Desert Driving in Early Days
The clamor for better information and road assistance led state and federal governments to take action. The United States Geological Survey, having a particular interest in the Mojave Desert region, stated: “The need of a systematic program for making the desert safe and accessible by mapping, marking and improving its watering places has long been appreciated… It has also been recognized that because of the great extent of the region and because most of it still belong to the public domain the Federal Government can best do the work.”
David G Thompson, a geologist with the agency wrote a booklet that was published in 1920 titled, “Routes to Desert Watering Places in the Mojave Desert Region of California.” The booklet included maps and provided a road log for routes between popular destinations. An example of the road log is given below. The booklet also warns about the dangers of driving on the desert and suggests items that should be carried.
Congress authorized and funded a water improvement and signing program some time before 1918. Road signs were erected at 167 locations in California and 138 in Arizona. The large signs (18”x 20”) gave names and distances to four watering sources. The small signs (9”x 20”) gave names, distances and directions to two watering places.
A while back, I traced-out a good part of the old road between Daggett and Amboy, some of those segments were not later paved over and designated Highway 66. In 1920, the route was called “National Old Trails road.” I’ve added a few notes to the log and distance in miles between each entry.
0.0 Daggett Opposite depot. Water, gasoline, and general supplies. From Daggett a road leads north to Yermo, Silver Lake, Saratoga Springs, and Death Valley, to points along the Los Angeles & Salt Lake Railroad and Crutts post office, Copper City, Randsburg and Ballarat.
0.3 Cross Los Angeles & Salt Lake Railroad and continue east parallel to Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad. In the next few miles water may be obtained at several ranches. [Now named Santa Fe Rd]
5.8 Minneola station. Water. Turn to right (south) across railroad and then to left (east) along it. [Now also crosses under I-40 and joins Hwy 66]
4.6 Branch road (left) continues along railroad. Main road turns to right and passes to right of low butte.
0.8 Ranch house on right.
0.4 Road forks on east side of gap between small butte and main mountain mass. Automobile Club sign. Branch road on left leads through gate to Newberry Springs, 100 yards behind butte. Good water. Good camp grounds. Gasoline and food supplies at Newberry station (water post office) 0.3 miles north of spring. Turn to right (southeast), following along foot of mountain.
0.4 Faint road on right (south) leads to Kane Spring. It is probably impassable for automobiles.
1.9 Branch road on left leads to ranch.
0.5 Main road turns to right (south). Branch road straight ahead is short cut through Loman ranch, where water and sometimes oil and gasoline many be obtained.
0.6 Turn to left (east).
0.9 Road comes in on left from Loman ranch.
3.5 Branch road turns to right (southwest) to mine prospects in the mountains.
1.6 Turn to left (northeast) and cross narrow neck of lava flow from volcanic crater several miles southeast. [Freeway now cuts-off the old road]
0.4 Old road comes in on left (west).
0.2 Turn to right parallel to railroad.
1.7 Turn slightly to right and leave railroad. Branch road on left continues along railroad to Hector station (1 mile). Water obtained at station.
2.0 Road comes in on left from Hector station.
3.9 Cross railroad.
5.2 Branch road on right (south) goes to Lavic station (0.2 miles) and to mines several miles south of railroad. Water at station.
3.5 Cross a road that leads southeastward (right) to Argos station and northwestward to (left) to strontianite mine, 3 miles distant.
4.7 Cross Tonopah & Tidewater railroad.
0.5 Turn right and cross railroad. Road to left (north) leads to Broadwell.
0.2 Turn to left on Main Street of Ludlow (Stagg post office). Depot on right. Garage and hotel accommodations and general supplies obtainable. A road leads south to mines at Stedman. Leaving Ludlow, go east along north side of railroad.
3.0 Turn to right (south) and cross railroad.
0.1 Road forks. Either branch may be chosen. In February 1918, the left fork was most used, and log is given for it.
2.4 Avoid road to right, parallel to railroad and cross to north side of track …
4.1 Branch road on right (south) leads to Klondike station (0.8 miles) Automobile Club sign. Water obtainable at section house.
10.7 Branch road on right (south) leads to Bagdad. Water, meals, gasoline, and supplies at store.
0.3 Branch road on left (northeast) goes to Orange Blossom mine, 10 miles. Road comes in on right from Bagdad.
7.5 Amboy. Water, gasoline, general supplies, and hotel and garage accommodations available.
National Old Trails road from Amboy to Needles was, for the most part, paved over in the ‘30s and became Highway 66.