Kelso Depot


Lava Tube

World War I Memorial

Mojave National Preserve

35°06’38.7″N 115°30’05.0″W

Randall Chapman | April 16th 2018 | Travel

The Mojave National Preserve was made a National Preserve by the US Congress in Oct of 1994. Before this it was BLM land known as the East Mojave National Scenic Area. At 1,600,000 acres it is the third largest unit in the National Park Service in the contiguous United States behind Death Valley and Yellow Stone but ahead of Everglades and the Grand Canyon, Alaska has many larger parks. Being a preserve, and not an official “park”, the regulations are a little more laxed. For instance dogs are allowed on the hiking trails and dispersed camping is still allowed in a few places.

My attention was first drawn to this area because of the Zzyzx exit along I15. I have been pulling over at this exit for years as I traveled back and forth from LA to Grand Junction when visiting family. It is a good place to let Aukie out to potty and chase a ball to stretch his legs. While the north side of the highway is full of garbage and broken glass the south side has a nice big turnout with less trash. I had heard there was an old resort at the end of the road to the south but had never explored it till now.


At the end of the road, about 4.5 miles from I15, is a natural spring known as Soda Springs that had been used by many travelers that crossed the Mojave Desert going back to the local Native Americans that used it long before Europeans ever hit the Americas. Over the decades as Europeans settled this land it was used as a water source first by the Spanish, then by the US as they expanded. It was used as an army outpost for about ten years in the mid 1800’s before it became a way station along the Mojave Road into the early 1900’s.

As World War II was coming to an end a radio evangelist named Dr. Curtis H. Springer filed a mining claim and built a religion-oriented health resort using the water from the soda springs. He built several small rooms that people could stay in and diverted water into a series of baths for the people to soak in. This resort was open from 1944 to 1974 when legal problems forced the resort to close.

In 1976, the year the BLM was formed and took over the area, they recognized that they needed to preserve the resort and surrounding area and established the Desert Studies Area at Soda Springs. Several of the California State Universities have used this as a research center to study the local desert environment as well as hold classes and conduct experiments. This still operates to this day and they still hold classes for university students.

The area is open to the public and you can take a self-guided tour. They have informational plaques around but when I was there all of the doors were locked except for the bathroom.  This isn’t the most exciting place to see but it’s kind of cool to walk around. By most accounts the “Doctor” that made the resort was a quack, it’s still pretty cool…

As you head down the road there is a guest parking lot with pit toilet on the right. From here you can walk east into the old resort. There is a pond to your right but the big pond is down farther and to the left. There is a pathway around this pond with a few informational plaques.

There was some bungalow style housing across from the bigger pond.

I never found the baths and there was more to explore but as I said most of the doors were locked. It looked like they were fixing the place up a little compared to pictures I found on the internet. They do use it as a research center so maybe they are fixing it up to be more comfortable for those that stay here.

Lava Tube:

I found the lava tube by accident while looking at the satellite view on google maps. I was trying to find more near Zzyzx to explore and I saw these cool features as I zoomed in it lead me to the lava tube. Knowing what a lava tube is from geology 101 in college I was intrigued and looked more into it, I was not disappointed.

When you get to the tube there is a ladder that goes down into it then you head left crawling on hands and knees to the main chamber. It’s short and there isn’t much to do here but if you get there mid-day the light from the sun shines like a beam into the chamber and is beautiful. Make sure you go here between 10am and 2pm to see the beam of light.

Kelso Depot:

Kelso Depot is the old train station that saw its hay day during World War II when the boom town of Kelso was built. There was a lot of work here as the trains needed an extra boost getting up the grade from there to Cima about 20 miles northeast. As trains became more powerful the need for booster engines was no more and the town dryed up. Now it acts as the visitors center for the preserve and it’s a great place to get information. There are informational plaques all around here as well and you can see the Kelso Sand Dunes in the distance to the Southwest, I wish I had time to visit the dunes.

The old post office is a cross the street and the put the old jail out.
While the train station is no longer in use the tracks are still used by the Union Pacific.

White Cross World War I Memorial:

I only had the one day to spend in the preserve and planed my route such that I would end up back on I15 heading to Vegas. As I left Kelso Depot I headed up towards Cima, an old ghost town, then up Cima road back to the hwy. Along Cima road is a forest of Joshua trees and a WWI Memorial that was put up in 1934 to honor those that fought and died in The Great War. There has been a lot of controversy over the memorial because it was a giant cross on public land and some say it infringed on the separation of church and state.

The ACLU sued to have it removed and at first won but the decision went all the way up to the Supreme Court. As the case went on through the courts the cross was covered in plywood to conceal it. It was eventually decided that there would be a land swap with 5 acers of private land within the preserve that was owned by a veteran for the one acre that surrounds the cross known as Sunrise Rock. Shortly after vandals cut the cross down and a reward was offered for information that lead to the capture and conviction of the vandals. The cross turned up in the San Francisco Bay area and was returned to the VFW in charge of the memorial but they instead constructed a new cross out of steel pipe.

Rededicated in 2012 the Cross is now on private property owned by the VFW out of Barstow and they care for the land. They have put up picnic tables and signs. As I drove through on a Friday there was a veteran from the Yucca Valley VFW named Mike that was camping there with his wife. They were there to put up some new signs over the weekend and more veterans were coming in for the event. Mike gave me the history of the cross and showed me the new sign.

Mike held up the new sign for me to take a picture. Thank you Mike for your service and your dedication to informing people of the importance of this place.

The Mojave National Preserve is a truly special place, I only regret seeing it in passingI barely scratched the surface of what the preserve has to offer. I missed out on the Kelso Sand Dunes, Cima Dome, Rings Trail, and so much more. I definitely plan to take a trip to explore more here in the future, perhaps next time I travel back LA to visit family.

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