Wednesday, December 16, 2015

On the Road: Museum hosts program on history of Mojave Road

MOJAVE ROAD: Speaking at the Colorado River Historical Society Museum earlier this week, eastern Mojave Desert historian Dennis Casebier gave a presentation covering the history of the Mojave Road, from its beginnings as a trail used by native tribes, to its present-day status as a recreational trail. “We’re extremely proud to have Dennis here,” said Karole Finkelstein, CRMHSM vice president. “There is no one more qualified to talk about the Mojave Road and the history of the eastern Mojave Desert.” - DK McDONALD/The Daily News

The Daily News

G.K. Chesterton called history a road to be reconsidered and even retraced.

For Mojave Desert historian Dennis Casebier, the history of one road has been his focus for more than 60 years.

Speaking to a standing-room-only crowd at the Colorado River Historical Society Museum on Monday, Casebier covered the history of the road, from its beginnings as a trail used by native tribes, through time to its importance in moving troops for training during World War II, to its present-day status as a recreational trail, generously illustrated throughout with historic and personal photos, anecdotes, and stories of his drive to preserve history through the cultural center.

“It was an excellent presentation,” said Nancy Nelson, who attended with her husband, Barry. “We traveled the Mojave Road without knowing much of its history, so this is kind of after-the-fact. Just about everything he told us we didn’t know. The history is fascinating.”

Casebier and other proponents of preserving the route founded the Friends of the Mojave Road in 1981; working with the Bureau of Land Management, Casebier and the group identified the route of the trail.

The Mojave Road is unique in that for most of its 138-mile length it is in much the same condition as it was when formed more than 150 years ago, he said. Bisecting the Mojave National Preserve, the twin tracks functioned primarily as a supply, rather than migration, route, and the road was overlooked while many other early major Western routes were upgraded into state and national highways.

The Friends insisted that the BLM place no signage to mark the route; in order to help preserve the road from overuse and prevent the unprepared from attempting its crossing, navigation is only possibly by locating strategically placed rock cairns and through the travel guide.

“It’s a four-wheel-drive-only road,” Casebier said. “In order to travel the road you have to buy the Mojave Road Guide, which tells you how to access the road, and how to behave while on it. It is a dangerous place; people have died out there.”

The road guide is available at the Colorado River Historical Society Museum, 2201 Highway 68.

“It was a wonderful presentation,” said attendee Leroy Jackson. “I am so interested in his stories of earlier pioneers homesteading the region. It’s amazing to think you could be standing in the same places those people walked.”

Casebier, a retired U.S. Navy physicist, is the driving force behind the most complete archive of Mojave Desert history in existence — the Mojave Desert Heritage and Cultural Association in Goffs, Calif.

“He’s a historian above all historians, as far as I’m concerned,” said Elsie Needles, Colorado River Historical Society and Museum president. “He’s devoted his life to that area, and no one is better than Dennis at finding Mojave Desert history.”

Casebier began gathering archival materials pertaining to the Mojave Desert in 1954. When the Friends group transitioned to registered nonprofit status in 1993, his personal collection became the seed of the most complete library known on the history of the eastern Mojave Desert; the cultural center now houses more than 108,000 photographs, 6,000 historic maps of the region, 3,000 files on individuals and cultural sites of interest, 1,300 oral history files, and 6,000 volumes of published literature, including the library and personal papers of desert bibliographer E. I. Edwards, the library and collection of Harold and Lucile Weight, and the collection of San Bernardino County historian Germaine L. Moon.