The Mojave Phone Booth

I stumbled on this link when engaged in some otherwise pointless search on-line for something entirely different.

Like my desert-dog buddies, Bart R., Pete C., Greg M., and others, we all had our adventures wandering around the Mojave Desert as kids and then young and not-so-young adults. Some more than others.

The string (yes, there’s more than one) of phone booths in the Mojave was one of those fascinating, improbable, and curious marks of humanity and technology in an otherwise fairly natural and wild scene. The first time I stumbled across one was in a weekend adventure with Bart.

We’d been up in the Mountain Pass area, I think trying to suss out the Kokoweef mine/cavern mysteries, and decided to venture south into the Landfair Valley. We’d seen on the topo map an old railroad grade heading up a canyon from Ivanpah, and a bunch of old mines in the area, so it looked worthy of a visit.

Working our way up the path through the New York Mountains, passed intermittent signs of humans, some very abandoned, others fairly fresh. There were the occasional cattle, and sometimes a corral or stock tank. Even more rarely, there was what looked to be a cluster of buildings like a ranchhouse, but not much in the way of people.

Arriving at the north end of the Landfair Valley on the Goffs-Landfair-Ivanpah Road (aka Landfair Rd), it was just miles and miles of miles and miles of empty, serene desert. It was winter, so there were signs of some recent and rapidly vanishing snow over on Drum Peak, the high point at the west end of the New Yorks, and even some on the Mid Hills, to the southwest of Drum.

Anyway, we ambled along down the road until we discovered our improbable phone booth, either at the intersection of Old Government Rd or the intersection with Cedar Canyon Rd.  I’m sure that perhaps somewhere I have my own photo of it, but there are many photos of one of the booths and the surrounding desert available on the inter-webs!

Stopped and picked up the handset, and lo and behold, a dial tone. Pretty cool. We saw a sign adjacent cautioning about digging and damaging a cable underground, so it appeared that the phone may get its connection from the underground cable.

Once we got back to LA and to work the next week, I was determined to figure out how to call that phone booth and why it was there. Set me on a mission to find someone somewhere who knew. First stop was dialing “0”.

Nice operator answers, I tell her that I’d like to call this phone booth in the middle of the desert, in the Landfair Valley. I think she hands me over to a super-operator, or or maybe there’s a couple of handoffs, but ultimately I get to speak to a lady who seems to know how to contact the phone there. Sadly, I have no documentation now on this exploration from 40 years ago, but it was pretty awesome, as far as I can remember. First, that a snotty-nosed 20 year old kid could call the OPERATOR, and there was someone there who could navigate me through the arcane world of party lines and microwave links that somehow got to that one spot in the desert, and spend an hour doing it; second, that she then handed me over to someone at AT&T Long Lines (an engineer, I am pretty sure) who was excited to find a young person who was actually interested in their arcane but extremely vital universe of long-distance telephony and data communications; and finally that doing this didn’t trigger all sorts of alerts and alarms that I was interested in things like this. In today’s atmosphere, it seems like an invitation from the MIB or worse.

The story I got was that the booth was there because of tariff/regulatory rules. There was a long-distance underground cable buried there, along the old Government Road, and the rules required a public access for phone service no less than every 20 miles. This happened to be an empty spot in the desert where there were a few people living, there was a major road through here, so they put the booth there.

At this time, there wasn’t a direct-dial number for the booth, it was something like having to talk to a special operator and then asking for “Landfair 1”, or something like that. Awesome!

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.