Monday, January 10, 2011

Desert Center: Abandoned Wasteland


I can’t tell you how many times I have driven Interstate 10 to California and seen the Desert Center sign. This abandoned town is located in southern California between Indio and Blythe. Never in my wildest dreams would I ever think of stopping there. Now I can’t wait. As part of our Abandoned Places: Abandoned Memories (Town or City Edition), it will be an exciting addition. I have seen Sharon’s pictures and heard her stories, now I am ready for some of my own.

In 1921 Stephen A. Ragsdale, also known as “Desert Steve” and his wife Lydia, founded the town of Desert Center. Steve came across that area by accident when his car broke down on a business trip in 1915 to Los Angeles from Arkansas where he was living at the time. He ended up near a place called Gruendyke’s Well, which was merely a hand-dug well by a prospector named Bill Gruendyke. While waiting for his vehicle to get repaired, he was offered a place to stay, food and water by Gruendyke.

When he drove back by the Well, Ragsdale bought out Gruendyke, and then moved his family to the remote area. They had a small shack built for them to live in and had a lean-to constructed and to be used as a repair garage. They used a Model-T truck as a tow car and hand pumped gas from a 55 gallon drum. The town was 50 miles in either direction from any other town. Lydia would serve food and drinks to any travelers that ended up in their town which Ragsdale named “Desert Center”. After the road to Desert Center was moved to a better location, they added a concrete café, adobe gas station with an enormous garage, a market, post office, and wood cabins for weary travelers to stay in with a large swimming pool to cool off from the scorching summer heat.

Because of Ragsdales unconventional ways, he had a cleaver way of advertising. Some of his ads were “U Need Us – We Need U”; “Our Main Street is 100-miles long”; “We lost our keys and can’t close”; “No Drunks. No Dogs. We prefer dogs”; and a favorite of mine, “Free Room and Board Every Day the Sun Doesn’t Shine in Desert Center”, “If You Don’t Believe Me, You Can Go To Hell, or Visit Me in Desert Center in August! Nuf sed, Steve”. To get a teacher in his town, he got an auto mechanic with a large family to work there bringing enough children to warrant the county to approve of hiring a teacher.

In 1950, things didn’t go well for Steve. He was accused of fooling around with an employee of his causing him to leave Desert Center in shame. While he lived in his log cabin, his three sons continued to run the place. Eventually his son Stanley bought out the town and added some of his own features, a hamburger stand and Stanco gas station. Stanley ran the place for decades while his dad, Desert Steve, died in 1971.


Today, Desert Center barely survives and is home to sparse amenities for travelers, agricultural farms, a couple of mobile home parks, and Lake Tamarisk community. The palm trees that Stanley Ragsdale had planted in 1990 are now in poor shape since his death in 1999 and have not been maintained. The town still survives and is a suitable reminder to its founder, who once said, “Even the woodpecker owes his success to the fact that he uses his head.”

20 comments:

  1. Pretty remote. I'm not comfortable that far inland.

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  2. This looks like a very promising place to photograph! I can't wait to see what you capture!

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  3. Doo; creepy is just up my alley. I can't wait to visit.

    Zoey; our trips so far have been fun adventures.

    Sucio; I'm used to remote, I live in the desert.

    Tara; after seeing Sharon's pictures and hearing her stories of the place, I can't wait to go there and take lots of pictures!

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  4. We are so going to rock that town, sis! I can't wait to make super creepy vids to share with the readers. I want everyone go on this road trip with us.

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  5. Well sis if we can't bring them along in the car, we can cyber bring them with us. A Vulture Mine post is coming... our next trip. Yahoo!!!

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  6. My Mom and Aunt used to live there in Lake Tamerisk. They have a fire station, library and a Baptist and Nazarene church. The store next to the Post Office is closed, so is the gas station (not the one you have photographed, but the other "black" one). There is McGoo's, which is a convenience store. Let us know what you find out about FBI Farms, a former bio diesel farm. I heard that it was a fully operation farm as late as October 2010. When I was there the first week of February 2011, it was abandoned and left to be absorbed by the earth. Weird.

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  7. Awesome story...I just drove through there about 7 hours ago...beautiful rain squal/rainbows...but so eery..like what happened...thanks for the story...John

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  8. I still remember stopping here for gas and a burger when driving from LA to Parker or Lake Havasu. It is amazing how fast it crumbled after the ragsdale's deaths.

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  9. Can any one tell me if there was a gas station in operation in in Desert Center in 2008?

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  10. There was a gas station in operation in 2008. I went by there last weekend and the whole town is abandoned. No Restaurant, no post office, no gas station, no convenience store and no drive in food place.

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    1. Wrong,the Post Office is still operational, never closed

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  11. Does anyone know Who cut off the tops of the palm trees at Desert Center?

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  12. Just drove there today. A convuence store a little cafe was open, general patons museum, and tamerisk lake community. Not much else, but what looked like junk yards

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  13. You can't tell from the highway, but 200 people live at Desert Center. All types and very interesting. A tight community - outsiders are not always welcome.

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  14. Actually, the community is very welcoming to new arrivals. There is a very active Lions Club and a large "snow bird" resort just 2 miles North of the I-10 state Route 177 intersection.

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  15. Well peeps me and my father peter Sevillano moved those palm trees some years back.
    The heads broke off when they were moving them around on the ground.

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  16. Just drove through there today everything is closed except the post office.

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