Boron, California

Boron is both the small desert town and a metallic element

Story and photos by Lara Hartley

That dog was fast. Twenty-five miles-per-hour fast.

I know he was moving at that breakneck speed because I paced him as he chased my car along the fenceline of his property. I hit the brakes right before he slammed into the chicken wire at the end of the real estate.

That was my approach to Boron, California, recently, as I followed train tracks west, looking for something interesting to see and photograph.

Once past the Joshua trees and a decrepit windmill, I found a clean, simple downtown that reminded me of the 1950s, with interesting artifacts lining the main street and several great little restaurants.

Boron has old signs and buildings to photograph, a resident that is a walking history book, a cool jet plane and that very quick dog.

What more could a girl photographer ask for?

The Budget Inn is the newer of the two motels in Boron and was remodeled about three years ago. It still has the look of something from the past on the wide street that runs through the heart of town.
All images are "click to enlarge," and all images copyright Lara Hartley

The Budget Inn is the newer of the two motels in Boron and was remodeled about three years ago. It still has the look of something from the past on the wide street that runs through the heart of town.

What is Boron?

Boron is both the small desert town and a metallic element (atomic weight 5).

The metal boron is obtained by heating borax with carbon.

The community of Boron is reached via Highway 58 until an abrupt left on 20 Mule Team Road takes you into the center of town. Here, deep in the western Mojave, is the best surprise of all: the Twenty Mule Team Museum.

Boron really does feel like the middle of nowhere even though it is a scant 44 miles from Victorville, and just about half way between Barstow and Mojave. Strategically located between the historical borax mine to the north and a mountain ridge for test firing rockets to the south, Boron represents the past and the future.

Borax has been called "white gold" for its many uses and for the money it brings its finders and miners.

A customer is served a cocktail by Domingo Gutierrez, the owner of Domingo’s Mexican Restaurant. Gutierrez has owned his eatery, specializing in seafood, in Boron for 19 years.
A customer is served a cocktail by Domingo Gutierrez, the owner of Domingo’s Mexican Restaurant. Gutierrez has owned his eatery, specializing in seafood, in Boron for 19 years and charmingly interacts with the patrons who crowd the restaurant. The restaraunt is very popular with tourists and astronauts alike and the decor is devoted to the pilots and spacemen who flock to Domingo's after their flights are over.

 

Big Daddy’s in Boron is a defunct cafe that used to be called Pat’s. The building seems have gone through several incarnations.
Big Daddy’s in Boron is a defunct cafe that used to be called Pat’s. The building seems have gone through several incarnations.

A Little Light History

In the late 1800s, ore from Death Valley was hauled by 20-mule teams across the desert to Mojave for shipment. In 1925 a rich borax deposit was discovered practically under the same wagon trails but much closer to the rail head. Twenty-mule teams were teams of eighteen mules and two horses attached to large wagons, according to Wikipedia.com.

Shortly after the borax discovery, Pacific Coast Borax moved its mining operations from Death Valley to the current location of the Rio Tinto Borax mine, three miles north of Boron.

This building was first built and used by the railroad at Kramer Junction (three miles east of Boron). It was moved to Boron in 1941 and was used by the Santa Fe Railroad for many years to schedule rail shipments of borax across the country.
This building was first built and used by the railroad at Kramer Junction (three miles east of Boron). It was moved to Boron in 1941 and was used by the Santa Fe Railroad for many years to schedule rail shipments of borax across the country.

The town, built to accommodate the miners, was originally called Amargo, which means bitter — a reference to the taste of the water. It was named after Santa Fe Railway's Amargo siding that provided the best access to the new borate mine, which began production in 1927.

The history of the area is well told in the Twenty Mule Team Museum — complete with a working, animated 20-mule team display. Many of the mules need new eyes though and perhaps some eyelashes too. The team driver cracks his whip and the wheels on the wagons turn.

Barbara Pratt, 87, is the delightful director and docent of the historical museum in Boron. She has been with the museum since 1984.
Barbara Pratt is the delightful director and docent of the historical museum in Boron. She has been with the museum since 1984.

Museum Director Barbara Pratt hopes to enclose the whole thing in a Plexiglas case and have it operate with quarters - to create income the museum sorely needs. Volunteers are needed to help restore the exhibit. Artifacts from the mining town of Ryan are a new, impressive display.

Next door to the museum and the old Santa Fe depot is the Colonel Vernon P. Saxon Aerospace Museum. It was dedicated September 13, 1997 to the memory of Colonel Saxon, a former Vice-Commander at the Air Force Test Flight Center at Edwards AFB. The museum is open seven days a week from 10:00 am to 4:00 pm. Special museum hours can be arranged for groups of 10 or more. The museum is closed Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years Day.

Two ladies from the Ruby Red Begonias, the Tehachipi chapter of the Red Hat Society, leave the Twenty Mule Team Museum after a tour.
Two ladies from the Ruby Red Begonias, the Tehachipi chapter of the Red Hat Society, leave the Twenty Mule Team Museum after a tour.

Antique rail artifacts sit on the porch of the old Boron Depot. The F-4 Phantom jet in the background is part of the aerospace museum next door.

Antique rail artifacts sit on the porch of the old Boron Depot. The F-4 Phantom jet in the background is part of the aerospace museum next door. Even if the museum is closed, visitors can still see the two-seat, twin-jet F-4 Phantom parked outside.


The museums are located on the southwest corner at the intersection of Boron Avenue and Twenty Mule Team Road.

Unique main street exhibits include a rocket booster chamber from the Rocket Test Site at Edwards Air Force Base, and Old Number One, the first Electra Haul dump truck used at U. S. Borax. You can't miss this driving through town, it is huge and yellow/orange.

There is also a visitor's center at the mine where you can see the world's largest open pit borax operation. The center generously donates all admission fees to local non-profit organizations.

Pratt is a walking, talking history book, and an entertaining one as well.

She seems to know all the old stores and their stories, what the worn out buildings used to be and where their owners went. A strong Boron supporter, she is nevertheless disappointed in the way some residents keep their homes and the number of abandoned buildings on the side streets.

She is also convinced Boron will grow and improve as more people escape the larger cities into the desert.

Pratt said, "I once heard somebody say they wouldn't be caught dead in Boron. I guess not, since there isn't a cemetery here."

This 1930s kitchen exhibit in the 20 Mule Team Museum contains several utensils and other household items used by the early settlers of Boron.
This 1930s kitchen exhibit in the 20 Mule Team Museum contains several utensils and other household items used by the early settlers of Boron.

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Barstow
Road Trip - Laughlin - Route 66 Oatman

Other Photo-Stories by Lara Hartley
Birthday Road Trip: Route 66
Ludlow for Lunch
Intimate Landscapes

 

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