Route 66 in the Mojave Desert

Don't fence him in

No wonder Casebier fell in love with the desert.

In 1960 he returned to California to work as a physicist on the Navy’s guided missile systems. By then, however, Joshua Tree was choked with tourists and government regulations. So Casebier looked around and discovered the East Mojave.

“It reminded me of the desert I used to know,” he said. “But more desert, and more Joshua trees.”

His work for the Navy meant Casebier spent a third of his time in Washington, D.C. While there, he researched the East Mojave in the National Archives, combing through pension files and muster rolls:

“The Army’s muster rolls detail everyone who ever served here — what he looked like and what he’d been doing just before he enlisted.”

Casebier’s research focused on the 1850s through the 1880s, and especially the Old Mojave Road, an ancestor of Route 66 that runs 15 miles north of Goffs.

“Until 1883,” he said, “the Old Mojave Road was the major route through this latitude for people traveling between Prescott, Ariz., and the Port of Los Angeles.”

Over the course of 25 years, Casebier filled 50 reels of microfilm with records from the National Archives and the Library of Congress.

In 1981, while still living in Corona, he founded the Friends of the Mojave Road with fellow devotees of that road and other back-country trails.

Today the Friends boast 850 members, chiefly in California, Nevada and Arizona. “But the other day,” Casebier said, “someone wrote from Switzerland requesting a (newsletter) subscription.”

Why do people join the Friends?

“Because they think it matters to create something bigger than yourself.”

This “thing that matters” is the cultural center, built around the old Goffs schoolhouse on 113 acres bought by Casebier and his wife, Jo Ann, in 1989.

Goffs Cultural Center

In 1993 the Friends gained nonprofit status as the Mojave Desert Heritage & Cultural Association.

Working from old photos and interviews with more than 40 former students — and funded by $133, 850, all from private donors — MDHCA volunteers restored the schoolhouse to its original, 1914 splendor.

That schoolhouse may be the centerpiece, but the cultural center boasts other gems as well: for example, the tiny Danby courthouse, which once stood next to Judge Johnny Neilson’s service station; a building from the Golden Queen Mine near Mojave; an Atlantic & Pacific boxcar, 100 years old, now used as a cookhouse; and a complete 10-stamp ore mill from Rosamond.

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