The Center for Land Use Interpretation Newsletter

Middles of Nowheres


DRY LAKES ARE PLACES IN the desert where drainage stops, and goes no further. They are landscape dead-ends. Terminals. As such they attract the things that like nothing, such as aircraft development (for their use as remote obstruction-less landing areas), off-highway vehicle recreation (driving quickly in a straight line, or in circles, because it’s fun), film and advertising work, model rocket meets, and visitors from all over the world, especially from the urban and forested lands of Europe, who revel in sublime vacuity.

CLUI photo

View down old railroad roadbed running through Silver Lake, Nevada. Dry lakes often are the path of least resistance for power lines and railways. CLUI photo

As non-places, many have no name, and are marked on maps as alkali flat, salt flat, sink, mudflat, wash, or playa, if at all. Or simply, generically, “dry lake.” Others are well known and indelibly marked on maps, due to their size, frequent visitors, or famous functions, like El Mirage, Rogers, Frenchman, and Groom.

As part of our commitment to exploring and understanding the Mojave, the CLUI has been engaged in an ongoing research project exploring the history of uses of dry lakes. The research is based out of the Center’s Desert Research Station, located near Harper Dry Lake, west of Barstow.

In 2016, DRS managers produced an exhibition depicting and describing the seventy dry lakes in the Mojave Desert that are recognized enough to be given names recorded on maps by the United States Geological Survey, the federal agency that manages the official naming of places in the USA. The exhibit, Middles of Nowheres: Dry Lakes of the Mojave, shown at the Center’s Los Angeles location, depicted each lake as rendered on the USGS map. Each depiction was shown at the same scale, so the relative size of each “lake” could be measured against the others, as they range in size from less than a square mile, to more than a hundred square miles. ♦

CLUI photo

Roach Dry Lake, Nevada. CLUI photo