Stumbling Upon An Abandoned Farm in the Mojave Desert

One evening last week around dusk (or “magic hour,” as we call it in the film business), I found myself lost in the Mojave. Which, admittedly, was somewhat intentional.

01

In the particular area of the desert I’ve been scouting, there are the roads which meet your standard definition of a road – those with pavement and painted lines and the occasional speed limit sign (no need for traffic lights, of course).

And then there are roads for which the term is, at best, a rough approximation – unpaved, unmaintained, often obstructed by trash and deep ruts. These were the roads on which I’d found the most fascinating and unexpected surprises.

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I was taking a detour down one such road when I happened to notice a crumbling structure in the distance…

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There are a LOT of abandoned homes in this part of the Mojave, most just simple one-room wooden structures, barely qualifying as shanties. But this one was different…

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The remains of a multi-room stone house, abandoned and left to decay for God knows how long, yet still gorgeous against the pink and blue skies of a desert sunset:

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I wish I could tell you when it was built, who lived here, what it was used for, or why it was abandoned – one of the most frustrating things about exploring the desert has been knowing most of this history is forever lost to time.

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But that doesn’t stop my imagination from asking the questions. Was this room once someone’s living room? Did the owner relax here on a sofa or rocking chair, taking in the spectacular view of the surrounding mountains?

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Was this room a kitchen…

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And which were the bedrooms?

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A few telltale remnants can be found. In one room…

09a

The ruins of a fireplace:

09b

In another, steps leading from one room to the next…

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Locals have told me every last inch of metal left in the desert was illegally stripped by salvagers over the last few years when scrap prices were at record highs, so little of that to be found.

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But piles of wood were piled outside – perhaps timbers from the roof?

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Surrounding the home – a patio, or driveway?

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Nearby, a door:

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Then I noticed a larger structure in the distance and realized there was more than just the house…

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Just a short distance away, an enormous series of stone corrals stretching out almost a football field in length:

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Many of the older structures in the area date to the early 1940s, and while the region is relatively remote today, it’s nothing compared to how extremely cut off it was then. The amount of work that must have gone into building these stone walls is mind-boggling.

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Some have a post or two left…

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Others offer no hints at what type of livestock once resided here:

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Below, the full length of the corrals, with farmhouse in the distance.

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I noticed two final structures on a hill nearby…

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The first was off to the east…

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The ruins of a stone chimney:

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On the opposite side…

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…what I believe was a cistern.

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Almost all of the folks I’ve met out here over the past few weeks moved to the desert to escape the world, an anonymity that has inevitably spread to its history. While it’s frustrating, there’s also something liberating about it.

04

As the sky lit up with reds and purples and the sun disappeared behind the mountains, all I could do was stare at this strange stone structure in the desert and appreciate it for what it was, a singular record of its own existence, a mystery deepening with each passing day.

I think, ultimately, I preferred it that way.

-SCOUT

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5 comments

  1. Love those pictures. Take care out in the desert Nick!

  2. Do you record your wanderings with a GPS? Ever thought of adding them to the OpenStreetMap project? also, you work through photos, you could upload them to Mapillary. And you could receiev something back: you could use OSM in your page to show where all these places are…

  3. Being an East Coast city boy, deserts fascinate me. I’ve never been to one, but the photos I’ve seen amaze me. They seem like even more open spaces than prairies or other undeveloped areas I’ve visited. I know the climate was different years ago, but it still could not have been an easy life in that place. Good to see it preserved photographically.

    Your photos and occupation immediately give me an image when I see this place: Butch and Sundance in Bolivia. What do you film scouts do about abandoned places like this? If you wanted to film there, I mean? Is it now public land? Is it privately held? How much due diligence would you have to do before attempting to film there?

  4. San Francisco Prof

    Nick, if you want to see something in the Mojave weird and unexploited for film, try the Amboy Crater. Copper Mountain College was plunked down in a beautiful open desert beside the Old Dan and Chocolate Mountians, next to a ghost town, Sunfair, whose bar opened once a week in the 70s for dances. The men wore sixguns. CMC has a desert studies program and can advise you. Across the road uphill there is a box canyon. Nick, for all I know you grew up in the desert and were in a 4 wheel drive vehicle, but if not, here’s advice for my favorite movie scout. You know how in NYC you can walk just two blocks off 8th avenue and be in real peril? You describe yourself taking a “detour” over unpaved roads with the sun going down. Same thing. You aren’t giving the desert any respect. Keep a few yards of old industrial carpet in the back of your vehicle, and a sand shovel, with a wide, shallow scoop. If your tire gets stuck in a rut filled with soft sand, you can ride out of the rut on the carpet. Have 2 gallons of water with you, one to drink and one, if vehicle overheats, to pour slowly over the radiator cap while the engine runs. Don’t turn it off. The hot metal will boil the contents. Wear real boots a scorpion or cholla cactus can’t get you through, or those damn burrs that grow ankle high everywhere. As for the Mexican cartel, Breaking Bad stuff, don’t believe it, that’s only right along the border. The College should have lots of advice. You do know that during the Roy Rogers era whole Western sets were built nearby, and are still there? And there’s a Lawrence of Arabia high sand dune down the hill with part of the set that DW Griffith used for Intolerance. If you want a hard-bitten town that feels like Steinbeck Depression-era California, try Indio.

  5. San Francisco Prof

    PS Should be “Old Dad” mountains, and “down the hill” is High Desert slang for down near Palm Springs. Surely you know the dinosaur truck stop down there, and next to the highway, the well-preserved relic of a little town which died when the interstate was put in. It’ll look familiar– it inspired Disney’s “Cars.”