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San Bernardino County, California

Kelso Ghost Town

The abandoned train depot now doubles as a well-placed rest stop for those who take the road less traveled. 

Now little more than a ghost village, Kelso Depot is a historical oasis in the desert of the Mojave National Preserve. In its prime, the oddly placed town provided food, water, and postal services to trains passing through.

Kelso was built in 1905, with the train depot at its center and other administrative buildings popping up around it. It was named after John H. Kelso, whose name was drawn from a hat. It was planned as a much-needed rest stop for the workers and passengers traveling by train along the parched desert railroad.

At its peak, roughly 2,000 people called the small desert town home. It boomed during the 1940s after nearby iron and borax mines opened. But after the mines closed about a decade later, its population began to dwindle. In the 1970s, remote Kelso gained a reputation as “the town without television.” By the 1980s, it was nearing its final years. The train depot closed in 1986, and the town seemed doomed for demolition.

Thankfully, locals rallied to preserve this piece of history. The National Park Service gained control of the site in 1994. The organization opened the train depot to the public in 2005, which now houses the visitor center for the Mojave National Preserve. The displays both inside and out give a great understanding to the historical significance of the station’s location.

In addition to giving a brief glimpse into the past, the ghost town doubles as a well-placed rest stop between Las Vegas and Palm Springs (for those who choose a road less traveled). Clean bathrooms in the middle of a desert—who would have thought! 

Know Before You Go

Check out the Kelso dune on the way out of town if you are heading south.