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Kelso Depot Reopening Page 1

Kelso Depot Grand Reopening

Kelso, California
March 25, 2006
Story and photographs except as noted copyright 2006 by Richard Elgenson

For decades, I had viewed the California deserts as a place to traverse going to a more favored landscape such as the Sierra Nevada Mountains.  Mojave only meant a place to refuel and get a bite to eat to or from June Lake or Mammoth.  Oh sure, there were the family day trips to Salton Sea, Joshua Tree and Twentynine Palms.  I had been aware of Cima Grade on the Union Pacific line to Las Vegas from a time when a girlfriend and I caught some Grateful Dead shows at Sam Boyd Silver Bowl.  On the way to Vegas she complained that the Amtrak Desert Wind train was going much too slow up Cima Grade.  I did not try to explain.  Another trip while trying to locate an exact location on Interstate 40 near Ludlow for a lawsuit my attorney friend and I took a shortcut through the Mojave National Preserve to Vegas.  We traversed the Kelso  Cima Road from I-40 to I-15 along a narrow road parallel to the Union Pacific mainline.  That was the weekend that Southern Pacific derailed a potash train onto a neighborhood at the foot of Cajon Pass.  The neighborhood exploded a week later due to a rupture of a gas pipeline.  In February of this year I received an email informing me about the reopening of the Kelso Depot.  I accepted this as a great excuse to get out of town to attend the festivities. The plan became a very early departure time with the hopes of arriving at Kelso by 9 AM.  Three miles east of Ludlow the traffic halted due to an overturned big rig.  After 20 minutes we decided to return to Ludlow and head out Route 66 east to Kelbaker Road.  We flew  to Amboy and I was warned that Kelbaker Road would not be too well marked, which it was not.  We arrived in Kelso about 9:25 AM and started enjoying the place before the crowd showed up, which they did.  I checked out the National Parks Service program guide for the day and selected the 11 AM Kelso Town Tour.  Other guided walks took place miles away at the Kelso Dunes and Lava Beds.  Two hours were devoted to "Remember When" with former residents of Kelso and the surrounding area.  There were book signings, a Mojave Spirit Run, Fort Mojave Tribal Band, Needles Select Choir, a Cowboy Poet, and the dedication with important speakers.


This westbound train was approaching very slowly.  It actually turned out to be a meet with an eastbound.  After this, rail traffic mostly dried up.


From the air, Kelso looks like the photographs below.  There was a noticable lack of rail traffic and what did roll by did so intentionally slowly.  This highway-rail grade crossing saw more vehicular traffic this day than in any day in many years.  The rail line hosted 5 trains when under normal circumstances it would see double digits.  Aerial photographs courtesy of Allen Heller.



Less than 100 people were there when we arrived and at its peak, there must have been 500 people.  Throughout the day at least 1000 people visited.


Above right, visitors not waiting for a train.  The man on the right side of the bench is a 91 year old Theo Packard, a former Kelso resident.  Trains do not stop here anymore.  At this time, passenger trains do not even come through here.  When and if a passenger train is reestablished from Southern California to Las Vegas, it will pass by the Kelso Depot.


Displays of desert  life are shown below.  The desert supports birds, reptiles and other four legged animals.  Visitors are asked to leave "No Trace" of their presence.


I found a check-in table on the east side of the depot, signed the guest book and walked away with my Kelso Grand Opening medallion.


Below, park archaeologist David Nichols beginning the 11 AM town tour.

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