Route 66 in the News

Walk in Ancient Footsteps at Barstow Museum

2009-02-07 22:07:54

BARSTOW, Calif. - Visitors to Barstow hardly ever think of it as a destination. They usually see it as a sort of rest stop. They usually don't linger.

The fact remains, though, that there is much legend and lore here. It has been a crossroads for travelers for centuries. In 1776, Father Francisco Garces plodded his stolid way as the first European to venture into the untamed West. Not long after, in 1826, explorer Jedediah Smith passed through, and then a steady stream of other people followed, seeking fame and fortune in the Golden State.

Long before these Europeans arrived, the Native Americans used the route as a trading link, leaving behind ample evidence of their lives in the form of baskets and jewelry, pots and other artifacts.

The journey was known as the Old Spanish Trail until 1846 when wagon trains passed through and a more formal route developed. The trail was described by one unnamed wayfarer as "the longest, crookedest, most arduous pack mule trail in the history of America." It furnished a livelihood for vagabonds, thieves and all kinds of rogues and adventurers.

All this, of course, happened before the railroad came along and dubbed the place Waterman Junction. Then it was the turn of Route 66 and the riders in their jalopies who would seek rest and refreshment here.

It's a long history, and the volunteers at the Mojave River Forks Museum are driven to keep the past alive. It's a good thing, but the past can so easily slip away.

The museum was started in 1964 when the original 30 founders realized that there were lots of artifacts of the place stashed in people's garages and other neglected spots.

The museum's founders were interested in more than man-made things, too, because long before mankind put his foot down here, other species roamed in the area.

Outside the museum is an exhibit called "Tracks through Time." It's a path that begins 165 million years ago - long before the dinosaurs. And then moves over dinosaur tracks going back 65 million years, then passes over the Miocene period and eventually arrives at the time of modern man. There are Shoshone tracks, too, that go back 6,000 years.

Also outside is a drover's railroad wagon. It's one of only 20 left after World War II. It was used by the drovers when they worked with the cattle which were packed off on railroad cars. The inside is full of small attempts at comfort to make this difficult and lonely life bearable in the desert. The bunks inside don't look very comfortable, but after a long hard day in the saddle, any flat surface no doubt was welcome.

Throughout the museum are the results of diggings from sites where mankind has been walking for 50,000 years, going back to prehistoric times. But more modern exhibits are not neglected and there are several examples of Victorian living, too.

There is an extensive collection of photographs, which have recently been put into digital form. This makes access easier and keeps the originals safe.

The museum has a gift shop and an archive of old newspapers, describing life long ago. You will find plenty to interest you on a visit, and the docents have a full understanding of the subjects.

When you exit the museum, the hum of traffic on the 15 Freeway will bring you back immediately to the present. Perhaps when you come here again, in spite of the concrete and the fast food restaurants, you will remember that this is an old place with a very long and interesting history.

If You Go:

MOJAVE RIVER FORKS MUSEUM is located at 270 E. Virginia Way in Barstow; telephone (760) 256-5452;

~Trevor Summons,


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