Route 66 in the Mojave Desert

Don't fence him in
Dennis Caisber preserves the human resources of the East Mojave

Staff Writer

Yes, it was rude, but I had to ask: What’s it like to live 30 miles from nowhere?

“We are here,” replied Dennis Casebier, founder of the Goffs Historic Cultural Center six miles north of Interstate 40 and half an hour west of Needles.

“You are the one who lives far away.”

So it came as no surprise when, two seconds later, he admitted a fondness for “desert rats,” heirs to the original mountain men.

“Desert rats aren’t exactly rebellious,” said Casebier, 65. “It’s just that they won’t be told what to do.

“People who live in the back country unconsciously erect barriers to confound city folk. That barrier — whether 30 dogs or junk in the yard — serves as a filter.

“The average flatlander is intimidated. But once you pass the desert rat’s test, you can’t get away.”

Lamenting that the classic desert rats have all gone, Casebier blamed the Bureau of Land Management (“Once the BLM got interested in resource management, the desert rats were doomed”) but also the fact that “today it’s an unlucky combination to be both self-reliant and intolerant of regulations.”

This from a 30-year Navy man.

Goffs was established in 1883 as a siding for the Southern Pacific Railway. It increased in importance when, in 1907, a short-line railroad connected it to the rich mines at Searchlight, Nev.

By 1911 there were enough children living in Goffs (sons and daughters of railway employees) to require a school. Classes began in a rented, frame structure.

Goffs Schoolhouse

Mailing Address:
P.O. Box 66, Essex, CA 92332-0066

Beginning Sept. 18, the Goffs Historic Cultural Center will be open to the public on Saturday afternoons. Until then, please call ahead to make an appointment.

Information: E-mail: Web site:
(760) 733-4482

A subscription to “Mojave Road Report,” the newsletter published jointly by the Friends of the Mojave Road/Mojave Desert Heritage & Cultural Association, costs $20 for 12 issues. With each subscription comes membership in the Friends and the MDHCA.

Oral history project:
The oral history project of the MDHCA is looking to interview old-timers from the East Mojave, especially people who attended school in Goffs. Call 733-4482 to propose yourself or suggest someone else as an interview subject.

Related book:
“Guide to the Mojave Road” by Dennis Casebier (Tales of the Mojave Road Publishing Company; 1983, revised 1986) is due to be reissued this fall.

Three years later, a handsome mission-style schoolhouse was built. It served a total of 412 students before closing down in 1937, supplanted by a new school in Essex.

Searchlight had fizzled by 1923. Route 66, which once brought traffic through town, was redirected six miles south in 1931.

By 1937, Goffs had gone bust.

But 20 years later, a kid from Topeka, Kan., was assigned to the Marine Training Center in Twentynine Palms.

“Kansas isn’t the desert,” Casebier conceded, “but it, too, is big and empty. And it, too, had been homesteaded — Twentynine Palms was settled by World War I veterans gassed by the Germans.

“Back then, you could still drive all over Joshua Tree National Monument, so a friend and I explored the old mines. We’d sleep out at night and, in the morning, dump scorpions out of our boots.”

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