The Kelso Depot was built in the early 1900s as a steam engine railroad stop way out in the middle of the Mojave Desert. Water was essential for the old iron horses, so the overall plan for railroads way back then was to establish watering stops at locations along the railroad lines where the steam engines would be getting thirsty. Many of the old water tower stops were named in alphabetical order along the desert railroad lines, which explains why towns with the letter "A" are located furthest west. Some of the water tower stops later were turned into remote resorts for passengers in need of an overnighter and the Kelso Depot was one such place. Spanish Colonial architecture was the cutting edge design in the 1920s and the Kelso Depot definitely is a showcase of this legendary style.
Back in its heyday, the Kelso Depot was an upscale resort hotel with a restaurant that served the booming western railroad tourism trade. This station also served the local mining and ranching community, so it was a vital link in the supply line. This all did not last long, because with the advent of diesel locomotives, the steam engine watering holes practically went extinct overnight. Fortunately or not, WWII very much kept the Kelso Depot alive, because a few desert training bases were located nearby and local raw materials for the war effort were loaded at the station. In fact, the local iron ore mine kept the Kelso Depot alive through ensuing wars up till the 1960s, when passenger train service finally ended on this line.
The old abandoned railroad depot way out in the Mojave Desert was slated for demolition, but fortunately things do not happen too fast out in the desert, especially when extra expenses are involved. Historical societies and activists soon organized protective status for this old architectural gem and eventually the old historic railroad stop inn was restored to its original splendor. With the recent establishment of the Mojave National Preserve, the old historic Kelso Depot is now guaranteed to be preserved for future generations to experience.
The Kelso Depot now serves as the official Mojave National Preserve Visitor Center, but it has been closed for more than a year. The reason why has to do with the antique climate system needing replaced, which is no easy task. Air conditioning definitely is a necessity during the scorching heat of the Mojave Desert summer season and the retrofit project is supposed to be completed in 2023. Till then, the Kelso Depot grounds are well worth checking out, simply because of the unique architecture and the towering desert palms.
The old Kelso Jail is yet another item to marvel over or be horrified by. This steel bar box sits outside in direct sunlight next to the railroad line, so when the heat of the desert reaches the boiling point, this old jail becomes an example of cruel and unusual punishment at its best. The Kelso Jail was quite a criminal deterrence back in its day, so be sure to pose for a picture next to this unusually macabre relic of the past!
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