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Borax to Barstow
Not a "Potty Stop," but a Destination
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Borax to Barstow
Not a "Potty Stop," but a Destination


Original Article and Photographs by Kenneth A. Larson © 2004 - 2013

Written June 2004
Barstow has been referred to as a "Potty Stop on the road between Los Angeles and Las Vegas." For us, it was a destination.
It was the waning days of spring 2004 and we wanted to squeeze in one more day trip to the Mojave Desert before the weather got hotter. We headed north from Los Angeles on Highway 14 past Vasquez Rocks and through Palmdale. We entered the southeast corner of Kern County just before passing through Rosamond, the gateway to Edwards Air Force Base. At Mojave, we turned east on Highway 58. Recently, a new section of highway has been completed bypassing Mojave and the town is suffering from a loss of travel business. This route also took us along the west and north sides of Edwards Air Force Base. There is an aerospace museum or two on the base, but because of the recent military alert status, access is more restricted than a few years ago and we have been unable to visit these museums.
Our first stop was shortly before leaving Kern County. Just a mile or two off the main highway, at Borax Road, is the U S Borax and Chemical Corporation facility with it's wonderful Visitor Center. The Visitor Center sits atop a large pile of removed overburden and looks down on one of the largest open pit mines in the country. In the large flat area before the Visitor Center are large pieces of mining equipment and an original set of the famous 20-mule team wagons 20-Mule Teem Wagons and Visitor Center
complete with 18 fiberglass mules and two horses. The Visitor Center shows a short movie describing the Borax story at the end of which, a curtain opens to reveal the pit. This large hole is well worth a stop. If you choose not to stop, there is a highway rest stop about a mile before Borax Road.
About two miles east of Borax Road is Boron Avenue. Exit here to the south and visit the small community of Boron. The town might be small, but there are several points of interest here. The first thing you will notice is a large yellow dump truck. This huge vehicle was once used in the Borax mine, but has been replaced by an even larger truck. An old fire truck keeps it company. Across the street is the Twenty Mule Team Museum which is also the Chamber of Big Yellow Truck
This Big Yellow Truck, Model M-100, has a capacity of 100 tons of ore.
Commerce. The museum contains both indoor and outdoor displays of mining and a small train station. Beside the Twenty Mule Team Museum is the Saxon Museum featuring Aerospace Displays. Because of the base access restrictions which have made the Museums at Edwards inaccessible, the Saxon has seen increased visitation. On the way out of town, stop by Desert Discoveries, a rock and mineral shop that is the exclusive vender of Ulexite.
Back on Highway 58 heading east, we soon entered San Bernardino County, the largest county in the US. The next half hours was fairly empty except for desert and the railroad. We entered Barstow on what is one of the last pieces of the famous old Route 66, now Main Street. Barstow is a railroad town. Everywhere are examples of railroad influence including a McDonalds made out of old railroad cars. One of the largest rail yards in California sprawls on the north side of town. I wasn't sure of my way around, but I guessed right and we took North First Street which carried us over the rail yard to our next destination, the Barstow Harvey House. This beautiful and grand structure is now home to the Western American Railroad Museum and the Mother Road Museum. Amtrak still stops here, but they are Amtrak Busses.
We began with a self guided your of the former Santa Fe Railroad Station. The rail yards are still in use and I had to use care to get far enough back from this grand building to make my photographs and yet stay off the active tracks. We worked our way around to the east end of the building where the Western American Railroad Museum maintains several pieces of rolling stock (a rail term for locomotives and rail cars). When I was active in model railroading in the 70s, the FP45 was the hot new locomotive and I saved my pennies to buy a model of it. There at the end of the line of rolling stock was a retired FP45. Within the building are numerous pieces of railroad equipment, tools, hard cars, and a working model railroad.
We walked along the north side of the building to the Mother Road Museum in the West end of the station. Here, we learned of a tour that would start in about three hours, so we left for the nearby community of Daggett, off Interstate 40. Daggett was formerly named Calico Junction because silver from the mines at Calico were loaded on trains here. Later the town was renamed after John Daggett, Lieutenant Governor of California from 1882-1886. The Museum was temporarily closed so we drove around town photographing the old buildings which include Fout's Garage. This unassuming historic building has had several lives in more than one location. It has been used as a roundhouse for the Waterloo Mill and Mining Company, a livery stable, a gas-buggy garage, a grocery store with a dirt floor, and finally Fout's Garage. We continued east of Daggett a few miles where Daggett proves that it's still a pioneer, only now, it's in the form of a large solar power plant.
We hurried back to Barstow for the tour, but first stopped at Barstow Station, a collection of fast food establishments built into and around old rail cars. Besides being the only "potty stop" between LA and LV (Los Angeles and Las Vegas), it is also a good place to stop for fuel for the car and fuel for the passengers. We made a quick drive through the parking area for El Rancho Motel, an original Route 66 motel. It looks like it fell through time and is rustic and picturesque.
We arrived back at The Mother Road Museum about 30 minutes before the Harvey House tour began so we had time to examine the exhibits here which includes a classic car or two and various displays about the famous Route 66. I walked back to the First Street Bridge. As the rail yard grew, the town of Barstow was pushed south and isolated the Harvey House which had been a social center for the community. The First Street Bridge was built about 1933 to allow the people of Barstow to cross the large rail yard and access the Harvey House on the other side.
The tour of the Harvey House lasted about an hour and included the interior. The building hasn't been a Harvey House for many years and the building suffered damage from an earthquake in 1991, but it is being restored and is still in use for special occasions. Some of the lighting fixtures are original, others are faithful recreations. The tour included the upstairs where several spaces are bing rehabilitated. We entered the balcony which runs around three sides of the building and allowing a view of the railroad activity in the yard. The Mother Road Museum and the Western American Rail Road Museum were closed by the time the tour ended, but some of us stays a few minutes to ask questions of our guide.
It's three hours back to Los Angeles and my wife wanted to stop at Charlie Brown Farms in Littlerock. Charlie Brown Farms is a Wall Drug in miniature. You enter the store and there is a deli on the right, a dining area ahead, and on the left is a shop. Then there is another shop space, then another and another and another. There are several patios. I found a few spaces my wife missed. You can shop for food, trinkets, and yard decorations. We got home just before dark having had an entertaining and educational day in the desert.

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This page last updated: Saturday, 06-Jul-2013 05:48:56 EDT

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