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Bouncing in Barstow

Original Article and Photographs by Kenneth A. Larson © 2010 - 2017

We got off almost on time and headed east toward I-15 north. We continued north on I-15 to Victorville where we exited at D Street, turned right, and within a few minutes stopped at the Route 66 Museum. Although not large, the museum had several interesting exhibits on Route 66 and the City of Victorville. There is a diner booth, a car, Berma Shave signs, photos, research materials, and a small museum shop filled with related items, signs, and books. The museum is at 16825 S. D Street. We already knew that the Roy Rogers Museum had moved to the Midwest several years ago, but were disappointed to learn that it didn't make a go at the new location and the collection was broken up. We were glad that we went when we did.

We then traveled east on Highway 18 to meet up with a friend in Lucern Valley. We followed him north on Barstow Road past a major model rocketry meet, a dry lake that we once saw with water, and Slash X Café, a popular hangout of off roaders. In Barstow we caught I-15 north (really east for a hundred fifty miles) for about fifteen minutes until we exited at Minneola Road. We were supposed to go north for two miles but missed the sign and cris-crossed the desert for about twenty minutes, about 2 seconds of which we were airborne after hitting an unexpected bump, until we finally gave up and saw the sign on the return. The sign north is a short distance off the exit and if you see a sign that say "Monastery" you went too far. Eventually we reached Calico Early Man Archeological Site, one of the oldest deposits of early tools in North America. The site is on the shore of a long gone Lake Manix where, when the climate was less hostile, people lived and made tools. Before this discovery, it was believed that people came here about 12,000 years ago, but at Calico, evidence has pushed this time back to 20,000 years and may go back to 50,000. The work began on November 1, 1964 making this the oldest active dig site in the U.S. There is a small museum and sometimes tours, but they were short handed today and we had to explore on our own. The trail up isn't long and passes the remains of a Bentonite mine. The Master Pit is deeply cut into the hillside, but not over a large area. The hole is irregular in shape saving untouched areas for future archeologists. There are also control pits where skeptics, who suggested these rocks had been naturally broken, where shown that only a short distance away, there are no similar deposits. There is also a five hundred foot long trench winding up the hillside. We explored for about an hour and headed back to Barstow.

We found our motel, checked in, and found the Harvey House off First Street on the north side of the railroad tracks. Barstow is a railroad town and the Harvey House sits beside the mainline through town. Today, its only connection to the railroad is as an Amtrak connection, but once this building served the railroad and its workers and passengers. Several years ago we had taken a tour of the building, but today there would be no tour. Two museums occupy sections of the building. The Mother Road Museum pays tribute to Route 66 at the west end of the building and the Western American Railroad Museum pays tribute to the railroad at the east end of the building. Both closed at 4:00 and we arrived at 3:30, so we had to make a quick visit to each. I took a few photos of the exterior and some railroad rolling stock on display and we continued on our journey.

Continuing on First street a short distance, we turned onto Irwin Road and followed it to Fossil Bed Road and then followed a few miles of more unpaved road to Rainbow Basin Scenic Drive. This one-way rough and sometimes narrow road loops though a variety of shapes and colors of rock formations. Pastel greens seemed to be the most common accent to the various shades of brown and tan. It was late afternoon and the shadows were becoming deep and dark as we traveled through this aptly named canyon. At the end of the drive, we came to an intersection of unpaved roads and rightly guessed that a left turn was the right turn, returning to Fossil Bed Road.

We had only one last important stop for today so we drove back to the east of Barstow to Peggy Sue's 50s Dinner that we had passed on the way to Calico. Peggy Sue's 50s Diner is about what the name implies, a nostalgic trip to the fifties with 50s music, photos of 50s celebrities, life size figures of celebrities, memorabilia, a nifty gift shop, dinosaur figures in the back yard, and, oh yes, food. I had a veggie burger, my friend had a fish sandwich, and my wife had the Hewell Howzer Special.

We returned to the motel where we had left my friend's car and said our goodbyes and settled into our room. My friend said he would listen to the Beatles on the way home to clear the Peggy Sue song from his head.

We awoke early the next day, had breakfast, and checked out. We had some extra time so we drove through Barstow, photographing some of the buildings and murals along Main Street. We also stopped a few minutes so that I could photograph the Harvey House again. Due to a schedule mix-up with religious observance, we left Barstow an hour later than planned. We headed east on I-40 for an hour and a half to Kelbaker Road and turned north to Kelso, deep in the heart of the Mojave National Preserve. The preserve is the third largest landholding in the National Park System.

Kelso is about 22 miles north of I-40 (about 35 miles south of I-15) and shortly before reaching what is left of the town, is the turnoff to Kelso Dunes, the tallest (600 feet) and one of the largest dune structures in the country. Unfortunately we were so far behind schedule, we had to skip it. We also skipped Hole in the Wall of which I'd heard good reviews. The Preserve also has the largest Joshua Tree forest and many other scenic wonders. In fact, the only thing we had time to see after this two hour drive was the beautifully restored Kelso Depot.

The Union Pacific Railroad opened the Mission Revival Kelso Depot in 1924 in the middle of nowhere to serve railroad needs. As railroad technology changed, the depot was less needed and after 1962, only the restaurant and boarding rooms were still in use, and this ended in 1985. The depot was about to be torn down when the public decided to save it. Ultimately in 1992, BLM acquired the building and in 2005 it became the Visitor Center for the Mojave National Preserve. Three floors of displays and exhibits are open to the public and a café serves simple lunches. We ate lunch, wandered the exhibits, watched the movie, bought a stuffed jack rabbit, asked lots of questions, and headed back.

I had intended to have more time in the preserve but the schedule got away from us. There are no (even medium size) towns near the Preserve, so unless you like camping, which we don't, it's hard to spend as much time here is the place deserves. Somehow I hope to return and spend more time. We thought of returning traveling north to I-15 for a different view, but the ranger warned that we might hit Las Vegas traffic this Sunday afternoon, so we returned the way we came.

The trip home was uneventful as we drove the four and a half hours back to LA. My wife was anxious to see her new kitten, left alone overnight for the first time. My 18-year-old cat had died of kidney failure three weeks earlier, so for the first time she wasn't able to meet me at the door. We covered most of our objectives in Barstow but fell far short at the Mojave National Preserve. The desert is a beautiful landscape and often underappreciated. We hope to return soon.

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This page last updated: Friday, 28-Apr-2017 12:54:08 EDT

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