Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Photo Essay: Desert Center Ghost Town

Some might argue that Desert Center is not a ghost town.

Sure, it has the Chuckwalla Raceway, and a senior living community with a golf course.

But it can only boast about 100 residents.

As one of the few stopovers available off the 10 freeway between Indo and Blythe, it could have a lot of business from drivers just passing through. But all of the services - gas stations, cafes, of which there used to be plenty - have closed.

I stumbled upon it after exiting Joshua Tree National Park from the southernmost end at Cottonwood Springs. I intended to take the 10 east to the 117 and make my way back up north through Rice and into Twentynine Palms.

But on a stormy day like today, the 117 was closed to traffic because of flooding. So I had plenty of time to explore what is left of Desert Center.

Desert Center was founded by "Desert Steve" Ragsdale, a preacher and cotton farmer who stumbled upon the remote area on his way to Los Angeles and decided to relocate his family there in 1921.

Two decades later, Desert Center still didn't have very many residents, until General Patton established an Army air field nearby. After World War II, the Kaiser Steel Eagle Mountain Mine became one of the largest open-pit minining operations in the world until its closure in the 1980s. (This is the same Kaiser that ultimately created Kaiser Permanente managed healthcare.)

A nearby prison also closed in 2003.

So what's left? Some state employees who work at a CalTrans maintenance facility, as well as...

...some relics from Kaiser Steel...

...some signs of the past...

...plenty of junk...

...and lots of former services.

Ragsdale was an opportunistic entrepreneur, and an avid advertiser of the services his town once provided, which included a number of cabins for rent.

At one point, there must have been enough local families to warrant having a school, which is now also closed.

The rain had stopped outside, but it was still raining inside the school.

Perhaps more livelihood lies beyond Ragsdale Road, Desert Center's "main street" which Ragsdale himself used to tout as 100 miles long.

I couldn't take the Desert Center Rice Road up to the Twentynine Palms Highway today to find out. But if I were to guess, I'd say I saw most of what there is to see.

Nearby ghost towns:
Rice, CA and Dale, CA
The Salton Sea (Salton City, Bombay Beach, etc.)

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