Thursday, December 31, 2009

Randsburg, CA (Travel Tip Thursday)

Happy New Year, everyone!
I first wrote this back in March 2005... I’ve reworked it a bit for this Travel Tip Thursday. I’m taking you back into the desert to a town where another reader recently visited. Check out the pictures at Danny and Family. I have a couple other post planned around this trip. I hope to introduce you to Sam and to take you to Goler Gulch and then to Death Valley to see it in full bloom as it was that March. Enjoy… And my travel tip, if you visit this area, take plenty of water with you and don’t let your gas tank drop below half a tank! Travel Tip Thursday is sponsored by Pseudonymous High School Teacher.

Olga’s the first 94-year-old redhead I’ve met. I’m sure she has some artificial help; even so, it shows spunk. She gets around well and lives by herself. “I wouldn’t have it any other way,” she confesses. She still runs “The Joint,” pulling a regular shift, tending bar. When things are not busy, she’ll go out front and pull weeds from the flower bed. The desert has been good to Olga. She and her husband brought the establishment back in ‘55 and she’s had honest work ever since. She’s washing glasses when we enter, but stops and comes over to wait on us. We order a couple of beers, Mojave Greens, a local beer made in Inyokern and named for the famous rattlesnake. Ralph, who grew up in this area, has only seen two in his life. He introduces himself to Olga. She looks at him for a minute, sizing him up, then tells about how she misses his brother. They talk a bit about old times, then Olga turns to fix another drink for the woman sitting at the other end of the bar.

Selling booze in a mining town was lucrative business. Selling anything liquid use to be lucrative business as water in these parts was expensive, even as late as the ‘40s. Today, there is little mining and it’s mostly tourists who stop in for a drink. Not many of them are looking for water. The establishment is open from Wednesday through Sunday and they close in the evening when they are no longer busy. “The Joint” is in the heart of Randsburg’s business district and one of the original structures in town. The building was first a bakery. In the 30s, it was converted to a bar and a pool hall.

Sitting down the bar, a few stools away is Faye, the proprietor of the Silver Dollar Saloon in Red Mountain. An attractive woman, she wears a barely amble halter that displays a more than ample breasts, a short skirt and five inch heels. My first thought is that prostitution must once again be flourishing in Red Mountain. At one point in time, that was the town’s claim to fame. The saloons with backroom gambling (illegal in California, but this wasn’t exactly on the main highway), lined the west side of the street. On the east side of the street were cribs, where prostitutes who free-lanced in the bars, led their clients. It was a cozy arrangement and local authorities did little to discourage business. But then, World War 2 came along and the Navy decided they needed a base on China Lake. Since there’s not enough water in China Lake to float a canoe, they used the base as a trainer for Navy pilots. Naval authorities found that after a night of drinking, gambling and whoring, the drive over the mountain was too difficult to negotiate and too many pilots crashed before they had a chance to sight in on a Japanese Zero. They sent the FBI in and they shut down the gaming establishments and ran the women off.

After a while, Faye’s partner at the Silver Dollar joins us at the bar. I was enjoying glancing over at Faye, now I divert my eyes. This guy is scary. He’s sporting fancy cowboy boots, black leather, pointed toes, and scroll threading. Wearing cowboy boots without long pants should be a misdemeanor. Wearing cowboy boots with tight short-shorts should be a felony. This guy’s pants are shorter than his partner’s mini-skirt and leaves less to the imagination than I’d like. I’m glad I’m not alone in the bar with him. Had it just been me drinking and he came in, I think I’d wallow over to the Methodist Church and take the temperance pledge. He strikes up a conversation and seems to be an okay guy, even though he and Faye, to say the least, are a unique couple.

Ralph and I finish our beers and head out. The bar was dark and our eyes squint as we adjust to the bright desert sky. We take the long way back to Ridgecrest, through Inyokern. As the light softens, the desert landscape becomes beautiful, with shadows of the barren peaks giving definition to the distant hills. It’s dark by the time we arrive in Ridgecrest. Unlike Randsburg, Ridgecrest is a new town, it’s primary purpose is to serve the China Lake Naval base. We drive around town, looking for a place for dinner. In our search, as we navigate the ubitiqitous four-way stop signs, I am amazed to see that this town not only has a dollar store, but also a 99 cent store and, for those who that’s even too much, a 98 cent store. I'm amazed.


  1. Oh to have seen your face when her partner walked in. Priceless!

  2. What a weird couple, hahaha! I can imagine him with his mini mini shorts and cowboy boots.

    I love that name: Inyokern -sounds like music-. It's always nice to read your hiking adventures, Sage.

    Happy New Year!

  3. Too bad you didn't have a photo of them!!

    Happy New Year!

  4. I think I'm going to love all your desert stories. If I hadn't moved to Hawaii, I might have gone to the desert.

    Happy 2010!

  5. Always a pleasure to read your posts! This is no exception.

    Wishing you more power to your pen. Have a great 2010!


  6. Awesome! I read this one aloud to my husband and in made him laugh outloud. I've always loved the desert... Happy New Year!

  7. I'm really thankful that you decided to post a picture of the 94-year old red head and not the guy with the short shorts and the cowboy boots.

  8. Most people are amazed that the desert holds more than snakes and sand.

    I got to get back to the desert soon.

  9. There's a part of me that wishes to turn people on to the desert's beauty. Then, I reflect and think, maybe I don't want to lose my own solitude when I go there. There's something special about the crunch of gravel under the feet and stark, (seemingly) barren landscape. I think there's a reason that God always sent his people/prophets into the desert when He needed to communicate with them.


  10. Murf, don't you think I have a poker face?

    Leni, it is a great name!

    Kenju, I wouldn't have felt right photographing them!

    Karen, I hope you had a good New Year's Eve

    Teacher, you make the islands sound wonderful

    Gautami & Sue, Thanks!

    Ed, It's too bad I didn't have one to share

    Walking Guy, having grown up near the coast, I've come to love the desert

    Randall, Well said!

  11. Wow. 94 and still pulling a shift. My mom is 93 but her health is very fragile.

  12. Great story as always and I hope when I'm 94, if I'm so lucky as not to be pushing daisies, I'll be pushing something knowingly

    Forgot to wish you a Happy New Year! Year feels at least ten days old

  13. You must have a pretty good one what with the line of business you are in. :-)

  14. This is wonderful--almost too painful to read on this bitter cold day in the Midwest.

    Happy New Year. I hope to be around more often.

  15. Sage,
    Thanks for the link to my blog. I hope some of your readers followed it and enjoyed my post and pictures.

    I recognize the name of the bar "The Joint". I've seen it from the outside, but never checked it out. The next time I'm in Randsburg I shall stop in, and I'll see if Olga is still there.

    By the way, I found a picture and a story of Charlie's Place - the one that use to be linked to my blog. I'll have to e-mail it to you because the web site is no longer active.

    Best regards and Happy New Year,

  16. My husband and I (who both grew up in Trona) were heading back to San Diego where we live now and stopped in The Silver Dollar Saloon just to rest and have a libation. Faye and her husband were indeed scantily dressed. She had on a bra with a head scarf for a skirt and he was wearing a pair of silk briefs that left nothing to the imagination. Very colorful folks although not desert people, they had purchased the place and moved up from the L.A. area. They didn't last long. The Silver Dollar is now closed (again.) As an aside to this story, my husband was born in Randsburg.

  17. Enjoyed the article very much. I LOVE to have lived in the desert back then - but hate what Trona looks like now. I miss all my friends and hope to some day see all again. Ruly

  18. Thanks for such a great article. It definitely brings back old memories for us Trona folk. I remember the days of driving with my brother to Red Mountain to play in his band on some weekends. His name was James Baker and boy what a drummer, piano player and entertainer he was! The place you describe was our old stomping grounds. Thanks again for your colorful article.