Kelso Depot Visitor Center hours
Kelso Depot Visitor Center is open Fridays through Tuesdays from 9 am to 5 pm, closed Wednesdays and Thursdays. The Beanery Lunch Counter is closed.
Watch for storm damage on all roads
Recent storms have caused flash flooding and damage to roads. Reduce speed and use caution when traveling through the park after storms. Call 760-252-6100 or 760-252-6108 for updates. Check our Current Conditions page for information on specific roads. More »
A Railroad Through the Desert
Courtesy Union Pacific Archives
The San Pedro, Los Angeles & Salt Lake Railroad
Courtesy Theo Packard
A Railroad Town at Kelso
The first depot at Kelso opened in 1905, followed a few months later by a post office, an engine house and an “eating house” to serve both railroad employees and the passengers on trains without dining cars. The town grew over time, as more employees were needed and more of their families moved to the Mojave Desert to join them.
Courtesy Union Pacific Archives
The Kelso Depot & Clubhouse
Civil engineers working for the railroad in Los Angeles drew up the plans for the “Kelso Clubhouse & Restaurant,” in 1923. The building would include a conductor’s room, telegraph office, baggage room, dormitory rooms for staff, boarding rooms for railroad crewmen, a billiard room, library and locker room. Construction started in 1923 and the depot opened in 1924.
Originally, the restaurant and telegraph office each had three shifts, operating around the clock. This continued through the boom years of the 1940s, when Kaiser’s Vulcan mine caused Kelso’s population to grow to nearly 2,000. The closing of the mine coupled with diesel engines replacing steam resulted in the UP moving jobs and families out of Kelso. The depot function ended in 1962, although the restaurant and boarding rooms were still in use. The advancement of diesel technology led to fewer and fewer crew members needing to eat or stay overnight, so in 1985 the UP decided to close the Kelso Depot entirely.
Couresy Bureau of Land Management
Life After Closure
They organized into the Kelso Depot Fund and set about saving the building. While they were able to stop the demolition, the costs of restoration grew too expensive for the group and they turned to local politicians and the federal government for assistance. The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) already managed much of the land around Kelso as the East Mojave National Scenic Area, so it made sense for the BLM to gain ownership of the Depot. Members of Congress from the area went to work, and by 1992, the BLM had the title to the building.
With the passage of the California Desert Protection Act of 1994, the East Mojave National Scenic Area become Mojave National Preserve and the Depot passed into the hands of the National Park Service. Renovation of the Kelso Depot began in 2002. The building reopened to the public as the new visitor center for Mojave National Preserve in October, 2005.
Did You Know?
At 1.6 million acres, Mojave National Preserve is the third largest National Park Service area outside of Alaska. Death Valley National Park and Yellowstone National Park rank first and second.