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Throwback Thursday; Kelbaker Road, Kelso Depot, and the Mojave National Preserve

Back in 2012 I spent a considerable amount of time exploring the Mojave National Preserve located in northern San Bernadino County, California.  Of particular note was Kelbaker Road which leads traffic from Historic US Route 66 northward through the derelict reaches of the Mojave Desert to I-15/California State Route 127 in Baker. 






Kelbaker Road essentially serves as the main park road for the National Park Service through the Mojave National Preserve.  The grade from US 66 north to Kelso is relatively new having popped up sometime in the late 1970s/early 1980s according to historicaerials.com.  The asphalt quality section of Kelbaker Road south of Kelso is decent but far from the best, at minimum it is paved which is often more than can be expected in the Mojave.



Kelbaker Road has a junction with the Kelso Dunes a couple miles south of Kelso.  The Kelso Dunes cover an area of 45 square miles with dunes rising as high 650 feet above the desert floor.  The Kelso Dunes consist of minerals blown in from the nearby San Bernadino Mountains.  It is thought that the sands were blown in as a result of Soda Lake and Silver Lake drying up into large playas.





Just south of Kelso the alignment of Kelbaker Road junctions the Vulcan Mine Road.  The Vulcan Mine was a major steel mine in the desert which opened in the 1940s.  The section of Kelbaker Road north to Kelso was originally part of the Vulcan Mine Road which was built up to a road to US 66.





Kelso is located on the Union Pacific Railroad was once siding of the San Pedro, Los Angeles & Salt Lake Railroad opening in 1905.  Kelso was a major siding and stopping place on the SPLA&SL due to its proximity to the high grades of Cima Hill in addition to being a general mid-way point through the desert.  Kelso Depot which now serves as National Park Visitor Center was opened in 1923.  The SPLA&SL was annexed into the Union Pacific by 1921 and Kelso Depot was operated 1985.  Kelso Depot was purchased by the Bureau of Land Management in 1992 and the property was turned over to the National Park Service in 2002.













Kelso remained viable past the era of Steam Locomotives due to the Kaiser Vulcan Mine.  During the peak of mining operations Kelso grew to a population of approximately 2,000 residents.  By the late 1980s after the closure of Kelso Depot the community of Kelso was essentially a ghost town.  More information regarding Kelso can be found on NPS.gov.

NPS.gov on Kelso Depot

The National Park Service has a display showing what Kelso looked like in it's prime.




There are various ruins throughout Kelso which include an almost intact Post Office building.



Kelso serves as the halfway point between Amboy and Baker.  There seems to have been a very early desert route from Baker southeast to Kelso which appears on the 1935 California Division of Highways Map of San Bernardino County.

1935 California Division of Highways Map of San Bernadino County

The current alignment of Kelbaker Road north of Kelso appears some time on topographical maps between 1972 and 1983.  The northern segment of Kelbaker Road is extremely worn out with lots of large pot holes.  The asphalt has a unique red hue which sometimes appears on roadways in the Mojave Desert due to the mixture quarried for asphalt. 

Kelbaker Road essentially serves as a southward extension of CA 127.  Kelbaker Road is actually signed as a major destination on the CA 127 exit from I-15 which includes signage for the Mojave Preserve.  The Mojave National Preserve in 1994 out of the previously BLM managed East Mojave Scenic Area.




 





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