Ruth & I have spent time in Victorville, Palmdale, and now Ridgecrest, CA. All 3 are basically bedroom communities without much for outsiders to do.
We didn’t get to Ridgecrest, a booming Mojave Desert community, until mid-afternoon. We were surprised by how fast we descended from high altitudes at Big Pine to the Mojave Desert that averages from 3,000 to 6,000 feet above sea level. This town in the desert called Ridgecrest is about 15 miles from Highway 395 and has the largest collection of petroglyphs in North America. It has a new California Welcome Center. The sun shines here all but 10 days of the year, it has a big military presence, and Ridgecrest has grown by about 2,500 people in the past 10 years. By late afternoon we had checked into our 1950s-style motel, unloaded, and driven Ridgecrest’s only commercial strip looking for things to do. We could find only one supermarket. Ridgecrest has only one major museum, the Maturango, but it was already closed. The Desert Tortoise Habitat nearby it had closed at 5, one hour later than the Maturango itself where tours can be arranged to visit Little Petroglyph Canyon. Although they have been used in a couple of high profile movies and some TV commercials, the Trona Pinnacles, about 500 tufa spires, required a 40 mile drive to see; and we were not sure they were available this late in the day. The new Air Force Flight Test Museum at Edwards Air Force Base that was described by one wag as “disappointingly underwhelming” normally closed at 4:30 and was probably still completely closed due to COVID. We bought some dinner at the depleted Albertson’s and went back to our motel room to await the next day and a return to scenic Highway 395. We still had not seen the Bristlecone Pine Forest at this point.
Victorville, population 125,000, and Palmdale with 151,000 people had been similar experiences. At least Victorville had one busy tourist attraction, the California Route 66 Museum. It was here that I had an interesting conversation with an African-American resident. She and her husband lived in Victorville, but he worked at LAX. He had to get up at 3 am to begin his long drive to work, slightly more than 100 miles one-way. Victorville itself was a succession of similar shopping strips and shopping centers surrounding a distressed central core where the Route 66 Museum was. Because we lingered in LA, we did not get to Palmdale until evening. This did not matter since there wasn’t much to do there. Its attractions included 2 airparks, a water park, the Pearblossom Highway, a brewery, a mall, a trail, a Cinemark Theater, and a family fun center. Like Ridgecrest, it was basically a just-outside-LA bedroom community in the Mojave Desert.
Ruth and I used to know a couple who got their career starts at the newspaper in Barstow, CA. They moved back to St. Louis after about 2 years. At that time Barstow was the only viable Mojave Desert community of any size. It now has a population of 23,500. In the year 2000 its population was 21,000 and the couple had already moved on years before. Other fairly large communities in the Mojave Desert include towns called California City and Apple Valley. In the small Arizona portion of the Mojave, the town of Lake Havasu City is approaching a population of 60,000 if it has not already achieved that. Its claim to fame is the fact that people there had a 1830s London Bridge across the Thames disassembled and reassembled in their town to span the Colorado River.
No wonder the population of the Mojave Desert is more than one million! I hope these humans continue to find water resources to build their water parks.