Story and photographs
except as noted copyright 2006 by
For decades, I had viewed
California deserts as a place to traverse going to a more favored
landscape such as the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Mojave only meant a place
to refuel and get a bite to eat
to or from June Lake or Mammoth. Oh sure,
were the family day trips to Salton Sea, Joshua Tree and Twentynine
Palms. I had been aware of Cima Grade
on the Union Pacific line to Las Vegas from a time when a girlfriend
and I caught some Grateful Dead shows at Sam Boyd Silver Bowl. On
the way to Vegas she complained that the Amtrak Desert Wind train was
going much too slow
up Cima Grade. I did not try to explain. Another trip while
trying to locate an exact location on Interstate 40 near Ludlow for a
lawsuit my attorney friend and I took a shortcut through the Mojave
National Preserve to Vegas. We traversed the Kelso Cima
from I-40 to
I-15 along a narrow road parallel to the Union Pacific mainline.
That was the weekend that Southern Pacific derailed a potash train onto a
neighborhood at the foot of Cajon Pass. The neighborhood
exploded a week later due to a rupture of a gas pipeline. In
February of this year I received an email informing me about the
reopening of the Kelso Depot. I accepted this as a great excuse
to get out of town to attend the festivities. The plan became a
very early departure time with the hopes of arriving at Kelso by 9
AM. Three miles east of Ludlow the traffic halted due to an
overturned big rig. After 20 minutes we decided to return to
Ludlow and head out Route 66 east to Kelbaker Road. We flew
to Amboy and I was warned that Kelbaker Road would not be too well
marked, which it was not. We arrived in Kelso about 9:25 AM and
started enjoying the place before the crowd showed up, which they
did. I checked out the
National Parks Service program guide for the day and selected the 11 AM
Kelso Town Tour. Other guided walks took place miles away at the
and Lava Beds. Two hours were devoted to "Remember When" with
former residents of Kelso and the surrounding area. There were
book signings, a Mojave Spirit Run, Fort Mojave Tribal Band, Needles
Select Choir, a Cowboy Poet, and the dedication with important speakers.
This westbound train was
approaching very slowly. It actually turned out to be a meet with
an eastbound. After this, rail traffic mostly dried up.
From the air, Kelso looks like the
photographs below. There was a noticable
lack of rail traffic and what
did roll by did so intentionally slowly. This highway-rail grade
crossing saw more vehicular traffic this day than in any day in many
years. The rail line hosted 5 trains when under normal
circumstances it would see double digits. Aerial photographs
courtesy of Allen Heller.
Less than 100 people were
there when we arrived and at its
peak, there must have been 500 people. Throughout the day at
least 1000 people visited.
Above right, visitors not waiting for
a train. The man on the
right side of the bench is a 91 year old Theo Packard, a former Kelso
resident. Trains do not
stop here anymore. At this time, passenger trains do not even
come through here. When and if a passenger train is reestablished
from Southern California to Las Vegas, it will pass by the Kelso Depot.
Displays of desert life are
shown below. The desert
supports birds, reptiles and other four legged animals. Visitors
are asked to leave "No Trace" of their presence.
I found a check-in table
on the east
side of the depot, signed the guest book and walked away with my Kelso
Grand Opening medallion.
Below, park archaeologist David
Nichols beginning the 11 AM town tour.