The Large Lake With Island

I Have Always Driven By And Wondered What Is Up There

Old Woman Springs Ranch

Most people that drive up Highway 247, also known as Old Woman Springs Road, between Yucca Valley and Apple Valley have said “I Have Always Driven By And Wondered What Is Up There” as they look to the southwest and see what looks like a few trees in the distance and a sign that says Old Woman Springs Ranch.

The springs at Old Woman Springs Ranch have most likely been there for eons, but its recent discovery by the white man was in the mid 1850’s by a surveyor, Colonel Henry Washington, who was the nephew of our first president George Washington.  Two years after California became a state he was hired by the government to lay out the grid that all land parcels are tied too in Southern California, this grid system is still being used today.  Being the first white man into this mostly uninhabited area he was responsible for penning the names of many of the landmarks in the Mojave Desert as he conducted his survey.  As the story goes there was one or possibly a few old Native American women living at the spring when he passed through conducting his survey, thus the name Old Woman Springs.  At that time they there were several springs bubbling up out of the ground.  Later as the springs were purchased and sold each owner made improvements which included creating lakes to store the water, this water could then be used to raise alfalfa that would feed cattle that would be raised for beef.  The cattle would graze in the summer near Big Bear then in the winter at Old Woman Springs. At one time, in 1957, there was even a train that was brought to the Springs, the Cottonwood and Southern Railroad and there was also a landing strip.

This blog is not intended to be a complete history of the site, that may be covered in a future blog.  What I will say is that as most business ventures go in the desert Old Woman Springs Ranch was no different.  At times it was successful and others it was not, lawsuits were filed, railroad tracks were laid and pulled up, buildings got vandalized and of course murder was involved, Old Woman Springs had all of these aspects in its last 150 years, some are fact and some may be heresay.  The fact is that in the end the property was abandoned until the year 2004 when it would get a second chance.  Bert and Donna Barber purchased the Ranch and they began the long process of rebuilding with the hopes of eventually giving the public limited access.

I was lucky enough to visit the Ranch with the Morongo Basin Historical Society on a field trip.  The Ranch is a beautiful location with much water, all of the original springs still exist.  Some of their water is used to fill several large man made lakes, one with an island.  One special place is called the Grotto, this is a spot where the water comes out of the ground and fills a natural pool before it is piped into one of the lakes.  There is another area similar to the Grotto without being quite as spectacular but awesome none the less.  There is a main house, a train depot, water tank and many outbuildings including a barn and of course the landing strip is still there.

Hopefully someday you can visit the Ranch but for now here are a few, well maybe alot of pictures.  As for the purpose of todays blog, now you will know “What Is Up There” when you drive by Old Woman Springs Ranch.

Take It Easy – Mojave

12 thoughts on “I Have Always Driven By And Wondered What Is Up There”

  1. My great uncle was Dale Gentry and we used to go to the ranch in the sixties and duck hunt at the lakes. Everything was there at the time including the train. The story in my family is that Walt Disney wanted the train but Dale beat him to it. Anyway I sure wish I could go out and see the place again. PS Dale did live in the penthouse suite at the San Bernardino Hotel. Also my family originally homesteaded in San Bernardino and ran cattle from Big Bear to the valley.

  2. I purchased a home in Yucca Valley, on Old Woman Springs Road, and would love to visit this place.
    Is it open to the public?

  3. Jonathan Isenberg

    In the early 90’s my father, Robert Isenberg, along with a few other investors, planned on developing the natural springs into a water source for the local municipal water agency. I was pretty young so I don’t remember exactly what happened, but I do remember the project going south and millions of dollars raised being lost. If I remember correctly, in bad faith. My family lost all its holdings as a result. It was a rough time. I remember the ranch fondly, though. Still have tons of pictures visiting and swimming in the lakes. Great article!

  4. Bert and Donna, How are you? Its Eric, just wanted to say Hello and see how you all were.
    Everything is beautiful, thank you for the opportunity for allowing me to be involved in this amazing landmark. Please contact me at your eariest convienence as I still owe you some work hours and would be more than happy to fullfill this committment. Hope everyone is well and know that i miss you. Eric

  5. Frank Schnetz

    I was born in San Bernardino and good friends with William E Leonard. He told me Dale Gentry, the owner of the old California Hotel in San Bernardino owned Old Woman Springs Ranch in the 50’s & 60’S. Dale installed the old steam engine at the ranch and hosted weekend steak barbecues, poker games and train rides for his friends from San Bernardino for years. Dale eventually donated the steam engine and caboose to the National Orange Show in San Bernardino and it was on display there gg or years.

  6. Wow James you were very involved in the area and Old Woman Springs. Thanks for your insight into this beautiful place.

  7. I knew Bill Churchill and stayed at the ranch briefly, in 1980, I was one of the first BLM Rangers, an then bought a home in Apple Valley, as I was to “patrol” public land along the San Bdno Mtns to Sheep Hole Pass, I’m sorry to report. See Dennis McLane’s “Seldom was heard an encouraging word,” for that sorry history. Formerly I worked for the Park Service in Death Valley and, before that, the Forest Service both at High Sierra Ranger Station (for years) and Big Bear.(thankfully briefly). One of the best times of my life was with Bill’s caretaker, a transplanted Wyoming cowboy “remarkably good with a rope” Don Poston, Brit Richard Byford whocould carry a cowboy tune and “set a horse pretty well,” and my dog, riding from the ranch up Rattlesnake Canyon and on to Pioneertown. We took our time camping two nights and were pretty sore when we rode into town. My paternal uncle, D.M. Calvert, walked from West Tennessee, looked around Big Bear, and homesteaded at Rabbit Dry Lake. -James Clayton

  8. Thanks for your response John, I bet you could tell some great stories. I went on a tour of Old Woman Springs and interviewed the current owner, I believe the intention of the comment was that when they purchased it, at that time, it had sat nearly vacant, if I recall only one ranch hand watched the place? Anyway, sorry if there was any error, it was in the current owners opinion that it was and they talked quite a bit about restoring it due to its degraded condition.

  9. John Wilmshurst

    Read your article on Old Woman Springs. Not sure where you got your facts, but the place was NOT abandoned until 2004 at all. In fact, my Great Uncle Bill Churchill used to own the place and I visited there many times, mostly in the 1970’s. I have a special connection to the place but unfortunately my father lost contact with Bill back in the 80’s.

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