June 1, 2005

Mojave National Preserve's preservation efforts criticized

Source: Center for the State of the Parks: Park Assessments

California Desert

Published June 2005

View full report: http://www.npca.org/stateoftheparks/californiadesert/californiadesert.pdf

Current overall conditions of the Mojave National Preserve’s known natural resources rated a “poor” score of 59 out of 100. The loss of critical habitat because of historic grazing and recreational activities (principally, off-road vehicle use) as well as isolation associated with increased transportation corridors and traffic density between Los Angeles and Las Vegas are high-ranking resource protection threats at the preserve. Additionally, nonnative species, mining-related releases of hazardous materials, air and light pollution, and continued grazing are prominent concerns for the preserve’s natural resources.

Overall conditions of the park’s known cultural resources rated 50 out of a possible 100, indicating “poor” conditions. Mojave National Preserve is a relatively new addition to the National Park System, and is the first national preserve assessed by the State of the Parks program. The fledgling cultural resource program at Mojave National Preserve has accomplished much planning work and archaeological site documentation in the last three years, but additional staff and resources are needed to further stewardship efforts. For example, the preserve currently lacks staff to care for museum and archival collections and develop relationships with traditionally associated groups of people.


Mojave National Preserve would benefit from the services of a term historian to complete historical research to provide park contexts for mining, structures, and cultural landscapes.

Mojave National Preserve also would benefit, as would the other California desert parks, from a shared historic preservation crew to inspect, monitor, and perform preventive maintenance on park structures.

None of the objects in Mojave National Preserve’s small museum collection have been catalogued, and a management plan is needed.

Funding is needed for specialists to help update the Cultural Landscape Inventory for the Kelso Depot, and the Mojave Road needs to be surveyed for the Cultural Landscape Inventory and nominated for listing on the National Register of Historic Places.


State of the Parks researchers assessed and assigned scores to cultural resource conditions at Mojave National Preserve. Categories included history, ethnography (peoples and cultures), historic structures, archaeology, and archive and museum collections. The scores for cultural resources are based on the results of indicator questions that reflect the National Park Service’s own Cultural Resource Management Guideline and other policies related to cultural and historical resources.

The assessments rated the overall conditions of cultural resources at Mojave National Preserve as 50. This score indicate that cultural resources are in poor condition at Mojave National Preserve. Prominent factors influencing the ratings are funding and staffing shortfalls that limit cultural resource protection activities.


Completed or ongoing historical research at Mojave National Preserve includes a transportation study, town site study, historic resource studies on the region’s ranching history, and a railroad history that is part of a historic structure report on the Kelso Depot. The preserve also has an administrative history that was completed in March 2003, and an overview of the preserve’s mining history will commence in 2005. Regional Park Service historians and consultants complete most of this research.

Local citizens hold a wealth of information on the region’s history. Productive collaboration with these people benefits the preserve and strengthens ties with the local community. Additional historical research would help park staff understand Mojave National Preserve’s historic context and help them develop more interpretive tools to teach visitors about the preserve’s history. Mining, military, and historic landscape studies would contribute to evaluations of historic and cultural resources for inclusion in the National Register of Historic Places.


Zzyzx, Kelso Depot, Rock Springs Land and Cattle Company, and the Mojave Road are the park’s four identified landscapes. Other cultural landscapes likely exist, but staff have not had the time or the resources to systematically identify or evaluate potentially important landscapes throughout the preserve.

The Kelso Depot, the only landscape in the preserve that is listed in the National Register of Historic Places, was once a major railroad depot. Completed in 1924, the depot included a restaurant and employee boardinghouse. The depot closed in 1985, but it has recently been restored to its 1920s heyday and now houses a visitor information center that will re-open to the public in the fall of 2005.

Zzyzx was once a health resort and mineral springs built by self-proclaimed minister and doctor Curtis Springer and his wife, Mary Loise Berkebile. The two operated the resort from 1944 to 1974, when it was closed for food and drug violations and unauthorized use of federal land. The site has been officially evaluated for its significance and eligibility for listing in the National Register, but the California State Historic Preservation Office is not reviewing new National Register nominations because of a budget crisis. California State University, Fullerton, leases the buildings and land at Zzyzx to host its Desert Studies Center, and is actively involved in rehabilitation of the landscape.

The Mojave Road is the name given to a corridor that travelers used for centuries to cross the harsh desert. Springs and watering holes along the way provided critical water. American Indians traveled the corridor on trading expeditions, and the route was once a major thoroughfare that served military outposts, miners, settlers, and trappers. After the advent of steamships and trains, the Mojave Road became obsolete. However, it retains importance today because it teaches contemporary visitors about the history of transportation in the region. This landscape has not had a condition assessment and has not been formally recorded and evaluated.

As grazing leases have been retired, Mojave National Preserve has assumed responsibility for remaining ranching infrastructure, which is scattered over nearly 1 million acres. The Rock Springs Land and Cattle Company was the primary ranching company in the region between 1894 and 1927. With the onset of the Depression, the company was sold and its holdings divided into the OX, Kessler Springs, and Valley View ranches within the current preserve and the Walking Box Ranch just across the border in Nevada. Park Service regional staff recently completed a Cultural Landscape Inventory of the former Rock Springs territory, and this will be submitted with a nomination for National Register of Historic Places listing for the Rock Springs Land and Cattle Company National Historic District in 2005.

Mojave National Preserve’s staff do not have enough time or resources to work on stewardship of the preserve’s historic and cultural landscapes. Park Service landscape specialists are available at the regional level, but Mojave National Preserve cannot afford to pay for their services. These specialists are also in demand in many other parks, and regional funding for their services is dwindling.


In 2003, Mojave National Preserve’s List of Classified Structures contained about 77 entries. This list needs to be updated to include additional known structures such as the more than 100 structures Mojave National Preserve acquired when grazing leases were retired. Recent condition assessments of most of the listed historic structures found that 58 percent are in good condition. But in 2004, Park Service policy regarding the List of Classified Structures changed so that only those structures that have been formally determined to be eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places can be included on the list and thus benefit from preservation funding from certain sources. As a result of this policy change, Mojave National Preserve’s List of Classified Structures was reduced to a total of 12structures.

Mojave National Preserve does not have an annual historic structure monitoring program, and staff struggle to keep pace with preventive maintenance. The preserve’s maintenance staff perform some routine maintenance on historic structures, and regional Park Service staff, when available, assist with larger restoration and rehabilitation projects. If funding permits, Mojave National Preserve’s facility manager and other maintenance staff will obtain historic preservation training.

Several historic structures at the OX Ranch and Kessler Spring Ranch are being rehabilitated to house preserve staff. This will help alleviate Mojave National Preserve’s housing shortage and should facilitate resource protection since buildings that are used tend to receive regular maintenance attention. In addition, the Kelso schoolhouse and associated buildings have been stabilized and the Rock House has been rehabilitated. The Rock Springs Land and Cattle Co. Historic District is currently being nominated to the National Register of Historic Places.


Mojave National Preserve has never had any staff to care for museum or archival collections. As a result, none of the collection items has been catalogued and no condition assessments have been done. In addition, the park is meeting just 17 percent of Park Service museum collection standards. However, the park’s cultural resource manager believes that most collection items, which include library items, papers and photographic archives, and historic items from the Kelso Depot, are in good condition. Mojave National Preserve needs a temporary curator or archivist to help catalog its holdings and facilitate the efforts of researchers. A recent agreement with Joshua Tree will provide an upgrade to the park’s museum technician position to curator. At that time, Joshua Tree’s curator will oversee the Mojave National Preserve collections and train the existing cultural resources staff in how to carry out the more routine museum management activities.

Storage for museum objects is not an issue for Mojave National Preserve, partly because its collection is so small. Some of the park’s archaeological items are kept at the Western Archaeological Conservation Center in Tucson, and some Chemehuevi baskets are stored at Death Valley. Additionally, the park recently built a 600-square-foot collection storage facility as part of its new park headquarters in Barstow, more than 50 miles away from the boundaries of the preserve. This new facility has excellent security, shelving, and environmental controls.