In the remote Mojave National Preserve, pretty much the only modern structure is that of the Kelso Depot. Located right in the middle of the park, it is a haven of information on the park itself and provides modern bathrooms for its many visitors. It used even to have a restaurant, but unfortunately, the cost of bringing in the food and keeping it up became too much, and it has since closed. In the park though, this is a must visit as it houses tons of history on the railroad and the life in the area.
Built in 1924 the Kelso Depot, also known as the Kelso clubhouse, housed a train station, ticket and telegraph office, restaurant, reading room and dormitory for the railroad employees. As railroad technology improved and less personnel were needed, the depot became obsolete. It was closed in 1985 with plans to demolish it, but citizens intervened, and the building was saved, opening in 2005 as a National Park Service Visitor Center.
This plot of land became the area for the town because of the steepness of the grade beyond and the groundwater below. The grade was too steep for locomotives to pull a train without assistance, so they stopped for helper trains at the depot. Kelso’s population crashed after World War II due to the reduced rail traffic and diesel engines that did not need to be serviced at Kelso.
The Depot Now
Ever since it was taken over by National Parks, it has received a new life in the form of a museum. When you walk up to the depot, you will see lots of plaques on the history of the area, as well as an old jail cell that they actually used.
When you enter, you will be greeted by the fabulous representatives that staff the information counter and who have been able to answer literally every question I have thrown at them. You will also see the remains of the unique counter restaurant they used to have called The Beanery.
There is a movie that plays on request in the lobby theater, and while I usually don’t enjoy these, this one was well done and a great way to see the area. Plus, it is an excellent way to spend 20 minutes in the AC during the hot months in the park.
Upstairs there is a full-blown museum on the history of the railroad in the area. I found it very interesting to see how the Union Pacific made its way through the South West.
There is also an area dedicated to the man who made Zzyzx famous, which I enjoyed as I am always fascinated by the history of that place. You can even listen to one of his old radio broadcasts.
In the bottom floor, there is an exhibit dedicated to the plants and animals in the Mojave and an area that shows art inspired by the park.
After exiting the depot, make sure to explore the exterior of the area as well. From the train tracks to the abandoned and broken down houses, there are a lot of interesting things to see.
All in all, this is an excellent stop in the Mojave National Preserve. If you are going to be spending some time here, make sure to check out my post of recommendations. Feel free to leave a comment below.