Route 66 in the News

The Vanished Town of Bagdad

2010-02-18 20:29:31

Traveling along Route 66 heading west, we leave Amboy, and pull over at the site of Bagdad, a lonely and eerie patch of desert, now home only to the deceased.

I see no cars on Route 66 ahead or behind. All around lies an eerie stillness, a vast emptiness.

Peering out over the desert I see only scrubs, gravel and railroad tracks. There is a lone tree, a forlorn sentinel silently guarding the parched earth where Bagdad once thrived. It is written that a second tree, a palm, also marked the site, but it is nowhere to be seen.

It is hard to believe that here a small desert camp blossomed into the largest community between Daggett and Needles by 1910.

Established in 1883 as a siding on the Southern Pacific Railroad, it later housed a Santa Fe station, school, church and a Harvey House, which was distinctive because it employed men instead of the famed "Harvey Girls." Bagdad was the headquarters for the Orange Blossom Mine.

Because of the similarity in temperature, this vanished town was named after the Iraq city of Baghdad, with a tweak in the spelling.

Bagdad is said to be the driest spot in North America -- between 1912 and 1914 there was no rain for 767 consecutive days. Yet Bagdad had an ample supply of water, a rare commodity in the desert.

The hub of major mining traffic, a main dirt road from town led south to the Dale mining district and on another branch to Twentynine Palms.

In the early 1900s, the town began to fade as travelers abandoned the Dale/Twentynine Palms Road with its inherent hazards and chose to travel on a grated road out of nearby Amboy.

Bagdad was a major gold shipping point. A stage line carried passengers and freight between the depot and the Orange Blossom Mine.

By 1903 gold mining in the area had almost ended. The post office closed and only a few buildings, a caf and gas station remained. The town was razed in 1958.

On a recent visit, a roar shattered the stillness around me. A rumble, a whistle, a train! After it passed I noticed something strange on the north side of the tracks. Scrambling up the berm and across the tracks, I stumbled upon a small cemetery.

Surrounded by a flimsy wire, white rocks outline the graves, each marked with a simple wooden cross. Someone had neatly raked the area but mysteriously not one shoeprint marred the lines.

There were no names, but here rest those who presumably inhabited the town of Bagdad.

Several miles west of Bagdad is Siberia, named by the Southern Pacific Railway when the line was built. After the Santa Fe took over, the name was retained.

This was never really a town, but a siding opened in 1883 to handle tonnage from the salt mines on Bristol Lake.

~Claudia Heller,


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