Entrepreneur plans to stay in abandoned California mining town FOREVER

Texas entrepreneur, 32, who bought an abandoned California mining town for $1.4m and has spent the last year there alone after getting trapped by a snowstorm last spring says the place may be ‘full of ghosts’ but he NEVER wants to leave

  • Brent Underwood, 32, has spent almost a year living in an abandoned mining town Cerro Gordo
  • The entrepreneur from Austin purchased the remote 300-acre property in California for $1.4million in 2018 
  • He went to visit last March as coronavirus lockdowns ramped up across the US, intending to stay for a week 
  • But soon after he arrived, a snowstorm hit, dumping five feet of powder and making it impossible to leave
  • Nearly 12 months later, he still hasn’t left and now says he plans to stay there forever 
  • ‘I don’t have an exit plan. Dying here is the exit plan,’ Underwood told SFGate this week 
  • Instead, Underwood said he wants to allow other people to see the land by opening a hotel there this summer

A Texas entrepreneur who has spent almost a year quarantining in an abandoned California mining town after getting trapped there by a snowstorm last spring now says he never wants to leave.   

Brent Underwood, 32, purchased Cerro Gordo for $1.4million in 2018 after becoming fascinated by its seclusion and sinister past, which once saw one murder every week and is now rumored to be teeming with ghosts.  

He went to visit the 300-acre property last March in the early days of America’s coronavirus lockdowns, with plans to stay for a week while its usual caretaker traveled to check on family.   

But soon after Underwood arrived, a snowstorm hit, dumping five feet of powder and making it impossible to leave. Nearly 12 months later, he still hasn’t left. 

Underwood spoke to SFGate this week as he closes in on his anniversary in the dilapidated town, which sits about 300 miles outside Los Angeles and nearly 30 miles from the nearest supermarket – and revealed that he has no intention of going back to Texas. 

‘I don’t have an exit plan. Dying here is the exit plan,’ Underwood told reporter Andrew Chamings, who went to see the town for himself.    

Instead, Underwood said he wants to allow other people to see the land by opening a hotel there over the summer.  

Brent Underwood (pictured) has spent almost a year quarantining in the abandoned California mining town of Cerro Gordo after getting trapped there by a snowstorm last spring. Now he says that he never wants to leave 

Underwood went to visit Cerro Gordo last March in the early days of America’s coronavirus lockdowns, with plans to stay for a week while its usual caretaker traveled to check on family. The snowstorm struck soon after he arrived, making it impossible for him to get out. He is pictured in a photo from his Instagram last April


Underwood spoke to SFGate this week as he closes in on his anniversary in the dilapidated town, which sits about 300 miles outside Los Angeles and nearly 30 miles from the nearest supermarket – and revealed that he has no intention of going back to Texas. He is pictured exploring an abandoned mine on the property (left) and sitting in a crumbling building (right) in  photos from his Instagram page

Underwood said he wants to allow other people to see the town by opening a hotel there over the summer

For most of the first two years he owned Cerro Gordo, Underwood visited every month but left upkeep in the hands of its caretaker of 21 years, Robert Desmarais. 

As the coronavirus pandemic took hold in the US last spring, Underwood agreed to look after the town for a week while Desmarais went to Arizona to check on his wife. 

His stay was unexpectedly extended when the snowstorm hit – stranding him 20 miles away from the closest town with a grocery store, Lone Pine.  

In the absence of running water, Underwood relied on melted snow to stay hydrated. As he waited for weeks for the snow to thaw, his diet consisted mostly of rice and canned tuna, he told the New York Post last April. 

Things have gotten significantly easier for Underwood since that time, as he’s now able to reach the grocery store, but the town still has no running water. 

In his recent interview with SFGate, Underwood described how the experience has impacted in ways he never imagined. 

‘During that time there was a change in myself,’ he said. Everything is different here, and you’re very aware of that for the first week, but then there’s a hump and I started getting a little more comfortable. I found all these new passions and interests that I didn’t know I had.’

He now spends much of his time exploring abandoned mines on the property and sharing his discoveries with the impressive YouTube and TikTok following he’s amassed since his arrival in Cerro Gordo. 

‘It’s so creative and fun to connect with everyone. I get to chat with everyone from all over the world about something I love,’ he said. 

‘The majority of viewers seem to be families and I love that, it’s sparking people to explore things with their kids and go down rabbit holes.’  

Cerro Gordo sits 300 miles outside of Los Angeles and nearly 30 miles from the nearest town with a grocery store. At its peak in the 19th century, the community of 5,000 people was a haven for violent crime because the nearest law enforcement agencies couldn’t be bothered to police it given the remote location 

One of the 22 19th century buildings inside Cerro Gordo is seen above in an Instagram photo

Underwood and his investor friend Jon Bier, owner of boutique public relations agency Jack Taylor PR, bought Cerro Gordo from family owners in July 2018 with plans to turn it into a tourist attraction.    

When he first visited Underwood was instantly struck by the town’s deep history as well as the stunning landscapes that surround it, which have been featured in major motion pictures such as Iron Man. 

He was also drawn to Cerro Gordo’s long and bloody history. At its peak in the 19th century, the community of 5,000 people was a haven for violent crime because the nearest law enforcement agencies couldn’t be bothered to police it given the remote location. 

At one point, the town averaged around a murder a week as miners put sandbags in their bunks to block stray bullets in the night. 

The Discovery Channel TV series ‘Ghost Adventures’ investigated the 22-building town in 2019 and determined that it was haunted by the ghosts of two children who died after getting trapped in a closet.  

Underwood and his investor friend Jon Bier, owner of boutique public relations agency Jack Taylor PR, bought Cerro Gordo from family owners in July 2018 with plans to turn it into a tourist attraction. Underwood and Bier are pictured with actor Jeff Goldblum on the property in 2019

When he first visited Underwood was instantly struck by the town’s deep history as well as the stunning landscapes that surround it, which have been featured in major motion pictures such as Iron Man starring Robert Downey Jr (above in the film)

The Discovery Channel TV series ‘Ghost Adventures’ investigated the 22-building town last year and determined that it was haunted by the ghosts of two children who died after getting trapped in a closet

Last spring, Underwood said he had already witnessed a few possible paranormal occurrences. 

‘Things are moving around, I’m seeing curtains move, I’m hearing things in the night,’ he told the Post. ‘There’s no draft, but things drop inside of houses.’ 

But he said he believed the ghosts in the town are ‘peaceful’, adding: ‘For the most part, I leave the ghosts alone and they leave me alone. 

‘Anytime you’re in a town and expect to see nothing and hear nothing, when you do, your mind is on heightened alert.’ 

Explaining his love for the town to SFGate, Underwood said it stemmed from watching the old western TV series Gunsmoke with his grandfather as a kid.  

‘Now, I’m here in this old mining town,’ he said. ‘There was a murder a week here and rumors that Butch Cassidy hid out in the hotel, and fortunes were gained and people died. It’s like living that childhood fantasy.’ 

Underwood and two friends are seen going over plans for the hotel he wants to open by this summer

Underwood has already broken ground on the hotel, telling SFGate: ‘I became borderline obsessed with making sure that the American Hotel will stand here again, and that gave me a guiding light and kept me here’

Underwood stands on a cliff overlooking Cerro Gordo, the abandoned mining town he purchased in 2018

Underwood is seen drinking in a refurbished saloon on the property in this photo from his Instagram page

About three months after Underwood’s arrival in Cerro Gordo, tragedy struck on June 15 when 100-degree heat and high winds sparked a fire one of the town’s oldest structures – the 149-year-old American Hotel.  

‘It was probably the most devastating day of my life,’ Underwood said. ‘I couldn’t even talk about it for the first few weeks. You are literally watching your life savings and hopes and dreams burn in front of you.’  

The next morning Underwood set up a GoFundMe raising money to rebuild the hotel. The description on the campaign read: ‘We really need help. We have the original plans and blueprints for the hotel and what we are planning on doing with the raised funds is make it better than ever, bring it back to a version of the glory days. 

‘No, it won’t be original wood, but it will be the original design and up to modern code, so people can actually stay in the American Hotel.’ 

As of Tuesday, the GoFundMe has raised $87,000 toward its $500,000 goal. 

About three months after Underwood’s arrival in Cerro Gordo, tragedy struck on June 15 when 100-degree heat and high winds sparked a fire one of the town’s oldest structures – the 149-year-old American Hotel. Charred wreckage of the hotel is shown above

The morning after the fire Underwood set up a GoFundMe raising money to rebuild the hotel. He and friends are seen cleaning up burned debris from the blaze in a photo from his Instagram

‘I became borderline obsessed with making sure that the American Hotel will stand here again, and that gave me a guiding light and kept me here,’ Underwood told SFGate. 

He acknowledged that some locals may be wary of his efforts to turn Cerro Gordo into a tourist attraction, but insisted: ‘It’s not a get-rich-quick scheme, I’m not flipping the place. I’m like, here.’ 

In addition to the hotel, Underwood is planning to set up a museum to store all the artifacts he uncovers on the land. 

‘Everything I find I add to the museum here, I take that very seriously,’ he said. ‘I see it as a race against time, these mines will collapse, and everything in them will dissolve and turn to dust.’ 

Underwood said he can’t imagine ever leaving Cerro Gordo because he sees it as a never-ending project.  

‘When will Cerro Gordo be done? I don’t think it will ever be done,’ he said. ‘I could do this for the rest of my life.’

Underwood said he can’t imagine ever leaving Cerro Gordo because he sees it as a never-ending project 

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