelot.
Just up the road from the cat house is another interesting place…the old Tropico Mine, a creepy ghost town perched on a hill above this section of Rosamond, fittingly called Tropico Village. We could see it from down below, and had to take a ride up to investigate.
The entire dilapidated town is now barricaded by barbed wire and No Trespassing signs, adding to the foreboding feel. High on the hill you can see old mining equipment and buildings, while down closer to the road are crumbling brown houses, totally weatherbeaten and sinister looking. Some of our impression was influenced by the cloudy, windy day, but this little spot seems to live up to the typical idea of what a ghost town should look like.
The truth is that some of the buildings were brought in during the 1950’s from other mines, in an attempt to create a tourist attraction, but it didn’t last. The mine was originally opened in the late 1800’s for the purpose of excavating clay for pipe making, but then gold flakes were found and Tropico hill was ravaged for decades thereafter in search of more, before finally closing down in 1956.
On an interesting side note, the mine was used for some scenes in the famous Mel Brooks movie, Blazing Saddles. Though it’s always exciting to see the site of famous films, it takes away from the mystique of places like this when you know they’ve been heavily trampled by film crews. And movies have been filmed all through the desert and mountains that encircle Los Angeles; it’s hard to find secret places in this world anymore, I guess.
We didn’t see any ghosts, but our stop at Tropico Mine was definitely worth it, despite only being able to view it from the road. The two of us will continue to comb the barren hills for strange places for as long as we are here!
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