I grew up in the Coachella Valley; my parents were "heavy earthwork" contractors, mostly building government projects, so I spent a lot of time on the back roads of the West. I'm a graduate of Vassar College (history major) and the Marshall-Wythe School of Law at the College of William & Mary. Retired from the Law, I now grow dates, sweet limes & figs on the family ranch, and am the State Senate appointee to the Coachella Valley Mountains Conservancy.
Just a quick note on the power of water: I found this dramatic March 18, 1928 USGS photo of the railroad tracks between Castaic Junction and Piru (Calif.), having been moved onto the highway by the flood caused by the Saint Francis Dam failure.
Below is a photo of the dam before it failed on March 12, 1928. From the USGS archives, courtesy of Los Angeles Bureau of Power & Light. Harold Thornton Stearns, photographer
Yesterday is already history, but for some of us, it will be the day the BIG BOY came to Indio.
Needless to say, the crowds ranged from toddlers to the elderly, all here to see one of the largest steam locomotives ever built.
Originally delivered to the Union Pacific in December 1941, Engine No. 4014 has been fully restored and touring the country as part of the celebration of the 150th anniversary of the Meeting of the Rails at Promontory Point in 1869. More information on the Big Boy can be found at https://www.up.com/heritage/steam/4014/
Designed by Swiss-born Modernist architect Albert Frey,* the Yacht Club is an architectural gem sitting in a pretty desolate location, the northeastern shore of the Salton Sea, across Highway 111 and the Southern Pacific tracks from the unincorporated community of North Shore. Built in 1959, the marina was used to dock boats, in an era when the Sea had more visitors per year than Yosemite.
With the jetty long gone and the Yacht Club abandoned and vandalized, in 2009, Riverside County restored the building. For about a year the Salton Sea Museum operated from the building, with over 7000 visitors signing in. Sadly the museum closed, and the facility is now primarily used as a community center by Desert Recreational District. BUT at least it is being used and maintained!
Now the “new” problem is the dropping Sea water level, leaving the inlet to the marina cut off from the Sea. Last month the Coachella Valley Mountains Conservancy** voted to approve a grant, which along with funds from the Bureau of Reclamation and the California Natural Resources Agency, would enable the Salton Sea Authority to rehabilitate the inlet and marina. If you go to Google Maps satellite image of the area, you can see a tiny, compromised inlet from the Sea to the marina. However, last Sunday I went down to take photos and stood “in the inlet,” on dry beach to take the photo below.
Last Spring Desert X https://www.desertx.org/ brought more visitors to the area to see the outdoor art installations around the Coachella Valley, including the Salton Sea. It reminds me a little of Marfa Texas, in that a gem of art, is sitting in an out of the way location.
Next week the Salton Sea Summit will convene at UCR Palm Desert campus; let us hope this will bring needed attention and solutions.
*Albert Frey’s architecture is Desert Modernism, centered on Palm Springs; his work includes the Palm Springs Tramway Valley Station and the Tramway Gas Station, now used an a Visitor’s Center on the entry into the City, as well as City Hall, etc.
All of my life, a stop at Quartzsite has included a visit to Hi Jolly’s grave:
Growing up in the southwest I learned about the US Army’s experiment with importing camels before the Civil War, to determine if they would be more suited pack animals for our desert climate. Hadji Ali came as a camel driver in 1856. Records are sketchy, but it seems he was the son of a Greek and a Syrian, born somewhere in Syria (Smyrna?) around 1828. The soldiers called him Hi Jolly, inspiring the folk song of that name.
Eventually the Army abandoned the experiment, sold camels at auction, and released the remaining camels into the desert. Hi Jolly stayed in the Southwest as an army scout/packer, freight hauler and miner; he married, and became a US citizen in 1880 as Philip Tedro. On December 16, 1902, he passed away in Quartzsite, to be buried in a simple grave with a wooden marker.
His story does not end there. On December 15, 1935, the Arizona Republic reported that Jim Edwards (foreman for building that section of US Highway 60) and his crew worked on their own time, Sundays and holidays, building the monument with materials paid for by Mr. Edwards. A copper camel is atop a pyramid built of stones gathered from “Northern Yuma county.”
The Arizona Republic urged the state legislature to create a fund to mark historic sites. Today, the site is on the National Register of Historic Places.
Exit 17 from Interstate 10, north on Business 10, east (right) on Business 10 (Main Street); the entrance to the cemetery will be on your left (about 1800 feet).
I only have a dim memory of this building from my childhood; as I recall, it was ramshackle by that time.
However, in its day, the Trading Post had been important. In April 1927, an article in the Los Angeles Times described an auto tour of the Coachella Valley to see the wild flowers and included a reference to a “fine new swimming pool” at the Coachella Valley Trading Post.
In his reminiscences to Katherine Ainsworth (The Man Who Captured Sunshine, 1978), artist John Hilton told her of picking up some good hints from Charles Safford, a graduate of the Chicago Institute of Art. “Stafford [sic]* lived and worked at the old Coachella Trading Post. He and I decorated the walls with our scenes. We were mighty proud of those pictures, but during World War II, the place became a U.S.O. center and the soldiers used our painting as dart boards.” (Ainsworth , page 99).
I remember seeing a photograph of soldiers posed on the front porch of the Trading Post. During World War II, there were US newspaper articles, across the country, that Mrs. Edward. G. Robinson had organized bus trips for girls from Beverly Hills to travel to the Trading Post to dance with the service men; it cost them $5 and they had to take an oath not to drink alcohol or to leave the premises of the Trading Post during the visit. These trips were even made in August when approximately 2500 Army men would come to dance with the 200 girls, who slept on army cots after the dance; on Sunday they went swimming in the pool before returning to L.A. At least one soldier is reported to have jumped in the pool fully clothed!
I hope to find more history of the building; if you have anything to add, please let me know; thanks.
I have found a real picture photograph (courtesy of the Eastman Collection, Univ. of Calif. Davis, circa 1940s) that shows the adobe building identified as the stage depot erected in 1856. At the time this was taken, the building as adjacent to US Route 80 (now designated as Historic U.S. Route 80 by California). See blog below for current photos.
A hundred years old July 15, 2018, the depot was the largest west of the Mississippi when it opened in 1918. Today it has been beautifully restored and not only functions as an Amtrak and Metrolink Station, but also houses a wonderful History and Railroad Museum. Entering the lobby is stepping back in time to the heyday of rail travel.
I’ve been tied up first with a number of repairs here on the ranch and then caught some hideous “bug” that laid me low, but a dear friend encouraged me to make the effort to go the the Depot and it is was wonderful!
The Museum is staffed by great volunteers, and is open Wednesdays 9-12 and Saturdays 10-3. Take the 2nd/3rd Street exit off I 215, planning to turn west on 2nd Street, follow the signs to the Amtrak Station, 1170 West Third Street.
Felicity is both a treasure trove of history and history in the making.
Created by Jacques-Andre Istel and his lovely wife, Felicia, the Town of Felicity is the Center of the World, and the location of the History of the World in Granite. It’s hard to describe and monumental to see.
Open December 1 – March 30 of each year, 10 miles east of Yuma on Interstate 8 (exit 164), it is well worth a visit; take sunscreen, wear a hat, and prepare for an outing. The guided tour (nominal fee) takes you into the pyramid that houses the plaque locating the Center of the World.
Between there and the tiny inter-denominational church on the hill, there are massive red granite plaques engraved with history lessons.
The people who own Felicity are extremely nice and helpful. You can spend as long as you wish, exploring the grounds and the relatively new Court of Honor. Each year they add something new!
Not as obscure as some of the other sites, the plank road through the Algodones Sand Dunes of southeastern California, along with the first bridge across the lower Colorado River, allowed the completion of the Coast to Coast Highway (later US 80).
Prior to the late Nineteenth Century the common way to travel from Yuma to the California coast was via northern Mexico. Between the sand dunes and the lack of water, passage north of the border was virtually impossible. From Yuma, the Southern Pacific tracks (Indio to Yuma opened in 1877) turned north shortly after entering California, and ran on the east side of the dunes, rather than crossing what became the Imperial Valley. Irrigation and the resulting agricultural boom in the valley led to people wanting to traverse it, but by train the route required a loop south from Imperial Junction (later Niland) across the valley into Mexico at Calexico, east below the border approximately 50 miles, then north to Araz Junction to rejoin the SP mainline.
In 1915, completion of the Coast to Coast Bridge crossing the Colorado at Yuma and the one lane Plank Road across the dunes enabled vehicular travel on the US side of the border. Originally just two 25″ parallel “tracks” of wood, about a year later, the planks were fastened together in a full 8′ lane as shown in the photos. When the shifting sand drifted over the wood, sections were moved by horse drawn rigs. Turn outs, approximately a quarter of a mile apart, allowed traffic to pull to the side and allow the driver traveling the other direction to pass, sometimes resulting in arguments over right of way.
By 1926, highway construction engineering had advanced to the point that an asphalted concrete road could be built replacing the Plank Road. To see a short stretch of a replica of the original road and the Historical Marker, take exit 156 off Interstate 8, turn west on Grays Wells Road; the site will be on the left side of the road, off a parking lot.