No, eating was not our only goal for the “Needles to Nipton Noodle”. The Jaussaud inbound trip for the 2009 Desert Explorer Rendezvous included a lot of history and the desert was in bloom with zillions of wildflowers. No one got lost along the way and Neal arrived Thursday evening in time to save us from Marian. Whew!
Our first stop after leaving Thursday morning was the site of Loma’s, a 40’s and 50’s Needles eatery known for its strawberry pie. Loma went on to establish the Hungary Bear, a popular Needles restaurant still in operation. From Loma’s we headed west along the railroad tracks.
The railroads are a huge part of desert history. The railroads completed the southern transcontinental route when the Atlantic and Pacific (Santa Fe) from the east and the Southern Pacific from the west met in Needles in 1883. The Santa Fe gained control of the whole route in 1884. Today the Santa Fe is known as the Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF). Early steam engines required water and service frequently so the railroads maintained inhabited sidings at least every 50 miles or so. Early roads across the desert followed the railroads closely to take advantage of the support these sidings offered. On our “noodle” we visited the historic sites of Java, Klinefelter, and Ibis while traveling on early alignments of Old National Trails and Route 66.
National Trails was the first southern interstate road and the Auto Club installed their historic signs along it from Santa Monica to Kansas in 1914. Beginning in 1927, National Trails was eventually replaced by Route 66. In turn, Route 66 was replaced by Interstate 40 beginning in the 60’s. During its life, Route 66 had several different alignments. At Java we could see a section of Old National Trails, the 1927 through 1946 alignment of Route 66 and the later alignment used from 1947 until Route 66 was replaced with Interstate 40. It’s interesting to note that the last section of I-40 across the Mojave (Mountain Springs Summit to Ludlow) wasn’t completed until 1973. Sue and I hauled our first mobile home to the river on Old Route 66 through Amboy in 1970 behind my brother-in-law’s 1956 Ford pickup. We barely made it over Cadiz Summit.
Before the roads, the Mojave Indians had trails all over the Mojave Desert and they left their markings. The “noodle” took us past habitation sites, an ancient shooting gallery, petroglyphs and grinding sites. Indian Trails are distinct from the later roads in that they usually travel the shortest distance between water sources and are not necessarily the best routes for wagons or railroads. Whipple was following an Indian Trail through the Mojave in 1854 when he was exploring the “35th Parallel Route” or southern route for the transcontinental railroad. The route eventually adopted was a more moderate grade located by Palmer in 1868. Palmer’s route was used in 1883 when the railroads met in Needles on the Colorado River and is still the route used today.
Patton and his troops came to the Mojave Desert in 1942 and several troop camps were established in the Mojave Desert. We “noodled” through Camp Ibis, one of the larger camps where the 81st Medical Battalion left their insignia in rocks for us to find. The 81st went from Camp Ibis to the Ardennes Forest of Belgium and fought in what has become known as the Battle of the Bulge. At the center of the camp we found white stars made from rocks. White stars represent the national identification symbol. We located officer quarters and possible cantinas before Mary and Charles led us to a bunker. Sunny and Jean located the camp airstrip on their GPS and we followed them to where it should have been. It was no longer distinguishable on the ground, but the following week Mal Roode googled our route and confirmed we were indeed on the runway.
From Camp Ibis, we followed a very old road to a significant Homer Mountain mine. Our mine aficionado, Bob Oliver, descended into a shaft while most of us checked out the ruins and debris. The day was waning, but on the way to our camp in Piute Wash we came to a very sad and abandoned OX Ranch corral and water tanks. The OX was formerly part of the vast Rock Springs Land and Cattle Company formed in 1894. The OX survived the 30’s depression and the 1934 Taylor Grazing Act, but was finally put out of business by the infamous Desert Protection Act of the 90’s. We were witnesses to a vanishing part of Mojave Desert lore and posed for a group photo on the old cattle ramp. Later, we camped in the boonies and enjoyed wine, a desert campfire and another wonderful potluck.
The Friday section of this narrative will have to wait until the next newsletter. As some of you may have surmised, Sue and Toby were not with us on this trip. We felt that a 4x4 trip and boonie camp would be too hard on our old dog, so Sue and Toby elected to meet us at Nipton. Toby did enjoy his last Desert Explorer Rendezvous, but he passed away March 31. I miss him so that I am unable to continue writing for a while.