Category Archives: Geography

Scenes in America Deserta

by Peter Reyner Banhamorld:

Las Vegas, Nv.

Las Vegas, Nv.

“Las Vegas is a symbol, above all else, of the impermanence of man in the desert, and not least because one is never not aware of the desert’s all pervading presence; wherever man has not built nor paved over, the desert grimly endures – even on some of the pedestrian islands down the center of the Strip! The presence of such an enclave of graceless pleasures in such an environment is so improbable that only science fiction can manage it; the place is like the compound of an alien race, or a human base camp on a hostile planet. To catch this image you need to see Las Vegas from the air by night, or better still, late in the afternoon, as I first saw it, when there is just purple sunset light enough in the bottom of the basin to pick out the crests of the surrounding mountains, but dark enough for every little lamp to register. Then – and only then – the vision is not tawdry, but is of a magic garden of blossoming lights, welling up at its center into fantastic fountains of everchanging color. And you turned to the captain of your spaceship and said, ‘Look Sir, there must be intelligent life down there,’ because it was marvelous beyond words. And doomed – it is already beginning to fade, as energy becomes more expensive and the architecture less inventive. It won’t blow away in the night, but you begin to wish it might, because it will never make noble ruins . . . .”

Peter Reyner Banham. 1982. Scenes in America Deserta. Salt Lake City: Gibbs M. Smith. Pages 42-43.

Victor Valley Volcano

The Wheeler map made in the 1880s shows a volcano between what is Victorville and Barstow.

The questions is; Is the “Volcano” either Stoddard Mountain or Bell Mountain?

Wheeler map 1880s Mojave Desert

Volcano location on 1880s map.

Stoddard Mountain and Bell Mountain (USGS map.

This USGS map shows the location of both Stoddard Mountain (yellow dot) and Bell Mountain (blue dot).

Both maps are superimposed and reconciled to critical match points.

The USGS map layer is replaced with the 1880s map layer and the layer with the location dots is turned on.

So it looks as if the “Volcano” is nowadays known as Stoddard Mountain.

Maybe next time; Is Stoddard Mountain a real volcano?

The High Desert Illusion

Does this …
… Blow your mind?

profile of elevations in the cajon pass - chard walker
— Cajon Junction (el. 2950′) at I-15 and Hwy. 138 is actually at about a 300′ higher elevation than Victorville (el. 2650′). The slope from the summit to Victorville is gradual, not as noticeable, and provides us with the illusion that we are further up than we actually are.

 

Michael White (Miguel Blanco) & Rancho Muscupiabe

The Old Spanish Trail had become increasingly used as a pack mule trail between New Mexico and California, and with this traffic came the opportunity for those to take advantage of the distance and desperate nature of the land.

Map of some of the land grants and ranchos in southern California

The rich ranchos of southern California.

California horses were beautiful creatures, and the mules were taller and stronger than those in New Mexico and they were easy to steal.  The rolling hills and plains presented clear paths to the  Cajon where numerous hidden canyons and washes were available to slip into and prepare for the furious run across the desert. Horses would be stolen in herds from many different ranchos at once. Hundreds of horses, even thousands could be commandeered and driven by just a few experienced thieves.

Chief Walkara, ‘Hawk of the Mountains’ and the greatest horse thief in all of history along with his band of renegade Chaguanosos , and notables such as Jim Beckwourth and Pegleg Smith would work together in this illegal trade. During one raid they were said to have coordinated the theft of 3,000-5,000 horses, driving them to Fort Bridger to trade for more horses to run to New Mexico to trade again. Horses would fall from exhaustion every mile and the local bands of Paiute would feast on the remains.

Devore, ca. at mouth of Cajon Pass

From the piedmont between Devil and Cable canyons, Miguel Blanco could keep an eye out for horse thieves entering the Cajon.

 

In 1843 Michael White was granted one league of land at the mouth of the Cajon Pass called Rancho Muscupiabe. At a point overlooking the trails leading into and away from the canyon he was expected to thwart the raiders and horse thieves that were plaguing the Southern California ranchos. In theory it was a good plan but in practice it did not work so well.

Map of Muscupiabe Rancho, Michael White, Miguel Blanco

Muscupiabe Rancho

 

 

 

Crowder Canyon/Coyote Canyon along Old Spanish Trail/John Brown Toll Road

Hundreds and sometime even thousands of stolen horses from the ranchos would burst through Coyote Canyon beginning their ‘journey of death’ across the Mojave.

He built his home of logs and earth and constructed corrals for his stock. However, the location between Cable and Devil Canyon only served as a closer and more convenient target for the Indian thieves. His family was with him, but after six weeks until it became too dangerous. He left after nine months without any livestock, in debt and bitter.

Crowder Canyon map in Cajon Pass

Crowder (Coyote) Canyon – Initially named ‘Coyote’ canyon for Chief Coyote, a horse thief who was killed by Miguel Blanco within the narrow canyon walls.

As the late 1840s and 1850s rolled by wagon roads were being developed in the canyon minimizing the effectiveness of the maze of box canyons being used to cover the escape of desperadoes on horseback.

Victor Valley Crossings

Fr. Francisco Hermenegildo Tomás Garcés, (April 12, 1738 – July 18, 1781) was a Spanish priest who crossed the Mojave Desert in 1776. This map shows his route across the Victor Valley. Following the Mojave River after crossing at Oro Grande he walked through what is now downtown Victorville bypassing the rocky narrows and connecting back with the river near today’s Mojave Narrows Regional Park. Following the river to where the West fork and Deep Creek join to form the Mojave. He visited with the Indians then made his way up Sawpit Canyon and over the mountain ridge descending into the verdant sycamore grove that is known today as Glen Helen.

This map shows the route of Fr. Garces in 1776 during his crossing west. His diary it describes him being taken to an Indian village in the mountains.

50 years after Fr. Garcés made his way across the Mojave from the Colorado River, in 1826, Jedediah Smith retraced the trail of Garcés along the river then up and over the mountains. In 1827, one year after his first crossing, Smith had lost most of his men in a massacre at the Colorado River. Desperate for the safety of civilization, Smith, after crossing the Mojave River in Oro Grande, made his way directly to the Cajon Pass bypassing the San Bernardino Mountains.

The direct route over the summit and down the pass eliminates the steep climb and descent over the San Bernardino Mountains.

An Invitation to Summit

Dear Sir:

When I came over here three months ago, I brought four copies of Desert with me. Needless to say they have become rather dogeared as I have read them from cover to cover several times, and passed them around to my friends who have enjoyed them immensely.

Desert Magazine, Oct. 1942

Desert Magazine, Oct. 1942

The last day I was in sunny Southern California (it rained all the time I was in Frisco waiting to embark), I made one last sojourn to our desert retreat—the summit of Cajon pass. Few people know of this unique retreat, except those who pass by on the trains, and then all they see is a street-car tucked awav on the side of a hill, 200 yards from the tracks.

The street-car is the former Los Angeles railway’s funeral car Descanso. A group of railfans, known as Railroad Boosters, became interested when it was known the car was to be scrapped,and decided something should be done about it. So far as we were able to tell the Descanso was the only funeral car in existence, and to delegate such an ornate car to the junk heap was not a very fitting end. The L. A. railway then told us that if we could find a place to put it we could have it as a sort of museum piece. After several months of scouting around, we decided on summit. On July 4, 1940, the Descanso was hauled up to summit by flatcar on the Santa Fe. Eight of us spent a very strenuous day unloading the car. It weighed 18 tons.

Chard Walker watching trains pass from the terrace beside the Decanso in 1954. From his book, “Railroading in the Pass”

Three weekends were spent in getting the car to its present position, by the tedious process of laying a section of track in front, pulling the car up with a truck by means of block and tackle, then picking up the section in the rear, placing it up front again, etc. Then began the process of scraping off the old paint, removing the seats, and taking out a few of the unnecessary controllers, etc.

Route 66, Cajon Pass

Route 66, Cajon Pass

In the two years that have passed since its arrival at summit, the Descanso has gradually transformed from a dirty looking old streetcar, to that of a newly painted, well furnished cabin. From the exterior it still has the same general appearance of a streetcar as it still is on wheels on a section of rail, the trolley is still up, and still has the stained glass in the upper halves of the windows.

Quite a change has taken place on the interior though. Only two of the original seats are left in place with a folding table in between. A pot bellied stove, and a wheesy old phonograph well stocked with records, dominate the center of the car, while an icebox, a few chairs and another table and a small but complete kitchen take up the rest of the available space. Eventually we may put some folding bunks in one end, but due to material shortage, we content ourselves with sleeping on the floor in our sleeping bags.

Highway 138 entering Horse Thief Canyon - Summit Valley

Highway 138 entering Horse Thief Canyon (Summit Valley)

We find it an ideal spot to go on a weekend, either as a home camp for a small hunting expedition, or for hiking up and down the railroad, the mountains, or just to lie around in the sun and watch the trains go by.

For anyone wishing to visit Summit, just go up Cajon Pass on U. S. 66 to Camp Cajon, and turn east (right if leaving from San Bernardino). This road is known as the back road to Arrowhead. It’s about five miles from 66 to Summit which can’t be missed as the road leaves the twisting mountain road onto the level Summit valley road. Off to the left about a quarter of a mile is the railroad station of Summit with its scattering of section houses and the post office. The Descanso is directly behind the station.

Summit

Summit

In closing I wish to extend a cordial welcome to anyone visiting Summit, and wish I could be there and meet them personally. Until the war ends I’ve got to be content to visit the desert via Desert Magazine.

Robert W. McGrew – Honolulu, Territory of Hawaii

1917 Summit Valley History

From a hand written copy on file at the Victor Valley College Library – Author Unknown

More than 30 years ago the green grass and running water of Summit Valley attracted the white people who later became the first settlers here. Mr. Houghton  took up a Government claim, the plan now included in the Las Flores Ranch. Cattle were driven in from Arizona to be fattened and then driven to market San Bernardino. This entire family was given over as a cattle range. The grassy slopes afforded splendid pasture lands and Mr. Houghton was well pleased.

Las Flores Ranch

Las Flores Ranch

Still there were some hardships to be endured in this new country. Many wild animals roam the hills, mountain lions stole the young cattle in the small brown bears came in droves to find what they could  to eat.  At times Mrs. Houghton and the children were obliged to climb into the attic of their house to be safe from the bears.  After robbing the  hives  of honey, these bears would go back into the nearby hills and mountains, disturbing nothing more.

The Indian inhabitants of the valley were unfriendly and while Mr. Houghton owned the ranch three men were killed by the Indians in ambush.

About 30 years Mr. Bircham  bought the ranch and continued to run it as a cattle ranch. Each year more cattle were put on the range. A great many horses were brought into the valley too. These proved to be a temptation for horse thieves, who made a regular practice of stealing horses and selling them in other places. Finally the two neighboring canyons received the names  of Big and Little Horse Thief Canyon. At length the horse thieves were driven out but the smaller of the two canyons still retains the name of Horse Thief Canyon, the larger known as Summit Valley.

Little Horse Thief Canyon

Little Horse Thief Canyon

All traveling was done with horses until a railroad called the Southern California was built. This road went through in the year 1883 and 1884 and followed the old Santa Fe Railway Company.  The highest point along the road was called Summit and a station was established there at once. It was located about 6 miles west of the Bircham Ranch  and became their shipping point for supplies.

At the time when it was believed that oil was hidden in the land all through Southern California, the Summit Valley was located for oil, but the government authority on oil found that it was not present in this land.

The Arrowhead Reservoir and Power Company  wish to buy up lands in the mountains in order to gain the water rights attached. Mr. Bircham’s  holdings of 1200 acres were bought and various other lands nearby.

The ranch was now owned by a company, it was no longer the Bircham Ranch  or the Houghton Ranch,  so another name was to be found. The name decided upon was “Las Flores,”  meaning The Flowers, and a very fitting name it was as one looks towards Mount Baldy and its companions, the fields in the summer time seem yellow with flowers.

Summit Valley with San Gabriel Mountains

The ranch was still conducted as a cattle ranch but it was not long before the range, on which the cattle had Rome, was disputed by new settlers. In 1912, Mr. Searle  and family filed on government land for a home. Later in the same year, Mr. Blumberg’s  family moved in, then Mr. Watson, and so it has been ever since that time.

There were enough children in 1913 to form a new school district and open the school. Within the next year  a post office and store were opened. Fertile land with quantities of water upon it rock about these changes in Summit Valley.

At the present time and option is held on the holdings of the Arrowhead Reservoir and Power Company, to be closed within the next eight months. This land is to be sold with the water rights, for the purpose of irrigating 100,000 acres of land in the Victor Valley changing it into a great garden.

 San Bernardino looks upon this great undertaking with interest. It will mean much to that city since this section in San Bernardino are connected by a automobile and railroad.

Scrapbook of Memories of Summit Valley & Cedar Springs
from before the Tin Lizzy until after Silverwood Lake – collected by Isabelle Rue Rentfro

1864 Travel Tip – Hold Hostages

From the diary of Sarah J. Rousseau , 1864:
Regarding traveling with Indians across the Mojave

Sunday, November 6 … The lava that has been thrown out looks like cinders. The mountains, some of them have a grand appearance, some a red color while others have a white appearance. Some of them I think must be 400 feet high. This canyon is called Diamond. at the mouth it takes us into Santa Clara Valley which we traveled through and down a pretty dangerous hill to Santa Clara Creek where we got food and shelter for horses. Here came a number of Paiute Indians. they are a tribe that is very fond of horse flesh to eat, and will steal anything they can lay their hands on. We have came today 20 miles.

Santa Clara/Virgin River divide

Monday, November 7. Started from camp late this morning. It is a cold, windy time. The Dr. had to prescribe and deal out medicine for a little child that belonged to a Mormon Bishop. About breakfast time a number of Indians came to the camp and we gave some their breakfast. When we started four of them started with us, three of them on foot and one on horseback. They are miserable looking creatures. Some of them almost entirely destitute of clothing. I believe it is their intention to go to the Muddy with us. as for me I would rather have their room than their company. I am afraid of them. We have crossed the Santa Clara 15 times this morning, and have now camped. It is cold and windy, a real disagreeable time.

Sarah Jane Rousseau

Sarah Jane Rousseau

Tuesday, November 8. A cold blustering morning, the wind blowing hard all night. Started from our camp rather late with an escort of from 10 to 15 Paiute Indians. Last night two of them stayed with us as prisoners. Our guide, Mr. Hatten, said it would not do to let them leave camp after dark, as they might get some other Indians, come back and do us some mischief. We started from camp with five, which increased to 15 of them. We crossed the Santa Clara this morning 14 times in after going 12 miles made a dry camp at Camp Springs, having filled our kegs the last crossing place. the Indian chief told the guide we must all give them something for traveling through their country, to renumerate them for using water and grass. We all gave them some flour. We intend to let them have the care of our horses tonight, they are going to take the cattle as well. The Chief with four others we kept as prisoners till morning when they bring back the stock. Then they will be free.

Virgin River

Virgin River

Wednesday, November 9. A pretty warm morning. Started from camp about sunup. The Indians brought back the stock safely back. Left camp with our escort, traveled over some rough roads till noon. This afternoon the road’s much better. Passed over the summit between the Clara and Virgin, went 5 miles in the canyon and camped. Some grass for the stock but no water.

Wagon Master Nicholas Earp Wyatt's dad.

Wagon Master Nicholas Earp

Thursday, November 10. A cool but pleasant morning. Last night the Indians were prisoners again. They left the stock go on to the mountains to feed. We fed five among us. All are willing to do so but Mr. Earp. He swears and cuts up about it, although he derives the same benefit as the rest of us. I fear he may cause us some trouble when we get to the Muddy. … “

Oro Grande

History of Lucerne Valley

by Ethel V. Owen

In the early days, natural springs in what now is Lucerne Valley provided good camping grounds for Indians on their way into the San Bernardino Mountains together pinon nuts. The Indians  resented white pioneers settling in the territory and committed some violent acts against them. Instead of discouraging the settlers, caused them to marshal forces and attack the Indians  who were of the Paiute, Chemehuevi and Serrano tribes. in February 1867 a decisive battle at chimney rock caused the Indians to retreat and leave the territory to the white pioneers. (Chimney Rock is at the north edge of Rabbit Dry Lake. A quite complete story of the Chimney Rock Massacre is available at the Lucerne Valley branch of the county library.)

Rabbit Springs

Rabbit Springs

In July, 1873 five men, L. D. Wilson, John E. McFee, W. S. Manning, W. P. Morrison and (?) Holmes located the springs known as Rabbit Springs. They laid claim to the Springs and 100 surrounding acres 20 acres each according to a recorded document.

In 1884 Peter Davidson operated a way station at Rabbit Springs. Travelers could get fresh water, exchange news, rest and sleep over. “Uncle Pete” died in 1906. His grave is at the corner of Kendall Road and Rabbit Springs Road.

Pete Davidson's grave

Pete Davidson’s grave

In 1886,  W. W. Brown brought his family to this valley, which was without a name at the time. Brown had the water rights at the Box S. (The Box S ranch is where the drainage ditch now crosses Highway 18.) The family stayed at “Uncle Pete’s” until an abandoned house could be moved on to the Box S property.

Box S Ranch, Lucerne Valley, CA.

Box S Ranch, Lucerne Valley, CA.

In 1896 Al Swarthout  acquired the Box S, intending to raise cattle. There was plenty of water but not much  forage. Swarthout and a friend found a place about 15 miles to the east, that had even more water and lots of forage.  after one year he gave up on the Box S  and moved to Old Woman Springs Ranch. (It is said the Indians used to leave their old people camped here while the young ones went into the mountains to forage for pinon nuts.)

In 1897 James Goulding came to the Box S  with his wife Anna and two small children, Mamie and George.  Three more children, Minnie, Jim, and Nelly were born in Lucerne Valley. “Dad” Goulding proved the fertility of our soil with his apple orchard, vegetable garden and alfalfa fields.  He also raised cows, horses and other animals. He dug a well which proved to be artesian.

Alfalfa field in Lucerne Valley

Alfalfa field in Lucerne Valley

In 1905 a friend suggested to Goulding that this valley should have a name.  Because of his success in growing alfalfa (also  known as lucerne)  he christened this place Lucerne Valley.

Dad Goulding is generally acknowledged as the founder of Lucerne Valley. In 1907 Goulding legally established Lucerne Valley School District. Hanna Brown, a cousin whose family lived in near by Oro Grande, came to live with the Gouldings so the requirement of six students could be met. The school building was a former cook shack on wheels, 8′ x 18′.  With wheels removed and one end of the inside painted black for a blackboard, the school opened on September 9, 1907 on the Box S Ranch.

In the meantime, more families were settling all over Lucerne Valley, and Goulding donated property in 1910 for a new school where the Baptist Church now stands.

In 1912, people in the east end of the valley thought the  school should be closer to them,  so they formed a new school district  to be known  as Midway. Still another school district, Rodman, was formed in North Valley, in 1915.

View of Lucerne Valley from North Valley

View of Lucerne Valley from North Valley

Then, in 1916, windstorms and fire destroyed both Lucerne Valley and Midway schools. all the students attended Rodman school until the other two were rebuilt, which took a couple of years  because of wartime problems. In 1920 Rodman School District lapsed and joined with Midway, which by then was in its present form.

In 1941 was certain school was condemned as unsafe and all  students went to Midway. The building and grounds were purchased by the Community Church ( not the present Community Church) and used until 1952. It was then that the building burned to the ground during a terrific  windstorm at night.  Construction was begun in 1952 on the new Lucerne Valley School at its present site.

Lucerne Valley’s library began in 1912 with 140 books in the front room of the Box S ranch house. Most of them were for school use, but some could be borrowed by local residents. In 1915 the library was at Midway school. In 1916 storm damage some of the books in the library was moved to the Boom Ranch on Wilshire, northeast of Midway. After being closed during World War I, both Midway school and the library reopened in September 1918. The library continued as a combination school-public library until March 1928, when it became a community branch of the county library system.

The Lucerne school building was condemned for school use, so the library moved in. When the church  bought the building, the library was moved into a smaller room there. Later it was moved into a small, narrow trailer behind the present China House.  Ethel Windschanz Clapton, the librarian, said that looking out the little, porthole shaped windows during a strong wind made her feel like she was on a sinking ship.

The library moved begin to the building which was occupied by the Sheriff’s office. Mrs. Vera Russell was one of the librarians at that location. The library then moved into the building generously provided by John Russell (Vera’s  son) at very low rent.  From there moved into its beautiful new permanent home for which ground was broken March 17, 1988.

Lucerne Valley post office was established in 1912 at the ranch of John and Rosa Koehly, who came here in 1909. It was on the southeast corner of Rabbit Springs Road and Post Office road.  (Have you wondered about the road name?) Rosa Koehly  was postmistress. Some days only eight cents worth of stamps were canceled, so that was the postmistress’s salary.

In 1935, the post office moved to a one-room building on the highway, west of the Box S Ranch, with Ed Smith as postmaster.  (Ed Smith was also a licensed electrician  and Scoutmaster of Troop 71,  Lucerne Valley’s first Boy Scout troop, from 1928 to 1933. Some of those scouts are still living here, among them  Harold Reed and Dick Owen.)

Downtown Lucerne Valley, CA.

Downtown Lucerne Valley, CA.

Later the post office moved again, to shared the Clark building with John Hutson’s and Irving Seeberg’s hardware store. ( The Clark building is now occupied by the China House.)  Flora and Clark was postmistress. The post office moved again to “the triangle”  on Verdugo Road at Oracle Road ( now renamed Oracel  by the county street sign makers.)  Early postmasters there were  Vern Ely and Ray Bonin. The post office is now in its permanent location on Highland Avenue south of Highway 18.

A volunteer fire department was first organized during World War II, along with fire watchers, skywatchers, plane watchers, civil defense, etc. In the early 50s a fire house was built with donated material (cinderblock) and volunteer labor.  it was located about where Shell gas station/ Halleck’s Market  is now. They had a unique system. People would phone Dick’s Center Store to report fires. Dick Grobaty would then press a button on his wall, which was wired to the siren on top of the firehouse. That was how the  volunteer firemen were summoned. The building was torn down after a  short period and the present County fire district was formed in 1962-63. At that time it still operated with volunteer firemen and one paid chief.

Lucerne dry lake

Lucerne dry lake

Some of the descendants of the early settlers still live here. John Russell’s father, William Russell in 1911 had filed on land called Lucerne Springs which brought son John here to live in 1949. He has been building houses and commercial buildings ever since. Also in 1911, Theodore P. Owen filed on 640 acres to miles north of Midway school his son, Dick, has come and gone but has lived here steadily since 1950.

View from shack at Gobar Ranch

View from shack at Gobar Ranch

Athene Siewerda  was another very early settler. She was the first to have pistachio trees here. Her son, Joe Sherman, lives here now  Orlando (Jake)  and Mildred Jacobs came here in 1928. There were about 250 people in Lucerne Valley then. At the Jacobs home in North Valley, Jake bake 60 or 70 loaves of bread, sweet rolls, cakes and pies on Saturdays and sold them through Max Lewis’s grocery store. Later he rented from Goulding  the building now housing the Rosebud Gift Shop and established Homestead Bakery and Grocery. At that same time Mildred ran the Jackrabbit Café, located on land now occupied by Halleck’s Market.  In 1936 Jake in Mildred moved their house onto land they bought from the Southern Pacific Railroad, the southeast corner of Barstow Road and old woman Springs Road. The Jacobs  donated 10 acres of their land which is now Pioneer Park. As Jake’s health failed, Mildred gave up  the café  and ran the Homestead Bakery. She, along with other citizens, still found time to clear implant for the park, along with other citizens. The Jacobs had two daughters, Shirley Ann  and Millie Lou. Millie Lou lives in Maryland and Shirley Ann (Mrs. Bob Fuller)  lives in Apple Valley.

Ethel Owen came in 1946 as Ethel  Johnston and built Lucerne Valley’s first beauty shop.  Ethel  and Dick Owen  were married in 1950 in the old community church and their daughter, Lilli Ann, born in 1952, was dedicated there shortly before it burned down.

The foregoing was prepared by  Ethel Owen  on March 25, 1988 from material obtained from Lucerne Valley library and from her own memory. She apologizes for any inaccuracy of dates of facts and/or  omissions. There is much to be added that could not be contained in these pages.

From: History of Lucerne Valley by Ethel V. Owen
Mohahve V – Scrapbooks of History – 1991, 2016
Mojave Historical Society