Enlightening Gems: Western Museums

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Barreling down Route 66 with the band Journey blasting from the stereo, is there anything better?

But I am getting ahead of myself.

This particular trip, I was headed for enlightenment and education. What does the Mojave Desert and outlying areas offer us in the way of historical and natural museums?

These gems are not nearly as dry and boring as they may sound at first. They are usually run by a dedicated group of volunteer guides who can carry you through history with their specialized knowledge of the areas. First-person stories of “back in the day” add dimension to artifacts and exhibits.

Needles Regional Museum

Just getting there is half the fun, see above comment about music. Whatever your tastes, the Mother Road or Hwy. 395 offers plenty of time for musical respite, audio books or maybe just silence contemplating the roads less traveled.

You don’t have to make a special trip to visit these wonderful places, but it doesn’t hurt. They add an opportunity to explore beyond the magnificent scenic landscapes of the desert or Eastern Sierra and a chance to stretch your legs and grab a snack at a nearby cafe.

Hopefully you will find these listings to be beneficial and will stop to glean what the museums have to offer.

Be sure to tell them Lara, from desertusa.com, sent you!


route-66-museum-inside_3Route 66 Mother Road Museum
Historic Harvey House
681 North First Avenue
Barstow, CA 92311
Telephone: (760) 255-1890,
or toll free (877) 997-8366
Fax: (760) 256-6776

Friday thru Sunday,
10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Other hours may be arranged in advance. The Museum may be closed on a major holiday; please check ahead.


  • Take the I-15 north to Barstow, exit at “L” Street, turn left at the end of the off-ramp onto “L” Street, turn right on West Main Street (Route 66!), follow West Main Street to First Avenue, and turn left on First Avenue.  The Harvey House is on the right after you cross the bridge over the railroad tracks.
  • I-15, I-40 south to Barstow, exit at Barstow Road, turn right on Barstow Road, turn left (west) on Main Street (Route 66), turn right on First Avenue.

Debra Hodkin, manager/curator

Do you have a question on Route 66 or local Barstow area history?
Contact: Bill Tomlinson, historian, (760) 255-1890


0793_warm-harvey-girl6Western America Railroad Museum
Located in the east wing of the Harvey House
681 N. 1st. Ave. Suite 1000
P.O. Box 703
Barstow, CA 92312-703.
Telephone: (760) 256-9276
Web: www.barstowrailmuseum.org

Friday through Sunday, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Railroad memorabilia, old locomotives, photos and archives are available for public viewing. An operating train layout is displayed and a gift shop is on the premises.


Desert Discovery Center
831 Barstow Road
Barstow, CA 92311
Telephone: (760) 252-6060
Web: www.discoverytrails.org

Tuesday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.

The Desert Discovery Center (DDC) is comprised of a unique partnership between the Bureau of Land Management, National Park Service, Barstow Unified School District, Barstow Community College, Mojave River Valley Museum, City of Barstow, and Discovery Trails nonprofit organization.

The mission of the DDC is to develop and implement a comprehensive formal and informal education center with programs focusing on the natural, cultural, and historic resources associated with the Mojave Desert.


mojave-museum-new-signMojave River Valley Museum
270 E. Virginia Way (at the intersection of Barstow Road and Virginia Way.)
Barstow, CA 92311
Telephone: (760) 256-5452
Web: mojaverivervalleymuseum.org

Daily, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.

The Mojave River Valley Museum is dedicated to the preservation and interpretation of the heritage for the people of the Mojave River Valley. It features collections of artifacts and information from early man, pathfinders and pioneers through space exploration as well as geological features and local animal fossils.

Join us in helping to preserve the heritage of the desert. Your membership and participation is always welcome.

We have four levels of membership. Membership benefits include receiving Desert Tailings, our monthly newsletter, participation in all field trips, and a 10% discount in our bookstore and gift shop.

Our General Meetings are at 7:00 pm at the Museum (270 E. Virginia Way) on the last Wednesday of each month except:
• July and August: Meetings are canceled due to our hot summers.
• November: Meeting is one week earlier than usual due to Thanksgiving.
• December: Meeting is canceled due to the Christmas Holiday.
The Meetings feature guest speakers who cover a broad range of subjects related to our desert heritage. They are open to our membership and the public alike at no charge.


Randsburg Museum
156 Butte Street
P.O. Box 307.
Randsburg, CA 93554
Telephone: (760) 374-2359 or (760) 374-2400

Weekends and some holidays (except for Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day), from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

A branch of the Kern County Museum since 1948, the museum — in smallness — is proportionate to the town. But it is, also like the town, loaded with the flavor of the Old West.

Possessions of gold miners, their tools of the trade and other utilitarian relics used in the boom town are central to the exhibits housed within the Randsburg Museum.

Items such as an assortment of milling drills, a frying pan, an apothecary’s pill-rolling device and an old steam engine used operate dentist’s tools are among those on display. A variety of local gems and minerals, some dinosaur gizzard stones and Indian artifacts such as cooking stones, arrowheads and a buffalo horn are also there.

Visitors can see more relics outside, among them a five-ton steam locomotive used in the Yellow Aster Mine in the 1900s and a 5-Stamp Mill (which had originally 10 stamps) to crush ore from the mine.


Eastern California Museum
155 N. Grant Street
Independence, CA 93526
Telephone: (760) 878-0364, (760) 878-0258
Fax:  (760) 878-0412
Web: www.inyocounty.us/ecmuseum

Daily, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Open on the Fourth of July, but closed on other major holidays.

In addition to the numerous indoor exhibits, the museum features an equipment yard that contains freight wagons from the area’s mining era, farm and construction equipment.



Saxon Aerospace Museum
26922 Twenty Mule Team Road
Boron, CA 93516
Telephone: (760) 762-6600
Fax: (760) 762-6400
Web: www.saxonaerospacemuseum.com

The Saxon Aerospace Museum is open 7 days a week from 10am to 4pm. Special museum hours can be arranged for groups of 10 or more. The museum is closed all major holidays. Volunteers are needed in order to help the museum open on the weekends.

“To collect, interpret, preserve, and display aeronautics and aerospace materials relevant to flight research performed over the skies of Boron and the surrounding Aerospace Valley.”

From Barstow:
• Take Hwy. 58 West 38 miles to the Boron Avenue off ramp. Exit the freeway and turn left onto Boron Avenue. Follow Boron Avenue approximately one mile to Twenty Mule Team Road. The Saxon Aerospace Museum is located on the Southwest corner at the intersection of Boron Avenue and Twenty Mule Team Road

From Mojave:
• Take Hwy. 58 East 30 miles to the Boron Avenue off ramp. Exit the freeway and turn right onto Boron Avenue. Follow Boron Avenue approximately one mile to Twenty Mule Team Road. The Saxon Aerospace Museum is located on the Southwest corner at the intersection of Boron Avenue and Twenty Mule Team Road


6560_boron-museum-red-hat-ladies_4Twenty Mule Team Museum
26962 Twenty Mule Team Road
Boron, CA 93516
Telephone: (760) 762-5810
Web: www.20muleteammuseum.com

Daily 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Special museum hours can be arranged for groups of 10 or more. The museum is closed Easter, Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years Day.

The mission of the Twenty Mule Team Museum is to acquire and document artifacts pertaining to local history and to the history of borax mining in Death Valley and Boron. These displays and archives are for the enjoyment and enlightenment of visitors and for research by students and others.

The museum is next door to the Saxon Aerospace Museum



California Route 66 Museum
P.O. Box 2151
16825 So. D Street (Route 66)
Victorville, CA 92393-2151
Telephone: (760) 951-0436
Fax: (760) 951-0509

Thursday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Sunday, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Monday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Closed, Tuesdays and Wednesdays

The California Route 66 Museum maintains and displays a collection of historic photographs and artifacts related to the history of Route 66 and it’s communities. The displays include automotive history, cultural and economic impact as well as the development of the highway itself. Exhibitions incorporate corresponding topics such as early pioneer trails and the railroad.


NTC and Fort Irwin 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment Museum
Building 222, 1st Street
Fort Irwin CA 92310
About 40 miles north of Barstow
Telephone: (760) 380-6607

Monday through Friday, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Closed weekends and holidays.
Special museum hours can be arranged for groups.
Web: www.11thacr.org/museum/museum.html

The museum focuses on the history of Fort Irwin from 1844 to the present, and 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment from 1901 to the present and has artifacts, dioramas and a gallery dedicated to the history of Fort Irwin and the 11th ACR. There are examples of original uniforms and clothing dating back to the 1840s. Two covered wagons circa the 1840s and 1938 and a 1954 helicopter are also inside the museum. Director of the museum is Neil Morrisson. Interested parties need to call first to make arrangements to enter the front gate. For information or to make reservations call (760) 380-6607.



Maturango Museum
100 E. Las Flores Ave.
Ridgecrest, CA 93555
Telephone: (760) 375-6900
Fax: (760) 375-0479
Web: www.maturango.org

Daily, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. except for major holidays.

The Maturango is a museum of  cultural and natural history and geology of the Northern Mojave Desert emphasizing our Indian Wells Valley.

In mid-summer, check the museum’s web site for information on the fall petroglyph tours in the canyons of the Coso Mountains.


8639_kelso-dorm-room3Kelso Depot Visitor Center
Mojave National Preserve
Kelso, CA.
Telephone: (760) 252-6108

Open daily (except Christmas Day), 9 a.m.to 5 p.m.

• From I-15:
Exit Kelbaker Road at Baker. Continue 35 miles southeast on Kelbaker Road to Kelso.
• From I-40:
Exit Kelbaker Road (about 29 miles east of Ludlow or 28 miles west of Fenner). Continue 22 miles north on Kelbaker Road to Kelso.

The Kelso Dunes walk is offered every Saturday at 11 a.m. Meet at the dunes trailhead located seven miles south of the Kelso Depot on Kelbaker Road, then three miles west on the signed Kelso Dunes graded dirt road.

The renovated Kelso Depot is now the primary Visitor Center for Mojave National Preserve. Former dormitory rooms contain exhibits describing the cultural and natural history of the surrounding desert. The baggage room, ticket office and two dormitory rooms have been historically furnished to illustrate life in the depot in the first half of the twentieth century. A 12-minute orientation film is shown in the theater.

Basement gallery space features rotating fine art collections by local artists, focusing on the cultural history and natural splendors of Mojave National Preserve.

Kelso, depot, beanery, old house, post officeTHE BEANERY
After a nearly two-decade-long hiatus, the Kelso Depot lunch counter is back in business. Enjoy a hot cup of coffee, cold ice cream, a fresh deli sandwich or the latest gossip in this unique setting, painstakingly restored to its historic, 1924 appearance.

Check-out the latest menu www.nps.gov/moja/planyourvisit/upload/BeaneryMenu.pdf and feel free to call ahead for large or group orders. We appreciate the heads-up!

Kelso Depot Visitor Center
Friday through Tuesday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Telephone: (760) 252-6165


8714_needles-museum_3Needles Regional Museum
929 Front Street
P.O. Box 978
Needles, CA 92363
Telephone: (760) 326-5678
Fax: (760) 326-6789
E-mail: needlesmuseum@frontiernet.net

Tuesday through Friday, winter hours are 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. Summer hours are the same with a break in August for vacation.

The museum, located in the old J.C. Penny’s building, contains memorabilia from throughout Needles colorful history. The all-volunteer staff will be happy to answer any questions you may have and you may wish to browse through the thrift store next door which supports the museum financially.

Most of the objects in the museum were donated by locals and include Mojave Indian and railroad artifacts. The exhibits are changed every three months with new items from their extensive collection which is kept in the basement. There is a nice selection of books and pamphlets including a brochure with personal experiences of several Harvey Girls — waitresses who earned a place in history right along with the Old West and railroad’s Golden Age.


6 thoughts on “Enlightening Gems: Western Museums”

  1. For Gary and Lara,

    The Goffs Schoolhouse and Cultural Center is open by appointment, from 9 AM to 4 PM daily. Please call 760-733-4482. If no one answers, please leave a message and we will return the call promptly. Or, email to goffs@eastmojave.net or heb_90621@yahoo.com. If you have a date in mind, let us know and we’ll work with you to set up a visit. Thanks for your interest.
    Hugh Brown
    Site Manager

  2. actually, i was unaware there was a library at goffs. and the school house just slipped my memory. next time!

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