Tuesday, May 5, 2009

The Ghost Town Of Kelso, California

Kelso, California was a stop on the Union Pacific railroad running from Los Angeles to Salt Lake City. The site was chosen because of abundant springs in the area for water. Kelso boomed about a century ago because of gold and silver deposits in the surrounding mountains. By 1940, the population was about 2000, but began to drop rapidly after World War II. In the early 1980s, there were only a few people left and Union Pacific wanted to close down all buildings and raze them. Fortunately, a preservation effort was launched and Union Pacific agreed to turn the townsite over to the state of California. Today, Kelso is part of the Mojave National Preserve and is administered by the National Park Service.

Kelso is reached by taking Interstate 15 from Los Angeles or Las Vegas; Baker is almost midway between the two on I-15. From Baker, take Kelbaker Road south 37 miles to the site of Kelso. The road is paved the entire way and suitable for all vehicles.

The most impressive structure in Kelso is the old Union Pacific station shown below. When I visited back in 2001 and took these photos, it was closed. Happily, the National Park Service has restored the building and it now serves as a visitor center and has the only restaurant for quite a few miles:

Another well-preserved building in Kelso is the post office below. This was the last building to close in Kelso back in the 1970s:

Most of the remaining structures in Kelso are behind fencing, meaning you can look but not touch:

The only buildings not protected by fencing are falling apart:

Near Kelso are some impressive sand dunes called, appropriately enough, the Kelso Dunes. David Carradine walked across them in the opening sequences of the 1970s TV program Kung Fu, and you can retrace those historic steps after visiting Kelso.