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| Debbie Miller Marschke | Trip Reports

2010 Trip Report - Vanderbilt and East Mojave Homesteads

Vanderbilt and Homestead  Tour

May 7, 2010

By Debbie Miller Marschke

On Friday, May 9, 2010 at  Noon, my husband Steve and I joined our group assembled at the Baker Valero  station and headed north on the I-15.  We started out with 4 vehicles:  Glenn  Shaw, Bob & Sue Jaussaud, Dave “BigBird” Given and Sir Bob Rodemeyer.  After  taking Cima Road south into the Mojave National Preserve, we left the pavement  to head east into the Ivanpah Range.  First we visited Riley’s Camp. This was  the primary home of John Riley Bembry,  prospector and entrepreneur in this  range for more than 50 years. He prospected and filed hundreds of claims in this  area; in fact, during my research of “Riley” I obtained a list of his claims  which printed out on 6 pages, which boggled my mind.  Being a businessman, Riley  did turn around and sell his prospects which contributed to the mining  development in this region of the Mojave.  We could see his efforts dotting the  mountainsides around us, including the Standard Mines One and Two. At the time  of his death, Riley still held title to 60 claims.  However, his most lasting  legacy is the Mojave Cross at Sunrise Rock (near Teutonia Peak).  Riley was a  World War One veteran and, in 1934, he erected the original cross as a  place of reflection for war veterans. Once the site became a part of the Mojave  National Preserve, it was constantly plagued with controversy.

Before moving on from  Riley’s Camp, we followed the road back behind his cabin to the saddle and  overlook down upon the workings of the Morning Star Mine. It was an awesome view  and the surrounding geology was interesting. We moved on to where one of Riley’s  neighbors, the Geer family, has been established. Our group checked out the Geer  Camp cabin and site.  Mr. Geer was the foreman at the Standard Mines, and thus  the junkpiles were particularly attractive. The group had fanned out behind the  cabin and discussing our finds.  Since I had visited this site previously, I  took the opportunity to explore farther back into the rocks. I found a natural  alcove and after some scrutiny I discovered some rock art.  I beckoned to the  group and we all studied the find together. The pictographs were a faint rust  coloration, and mostly appeared as score marks. We all were thrilled with the  unexpected find.

We took our vehicles for a  short hop over to the next neighboring camp and cabins – more artifact  exploration and mystery junk piles.  Within minutes everyone had followed their  interests and had spread out over the property.  I had been expecting Mal & Jean  Roode and Mignon Slentz to join our trip, and when I checked the CB, I could  hear them calling us but they could not receive our transmissions.  A quick cell  phone call to Mignon put the group on track, and by late afternoon our group was  completely assembled and enjoying the scattered mining cabins together.  We  found the largest collective dome of claret cup hedgehog cactus any of us had  ever seen! It had a three foot diameter, was in glorious bloom, and pretty darn  close to being perfect. Wowee!  Our last stop was the small cemetery where J.  Riley Bembry was buried alongside another prospector.  All in all it was a  pleasant spring day and the roadsides treated us with displays of desert  marigold, paintbrush, indigo, paper bag bush, and dominated by great showings of  apricot mallow.

Our evening was spent  camped at the headframe of one of Riley’s 1935 finds, the Evening Star Mine. It  is the largest standing headframe in the East Mojave, and impressive. I think I  saw Glenn and Mal climbing upon the structure to get a better look. We had a  lightly breezy evening which was pleasant for all but Sir Bob. Apparently, his  new air mattress tried to escape in the cover of darkness by jumping out of  Bob’s truck bed, dumping him off and giving Bob some unintended intimate time  with his new Tacoma’s bed. Luckily, nobody heard the resultant reaction!  

We decided on Saturday  morning that our route out of the area should include a pass by Riley’s  controversial cross. Despite a recent Supreme Court ruling ten days previous  that would allow the cross to be displayed, the cross was still encased upon the  rock in a plywood box. Nevertheless, our homage to Riley was a meaningful  experience for all.  The Cima store was open for business, so we treated  ourselves to an ice cream breakfast.  We traveled on pavement southeast until  the road turned to graded gravel at Ivanpah Road.

Our first stop as we  entered the area previously known as Vanderbilt was the fast-fading Vanderbilt  cemetery.  There are 30 known graves here but only a few can be recognized now.   Here we paid our respect to the still present headstone of Charlie Bell, who was  buried here after his death June 29, 1932.  Bell was the watchman at  Vanderbilt’s Gold Bronze Mine, and he remained a resident there until his body  was found amongst the charred remains of his cabin. Bell was remarkable because  he was paralyzed on one side of his body and had adapted to his disability; he  drove a Model T and managed the complications of it’s operation through  ingenuity or utilizing the kindness of others.  The historic main “drag” into  the 1891 town Vanderbilt is unusual because it tracks in the drainage contours.  This meant that the primary street was narrow and the buildings were either on  the ascending slopes on each side, or partially dug in around the bottom of the  drainage. I took the group to the ruins of the only known stone walled home in  Vanderbilt, which was the former residence of Virgil Earp.  Earp operated a  saloon and dance/meeting hall for two years, about 1892-1894, called “The Whist  Club”.  It was the only two story building in town and open 24 hours. Though not  much of the town remains today, there are still some interesting dugouts,  foundations, adits, shafts, mining ruins, timbers and can dumps. I had some  photographs to share which were taken in this area in the 1950’s.  We moved the  group to three different locations so that everyone could have a chance to  wander around Vanderbilt and to check out the areas that beckoned to be  explored. Vanderbilt’s namesake was East Coast tycoon Cornelius Vanderbilt; the  founding residents had hoped they’d all be “as rich as Vanderbilts” when gold  was found by a Piute Indian.  “Old Man Beatty” was successful in gold production  from the first mine, The Boomerang.  The whole operation was initially  frustrated by want of adequate transportation of the ore and the locality of  spring water.  Railroader Issac Blake completed his Nevada Southern line from  Goffs to Manvel (Barnwell) in 1893, and Vanderbilt boomed to more than 2000  residents in short order. However, the concentrated veins were quickly played  out, leaving the more difficult-to-extract gold within mineral sulphides.   Technology had not been developed adequately to continue the necessary processes  to separate the gold from the earth, and the town slid into a deadly decline.  I’m not exactly sure how long it took for the town to ghost, but the post office  closed in 1900. Our group enjoyed our stay at Vanderbilt until, out of nowhere,  a very suspicious man popped up. He was dressed in military camoflauge bedecked  with Indian beading, vagabond-like long hair, and was clearly armed with a  sidearm and bowie knife.  I approached him and asked if he was visiting  Vanderbilt too, to which he dreamily replied, “no, I’m looking for the  underground river…”  I asked him if he was interested in the nearby legendary  Kokoweef Mountain, and he wistfully said “ uh, no, it’s an underground river  that my brother and I swam in when we were kids…”  This fellow also did not  remember his name, or so he claimed.  I handed him a copy of the educational  materials I had prepared for the group regarding the town, and we hastily  sashayed our vehicles to another location to give this man some space.  Then he  proceeded to walk out of Vanderbilt (presumably to where he had entered) and we  all speculated as to what was REALLY up with this guy.  He made us all  uncomfortable so we didn’t dally longer than it took to eat lunch.

Our next stop was at the  Sharp Homestead.  In the early 1900’s, the East Mojave enjoyed a higher annual  rainfall and thus dry farming was successful during this era.  The homestead was  located right next to the railroad line, and the Sharp Family’s post office box  was in Maruba.  Dennis Casebier’s organization, the MDHCA, published the book  “Maruba” which details the life and times of the Sharp family as they treasured  their time at the homestead.  Not much remains at the site but some bits of junk  and concrete work, but the area still is characteristically clear of Joshua  trees where the crops had been furrowed.  We traveled down Lanfair Road to  another homestead site where the Bell family had several homesteads.  Lumber  remains from the homestead cabins, and I had some historic photographs to tease  the images into our minds of how things must have been.  We rolled into Goffs  around 4 o’clock, and everyone was ready for a cold beverage and a chance to  relax.  Our group camped literally parallel to the Goffs Depot. This property,  owned by the Mojave Desert Heritage and Cultural Association, has procured and  preserved history and artifacts from the East Mojave. Beginning in 1954, Dennis  Casebier has gathered this history and founded an organization that continues  through the efforts of volunteers; everyone involved here is interested in  supporting the endeavor in perpetuity.  The newest structure, the Goffs Depot,  is a replica of the original railroad depot with a significant improvement; it  is a shell that contains a state-of-the-art library and archive containing the  culmination of Casebier’s life work. I think the rest goes without  clarification, because most Desert Explorers are familiar with the goings-on at  Goffs and many of us volunteer there.  We had a fabulous potluck dinner at the  Goffs Flywheel Café, and we were thrilled to sit down in the restored Goffs  Schoolhouse as students (just like the homesteaders children)  and be dazzled  with Casebiers wonderful powerpoint lecture about the success of the ongoing  historical preservation that has continued at Goffs.

Our tour of Goffs was not  finished on Saturday. We all were free to experience the property at our  leisure.   Sunday morning, caretaker Hugh Brown opened up the Goffs Depot so we  could see for ourselves what was being procured there. Immediately, everyone was  captivated by  photographs, albums, or collections that were being processed  into the library depository.  Hugh really didn’t need to say much…the minute the  door was opened, we all flowed in with wide eyes.  Even Bob Jaussaud was quiet  and focused on a recently procured photo collection! We could have walked around  moon-eyed all day, but I finally got the group to saddle up and ride on.  We  headed north on Lanfair Road and west on Cedar Canyon Road. Before we reached  Rock Springs, we veered south to the homestead site of the Lorenzo & Harriet  Watson family.  The corrals are still there but no structures remain. However,  Casebier has quite a bit of known history of this family from his oral histories  taken from Betty Stokes Ordway, sister of Harriet Watson. Betty Stokes was the  belle of the East Mojave, and was sweet on a cowboy & gunslinger who had worked  for the Rock Springs Cattle Company: Matt Burts.  Burts was one of the gunmen  involved in the crime mystery shootout at Government Holes November 8, 1925.  As  a bonus, I took our group up the sandy Watson Wash and had everyone march up a  trail-less hill to a large boulder.  The boulder bears the inscription “Betty  Stokes, March 21, 1921”.  What fun!  In the interest of continuity, the group  backtracked the way we had come to an escarpment which bore a nice collection of  Indian petroglyphs.  We had lunch at the base of the escarpment and Mignon  finally got the little bird out of her car that had hitchhiked from Goffs.  Our  trip concluded at this point, and we split off at Cedar Canyon Road to make a  beeline home.  You would think this is the end of the story, but it’s not!  I  was back at work on Monday morning and I got a call from Dave Given alerting me  that Riley’s controversial cross had been stolen by protestors that Sunday  evening!  What a shock!  For the next two weeks, the Cross was spotlighted on  local news and CNN. A $125,000 reward was posted.  The perpetrators released  word that the cross will be returned only when a “non offensive” alternative is  erected in it’s place.  Then on May 21, someone erected a replacement cross,  which the Park service promptly removed.  The story does not end here, but  continues and can be easily followed through internet postings. It is a poignant  reminder to me that we must appreciate what is still left to see, and treasure  the memories we build together , because you never can predict what will happen next.


(photos by Debbie Miller Marschke)