If you have been following my adventures through the years you know my wife and I like to visit little known forgotten places like ghost towns, stage stops, military outposts, mining camps, and other places slowly being lost to time and the elements. One such place is Desert Center, California just off Interstate 10 in the Mojave Desert.
Desert Center had its beginnings in 1921 when founder Stephen Ragsdale built a service station and café along the route of what would eventually become Interstate 10.
At the time the café was the only place to obtain a meal for 50 miles in any direction. The café was open for business 24 hours a day, 365 days a year with Ragsdale stating, “We lost our keys – we can’t close!” The café finally did close in 2012 with a note left on the door stating it was closed temporarily for maintenance.
My wife and I stumbled across the site in the fall of 2016 when we were lured off I-10 by the nearby modern-day ghost town of Eagle Mountain just north of Desert Center. While Eagle Mountain turned out to be a bust (we took the wrong road and the town is on private property under the watchful eye of security personnel), Desert Center proved to be a special treat.
During our visit, the café was just as it was when the door was closed and locked on its last day of business in 2012. Peering through the windows we could see salt & pepper shakers still sitting on the tables along with sugar dispensers, vacant chairs awaiting customers in position at the tables, and inverted coffee cups were set next to the coffee maker ready to be filled.
Walking around town we explored an old railroad caboose, antique vehicles that had been baking in the sun for years, old gasoline pumps on the island of the service station which hadn’t dispensed gas in decades, and viewed many other neat old relics.
Despite the traffic whizzing by on adjacent I-10, we had the whole place to ourselves and you could just feel the ghosts of yesteryear welcoming us to their haunts.
Sadly, I recently read that contents of the entire town had been auctioned off online by a descendant of Ragsdale’s. The old gas pumps sold for $3,300, the old neon sign for the café fetched $7,400, the wooden phone booths located in the back of the café brought in $1,500 and a Los Angeles Times newspaper rack went for $270.
While the physical items may have been sold and carted off, the ghosts still remain and I am sure would appreciate you taking the time to exit I-10 for a short visit when you travel through the area. You will find Desert Center just north of Exit 192 on I-10 with plenty of space for RV parking.
Exploring the ghostly days of a bygone era, just another adventure in RVing!
If you have memories of Desert Center during its operating days, please share.
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Dave Helgeson’s many roles in the RV industry started before he even had a driver’s license. His grandparents and father owned an RV dealership before the term “RV” had been coined, and Dave played a pivotal role in nearly every position of an RV dealership. He and his wife Cheri launched their own RV dealership in the Pacific Northwest. The duo also spent 29 years overseeing regional RV shows. Dave has also served as President of a local chapter of the Recreational Vehicle Dealers Association (RVDA), worked on the board of advisors for the RV Technician Program of a local technical college, and served as a board member of the Manufactured Home and RV Association. Dave’s reputation earned him the title of “The foremost expert on boondocking,” bestowed by RV industry icon, the late Gary Bunzer (The RV Doctor). When he’s not out boondocking, you’ll find Dave in the spotlight at RV shows across the country, giving seminars about all things RVing. He and Cheri currently roam in their fifth travel trailer, with Dave doing all the service, repair and modifications to his own unit.