Home of the World’s Tallest Thermometer
Baker, California is so small, not only does it not have an official website, it doesn’t have its own Facebook page. At 735 resident, Baker is listed as a US Census designated “place.” But this doesn’t mean there’s nothing to do near Baker because a particular area’s lack of a large human population is often synonymous with a fantastic nearby opportunity for adventure in the wilderness, and enjoying spectacular natural beauty.
Baker is located within San Bernardino County, which is the largest county by area in the U.S. at 20,105 square miles. This exceeds the territory encompassed by New Jersey, Connecticut, Delaware and Rhode Island combined. San Bernardino County shares the Colorado River as its border with Nevada and Arizona to the east, and extends westward to the counties of Los Angeles and Orange. From the county’s southwestern most point, the Pacific Ocean is less than 20 miles away as the crow flies.
Baker is served by Interstate 15 and is located about the midway point between Barstow, California to the west and Primm, Nevada at the state line to the east. I-15 is the highway connecting Los Angeles and Las Vegas and that stretch of road is traveled by millions of people each year.
According to the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, 26 percent – just under 10 million – of Las Vegas’ nearly 38 million annual visitors are from Southern California. It’s not a stretch to assume most all people travelling the I-15 corridor view Baker as nothing more than a benchmark indicating it’s only another 90 minutes until reaching the bright lights of the Vegas strip.
For those seeking serenity and being surrounded by nature’s natural wonders and below the bright lights of nighttime stars, Baker isn’t for passing-through; Baker is the exit to take.
Founded in 1908 as a rail station along the Tonopah and Tidewater (T&T) Railroad – transporting borax primarily – Baker was established as a community in 1929 and is named after Richard C. Baker, the man who partnered with Francis Smith in building the T&T railroad.
Today, Baker is an important junction located along the northwest boundary of Mojave National Preserve and serves as a main entry point into the 1.6 million acre sanctuary. State Route (SR) 127 – Death Valley Road – begins in Baker and heads north toward the southern border of Death Valley National Park 30 miles away before shadowing the park along its eastern perimeter for another 60 miles until meeting the Nevada state line.
PHOTO: CHEMEHUEVI MAP
The area sits along the margins of territory occupied by the Mojave and Chemehuevi First Nation – “Indian” or “Native American” – people. The Chemehuevi lived in close proximity with the Mohave with the two groups maintaining a somewhat peaceful relationship; there is a history of instances where they were not on friendly terms.
The name Mojave is a compound of “aha,” (water), and “macave,” (along or beside) and refers to “people living beside the water” along the Colorado River. The Mojave lived primarily where California, Arizona and Nevada meet and are a combination of three subsets of indigenous peoples.
The Matha lyathum lived in Black Canyon south to the Mojave Valley, the Hutto-pah the central Mojave Valley, and the Kavi lyathum south of the Mojave Valley to the Needles Peaks. Aside from fish, the Colorado River provided water for crop irrigation and attracted game. The Mojave would travel as far west as the Pacific Ocean to trade with other First Nation communities.
The Chemehuevi are the southernmost branch of the Southern Paiute people. Chemehuevi traded with First Nations communities living as far away as the Pacific coast as Chemehuevi women decorated their clothing with sea shells.
Highly adaptable to their harsh environment, Chemehuevi were skilled builders and constructed four different types of houses. One style was a double-roofed flat, or shade house, built for ceremonies. Over a flat roof made of brush, a sloped second roof reaching the ground was built on the west side to provide extra protection from the sun and extreme Mojave Desert heat.
In 1858, Americans migrating west helped themselves to cottonwood trees in Mojave territory, cutting them down to make rafts. The Mojave relied upon the inside bark to make clothing, and wood from these trees to build their homes. In retaliation, the Mojave killed cattle and horses belonging to immigrants.
The Mojave, being tenuous allies with the Chemehuevi, brought the Chemehuevi into the war. While Mojave preferred close quarter combat – hand-to-hand – the Chemehuevi fought a guerilla war using guns. The violence led to the US government erecting Fort Mojave in 1859 and the US Army co-opting Mojave to help fight the Chemehuevi, leading to an eventual cessation in hostilities.
Population / Elevation
735 / 930 feet above sea level
Weather / Climate
Baker is situated at the southern point of the Death Valley geological depression, placing it far lower in elevation – 735 feet above sea level – than both Barstow (64 miles away) at 2,175 feet above sea level, and Las Vegas (94 miles away) at 2,001 feet above sea level. Baker is hot and dry with summer day time high temperatures above 110 degrees Fahrenheit, and an all-time high temp of 124 degrees.
World’s Tallest Thermometer
Baker is home to the world’s largest thermometer. Visible from I-15, the 134 foot tall structure is a working thermometer built in recognition of the 134 degree Fahrenheit world record temperature set at Death Valley on July 10, 1913.
Built in 1991 and costing $700,000, the thermometer recently underwent a two-year, $150,000 renovation and has been back in business with new LED lights since July 2014. The world’s largest thermometer is located at 72157 Baker Boulevard.
Things to Do
Less than five miles north of Baker is the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) Hollow Hills Wilderness. Though close to Baker, the park entrance is a 13 mile drive, first for nine miles along the park’s western perimeter on SR127 (Death Valley Road) and then exiting and taking a secondary road east for the final four mile drive to the entrance located at the north end.
Hollow Hills received its designation in 1994. The 22,366 acre area is noted for its large, slight alluvial slope with numerous washes leading to Silver Lake – a dry lake just outside the Wilderness' southwest boundary. Elevation peaks at over 4,000 feet at both the very rugged and steep Calico Mountains, and the gently-sloped Mud Hills.
Creosote bush and desert holly are in abundance and desert tortoises and Mojave fringe-toed lizards live within the wilderness boundaries. There are no designated hiking trails and no dependable sources of water.
Death Valley National Park’s southern boundary is a 30 minute drive north of Baker on SR127. The entrance into Death Valley National Park is 113 miles from Baker via the town of Furnace Creek. This park is the hottest and driest National Park in the nation.
Within the park, bottoming out at 282 feet below sea level is Badwater Basin which represents the lowest elevation anywhere in North America. Eighty-four miles to the north-northwest of this land of extreme drought and heat is the highest point in elevation for the lower 48 states – Mount Whitney at 14,505 feet above sea level.
Despite its name and being the land of extremes, Death Valley is teaming with life – over 400 species of native wildlife – and is recognized as an International Biosphere Reserve. Death Valley bighorn sheep can go without water for several days and with dehydration lose up to one-third their body weight. When coming upon water, the bighorn will drink several gallons at one serving and make a recovery.
A Death Valley species not concerned with dehydration is the kangaroo rat. This animal does need to drink water ever. It survives on water within the plants and seeds they eat to survive. The largest of national parks in the lower 48 States, it is hot, dry and the lowest point in elevation in North America and the second-lowest point in the Western Hemisphere - 282 feet below sea level. The park serves as California’s southernmost border with Nevada.
Mojave National Preserve is a 1.6 million acre park abutting Baker to the park’s north. The park is bordered by Interstate 15 to its north and access to the park is available by exiting Death Valley Highway (SR127) and heading south for less than 1/4 mile to Kelbaker Road. The preserve is topographically diverse and visitors can expect to see sand dunes, canyons, mountains, mesas, Joshua tree forests, and woodlands. The preserve is home to mountain lions, bighorn sheep, coyotes and bats. Within its canyons mountains and mesas are long-abandoned mines, homesteads, and rock-walled military outposts.
Nopah Wilderness Area
The Nopah Range Wilderness area is 106,620 acres managed by BLM and is part of the 109 million acre National Wilderness Preservation System (NWPS) – a conglomeration of land set aside to provide clean air, water, and habitat critical for rare and endangered plants and animals. The range sits between the Nevada state line and the extreme southern portion of Death Valley National Park just one hour north of Baker. It is accessed via SR127. The Nopah Wilderness Area is divided into the North and South Range.
Newberry Mountains Wilderness
Newberry Mountain Wilderness is 55 miles southwest of Baker, just south of the town of Newberry Springs off Interstate 40. The 26,102 acres are managed by the Bureau of Land Management. Trails and water are nonexistent in this wilderness area so carrying drinking water and a topographical map is a necessity.
The Newberry Mountains Wilderness is part of the same NWPS as the Nopah Range. The Newberry Mountains are volcanic in origin. The rugged terrain gains elevation on a gentle slope until reaching flat summits ranging in elevation from 2,200 feet up to 5,100 feet. Appropriate winter rain yields a spectacular wildflower display along the mountain’s western slope. Desert bighorn sheep pass through the range, and falcon’s and eagle’s hunt from the air.
Nearby Cities & Towns
Distance from Baker
Primm, Nevada – 50 Miles Northeast
Shoshone – 56 Miles North
Pahrump, Nevada – 83 Miles North
Las Vegas, Nevada – 94 Miles Northeast
Zzyzx – 12 Miles South
Ludlow – 47 Miles South
Newberry Springs – 55 Miles Southwest
*Needles – 121 Miles East
*Lake Havasu City, Arizona – 164 Miles East
*Scenic route south through Mojave National Preserve for 58 miles to I-40.
Yermo – 53 Miles West
Barstow – 64 Miles West
*Ft. Irwin – 90 Miles West
*No direct route. Horse shoe route west to Yermo, then backtrack to the north. Just over 30 miles as the crow flies.
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