Remnants of U.S. History: Southern California's Mojave Desert Cabins
A little known piece of American history exists in southern California's Mojave Desert, an area known as the High Desert which begins with Morongo Valley on highway 62, north off Interstate 10, just west of Palm Springs. Continuing on, a traveler finds the towns of Yucca Valley, Joshua Tree, and Twenty Nine Palms.
On this desolate highway which leads to Parker, Arizona, visitors will notice many small one room cabins dotting the landscape from Morongo Valley all the way to a few miles east of Twenty Nine Palms.
Some are truly frozen in time, vacated for decades while others are refurbished with current tenants. Some of these cabins still have the belongings of the people who lived in them decades ago giving the curious a feeling similar to an old science fiction movie, where daily life went on until one day, the people suddenly disappeared without a trace.
The history behind them begins in the early 1900s, when land was homesteaded in the Mojave Desert. During this time in many areas, 160 acre parcels were offered to those hearty enough to make a go of it. The homesteaders were given three years to build a small cabin and an outhouse on the property.
Proof was sent to Washington D.C. in the form of a photo, so the claimants could receive the deed to their property.
Beginning in 1912, several wet years blessed the area where homesteaders raised their own crops and they didn’t worry much about water. This area also attracted many WW1 Veterans suffering from the effects of mustard gas, who came in hopes the dry desert air would improve their condition. The area also attracted those suffering from hard times during the Depression; their hopes were to raise their own food without relying on the unstable market at that time.
The wet period did not last long however, and the lack of water led to conflicts between homesteaders and ranchers over water rights. In the Mojave National Preserve, the Rock Springs Land and Cattle Co. had exclusive rights to the water and land at this time. Rock Springs then filed claims on the homesteaders, causing them to drill their own water wells, most of which were unsuccessful. In most cases, water had to be hauled in from great distances.
Drought, extreme high temperatures and sand storms reclaimed the desert and this made it impossible for most to live on their Homesteads. Literally hundreds of these Homestead claims were abandoned, only the small cabins remain as a reminder of a life past. They are truly remnants of American history and still visible to travelers today.