California Desert trips,interesting places to visit: ghost towns, old mines, lost treasure, personalities and bits of the old west


The desert is sort of my second home. The places described below are special and worth visiting provided you know the story. That's what this blog is all about. Now I have tried as best I can to be factual but sometimes you hate to let facts get in the way of a good yarn.

Saturday, March 12, 2016


When the Southwest Pacific Railroad Company came up for sale by the Missouri State Assembly, John C. Fremont, hero of Western Lore, representing a group of investors acquired the company.  This adventure would cap Fremont’s career that included pathfinder, mapmaker, politician, and soldier.

Interestingly, a few months into the year of 1866, the U.S. Congress passed a national railroad bill that had in it authorization of the Atlantic and Pacific Railroad (A&P) which assigned to Fremont and his associates a right-of-way from Springfield, Missouri to the Pacific Coast.

 The assigned right-of-way would generally follow the 1852 route surveyed by Lt. Amiel Whipple from Arkansas to California.  A survey that crossed Indian Territory through New Mexico and what later became Arizona.  The Colorado River would be bridged at its narrowest point near The Needles.

 The bill also authorized government bonds to help cover the cost of construction and to encourage the settlement of long barren Indian infested stretches.

A year later, even with benefits bestowed by the government, Fremont was unable to meet interest on the bonds and was forced to find a receiver for both railroads.

By 1880, through stock manipulations and mergers, the Atlantic& Pacific Railroad reemerged as a subsidiary of the Atchison Topeka and Santa Fe. -- a company that boasted sound financial backing.

Meanwhile on the West Coast, the insightful and often ruthless Collis P. Huntington conducted the affairs of a few wealthy and powerful men referred to as the Big Four -- Huntington, Stanford, Crocker and Hopkins.  These four gentlemen dominated railroading in California during the 1870s.  In that regard, Huntington claimed boastfully that he had not yet met a politician he couldn’t bribe.

The approaching Atlantic and Pacific line posed a major problem.  The population of California wasn’t large enough to support a third transcontinental railroad.   Huntington, a man who enjoyed a good fight, decided to extend the Southern Pacific Railroad from Mojave Station across the Mojave Desert to confront the A&P before it reached the Colorado River.  His action supported a policy of the Big Four to thwart any other railroad attempting to enter California    

The Southern Pacific (SP), secretly owned by the Big Four, had completed construction of  a road down California’s Central Valley and across the Tehachapi Mountains to the town of Mojave.  From the Mojave Station, service extended south through Cajon Pass  to Los Angles and to San Diego.  

The idea of building a 242 mile railroad through barren waterless desert presented a frightening prospect to those who invest to make money.  Only those men who laid and secured the rails could see the possibility of gold locked in the unmapped mountain ranges that seemed to string endlessly on both sided of line.  Ranges that prospector’s pick and shovel had not yet touched.

By fall of 1882, seventy miles of track from the Mojave Station had been laid to Waterman Camp.  Another 131 miles of track reached Amboy Station five months later.  From Amboy watering stations spaced 10 to 15 miles apart were named alphabetically: Bristol, Cadiz, Danby, Edison, Fenner, Goffs, Homer, Ibex and Java.

Huntington won the race to the Colorado River arriving well ahead of the A&P still 40 miles to the east and faced with bridging the unpredictable Colorado River with its seasonal ups and downs.

With the Southern Pacific Railroad in its path, Atlantic & Pacific management faced two possibilities: continue to build a parallel line across the Mojave and on to San Francisco or workout an agreement for joint use  of  the completed SP system.
Huntington initially rejected joint use.  But, when A&P surveyors began setting surveyor’s stakes west of the river he realized that the competition would make his Mojave line worthless.

Negotiations took time as they always do with such matters.  The agreement that was hammered out stipulated that the A&P would purchase the SP railroad division from The Needles to Mojave for $30,000 a mile (242 miles) and rent use of SP’ trackage from Mojave to Oakland and San Francisco.

Through the 1890s, prospectors arrived at A&P watering stations.  Water was made available for a small fee by the company.  A few popular stations attracted settlers who served the surroundings and typically included a hotel, café, and several saloons.

Waterman Station became Barstow – a major rail center for the west end of the line. It included repair yards and a Harvey House that provided accommodations for travelers.  

Daggett –became the shipping point for mines in the Calico Hills, and the point from where mountain ranges to the south could be prospected.   

Newberry Springs – provided water for all of the stations at the west end of the line.  Tanker cars attached to scheduled trains did the transporting.

Lavic – a service center for railroad employees provided barracks and kitchen facilities.  Wagon roads extended from here north and south to small mines and prospects. 

Ludlow -- transfer junction for the Tonopah & Tidewater Railroad that served the borax mines in Death Valley [see my Race For The Gold 3/1/13].  Also terminal for the Ludlow & Southern Railroad that provided service to the  Rochester and the Bagdad Chase silver mine located to the south.

Bagdad Station – became a popular passenger stopover and a supply point for prospectors.   In the 1920s and 30s it served travelers arriving by automobile on the Old Trails Highway.

Amboy Station – served distant mines in the Dale Mining District by wagon road.  Accommodations took form here in the 30s to serve highway travelers on Highway 66. 

Essex – a center of commercial activity for mines in the Providence Mountains to the north and mines in the Old Woman Mountains to the south.

Goffs – transfer junction for the Nevada Southern Railroad servicing Barnwell and Vanderbilt mines.  This line connected with another short-line to Searchlight, Nevada.

The name Atlantic & Pacific Railroad was removed from company signs and letterhead in 1902
.   In 1911, the company became a full blown division of the Atchison Topeka & Santa Fe.

During the 1880s, thanks to competition between the two railroads, thousands of visitors and investors rushed to Los Angeles to enjoy the warm climate and buy land.  In the ten year period between 1880 and 1890, the population of Los Angeles increased by 360 percent.

By now, Huntington had outlived his partners and most of his enemies.  He controlled a vast fortune including oil, shipping and timber.  He continued to make big deals and increase his wealth until his death in 1900.

With a few exceptions, the rails are located where they were in the 1890s. Unfortunately, the depots and stations are gone.  Frequent watering places were no longer needed by modern locomotives.