The Center for Land Use Interpretation Newsletter

Desert Research Station Report

walking trail at DRS
Experimental Walking Trail at the DRS. CLUI photo

THE DESERT RESEARCH STATION SUFFERED a few broken pipes this winter during the record low temperatures in the desert. But other than that, all is well at the Center’s outpost in the high desert, near Barstow. Work progresses on the Walking Trail Testbed, a facility that is used for trying out new interpretive methodologies on a walking trail-type system. Other periodic and ongoing research programs at the DRS this year include a number of native plant reintroductions, and continued support of the Moisture Research Site, an instrumented irrigation and moisture retention plot on the other side of the dry lake.

For the last year, the DRS has also been the base for sonic boom research, undertaken by the Center’s Steve Rowell. The research involves a continuous sampling of the skies for sonic booms, a reasonably frequent occurrence, as the DRS is under Edwards Air Force Base’s R-2515 High Altitude Supersonic Corridor air space. A computer at the DRS, connected to a network of microphones, records the outdoor sounds continuously, erasing all silence shortly after recording it. When a sound above a certain threshold is detected, the computer preserves it, as well as the moments before and after it. The logged sonic incidents are later transferred to an off site master where they are catalogued, stored, and accessed for use in research and displays.

In the Landscape Information Center, the part of the building that is open to the public, a new display about the Harper Lake Basin was added to the existing displays about the remarkable land uses of the Southern California Desert. Called Points of Interest in the Harper Lake Basin: A Mojave Microcosm, the exhibit looks at the region around the nearby dry lake, as a place representative of the subtleties and extremes of contemporary human activity in the desert.

CLUI photo
Contemplating borates on CLUI Boron tour. CLUI photo

CLUI DRS Boron Tour
Last summer the CLUI conducted a public bus tour of the region around the Desert Research Station, as we do periodically. This time we focused on the town of Boron, one of the jewels of the High Desert.

The tour bus left from outside the Center’s office in Culver City, and headed east on Interstate 10, to the 15, up the Cajon Pass, through Victorville to Route 58, all the while getting speil from the tourguide (Matthew Coolidge) about the landscape we were passing through, watching portions of videos about flood control, the BLM, and cement.

We arrived at the Desert Research Station, where visitors looked at the exhibits about the region, explored the new walking trail, and ate lunch. Then it was off to the main attractions. First stop was the Harper Lake Solar generating station, tucked away at the end of a road across the dry lake from the Research Station. This is the largest solar power plant in the world, in output, and it was built on the ruins of the old ranching community of Lockhart, and the site where Howard Hughes once had an aircraft test site.

On to Kramer Junction, where the other “largest solar plant in the world” is located (larger in area, but slightly smaller in output than the Harper Lake plant), and up the 395 to the ruins of the Boron Air Force Station/Federal Correctional Facility. Back on Highway 58 west, we passed the point of the Great Boron Fulcrum, where on one side is the largest open pit mine in California, and on the other is Rocket Ridge, a mountain on Edwards Air Force Base where rocket engines are strapped to concrete stands and tested—one part digging down, and the other straining upward. Boron, the town, is in the middle.

The group stopped in at the U.S. Borax mine, with its visitor center atop a pile of rock, then headed into town. Instead of covering as much ground as possible, as is typical on a CLUI tour, we wanted people to have time to get to know Boron on their own terms, and to explore the small grid of the village on foot. We suggested the 20 Mule Team Museum and Aerospace Museum on Boron’s Museum Row, where the bus parked, as a place to start. Then we met up later for a grand and festive supper on the patio of Domingo’s, the best Mexican food for at least 50 miles, and the place where the owner likes to say that the reason the space shuttle lands at the nearby Muroc Dry Lake sometimes, is so the astronauts can eat at Domingo’s. Back to Los Angeles in the lurching, swaying bus, watching a movie about a lurching, swaying bus. ♦

The tour was sponsored by Afterall Journal, an arts quarterly, co-published by Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design, London, and the School of Art at the California Institute of the Arts, Los Angeles.