Calico has a suitably desert-like setting at the edge of arid hills on the north side of the wide expanses of Mojave Valley. The hillsides are quite devoid of any vegetation so the rocks are fully exposed, and the mineral content is evident from the deep red/purple colors of some of the outcrops. Part of the hills around town are formed of sharply folded and twisted strata, further evidence of past metamorphic activity. The town is reached by a loop road running between exits 191 and 194 of I-15, then by a short spur ending at a carpark. Opening hours are 8 am to dusk, though the shops close at 5 pm, and current fees (2014) are $8 for adults or $5 for children over 6.
The one main street through town is lined with about 30 replica wooden/adobe buildings, some used as gift shops or cafes, and including a jail, blacksmiths shop, saloon, drug store, candle shop, museum & stables. Higher up in the hills are various mine buildings, plus the shafts/tunnels of the actual mine, one of which may be visited as part of a guided tour. Various pieces of original or restored equipment are scattered around the houses, such as carriages and mining tools, and large (artificially-planted) ferocacti add to the desert experience. Other activities on offer (for additional payment) are panning for gold, catching a play at the theater, watching cowboys stage mock gunfights, or riding a narrow gauge steam train. Regular special events are staged a few days each month, such as music festivals, civil war re-enactments or western parades. Calico has a large, full service campground and RV site set on a patch of bare red earth; free camping is available a few miles away along several tracks leading north further into the mountains, in the general direction of Rainbow Basin
Twelve miles west, Barstow
has a good selection of hotels and motels.
History of Calico
Mining at Calico began after discovery of large amounts of silver ore in 1881, soon attracting a population of 1,200. Over 500 separate mines were developed in the nearby hills, producing $86 million of silver. At its peak Calico had 22 saloons, its own Chinatown and a red light district, amongst many other facilities. Borax was also mined, until 1907 when production switched to more profitable sites in Death Valley, a few years after prices for silver fell dramatically making the main operation uneconomical. The site was nearly deserted by 1929. After the reconstruction instigated by Walter Knott, the town was donated to San Bernadino Country in 1966 and became a regional park a few years later.