This is the story of how a desert icon became, against all odds, a point of convergence for the masses, bridging the gap between the real and digital worlds.
It was by pure happenstance that a man by the name of Godfrey Daniels even discovered the Mojave Phone Booth’s existence. A casual mention of a telephone deep in the middle of the desert, miles from any paved roads, accompanied by its number, caught his eye in a zine one evening.
The concept that a phone serving a mysterious clientele stood in the Mojave’s moonscape, its ring echoing off into nothing, transfixed him. For over a month, he dialed the phone with increasing frequency. In his words, “I was just imagining making a phone ring out where presumably no one could hear it except the coyotes. But then there was also in the back of your mind, the thought - what if? Like, what if somebody is wandering by? Who would be out there? Who would pick up?”
Then, one day, against all odds, Daniels got a busy signal. In a frenzy, he called until the busy signal gave way to a ring, and a woman answered on the other end, solving the mystery of for whom the phone rang. Lorene, a cinder miner who lived off the grid, used the esoteric Mojave Phone Booth for her calls. Rather than ruining the mystery, Lorene’s existence further delighted Daniels, providing crucial details to fuel his obsession.
Now he knew the phone was real. And he could visit it.
The Mojave Phone Booth was located between Baker and Vegas at the turn off for Cima, surrounded by Joshua trees in the middle of the Mojave National Preserve. In-person, it was exactly as it had appeared in Daniels’ fantasy. With the desert’s unrelenting vastness expanding in every direction, he made a call from it, to his friend, completing the cycle.
But he didn’t stop there – Daniels returned home and built a website dedicated to the Mojave Phone Booth, publishing its number (760-733-9969) so all the world could enjoy his finding. In 1997, this was the best thing the Internet had ever seen. All of a sudden, people were making pilgrimages to the phone in the middle of nowhere, and the line rang off the hook. Visitors would take turns answering calls from the farthest corners of the Earth, having conversations with strangers when language barriers allowed.
Unfortunately the phone’s unbridled popularity became its undoing. Heretofore its location in the midst of the Mojave National Preserve had been a non-issue for the National Park Service. The sudden increase in traffic–one of the earliest examples of a real-world location going viral thanks to the Internet–was a problem.
One day, in May of 2000, the Mojave Phone Booth was there. Then the next it had been leveled, leaving only a concrete pad as a makeshift grave where that mysterious bridge between the digital and real worlds had once been.
Admittedly, the pay phone itself had always been an outlier in the world. The fact that it was a little too good to be true is what drew so many to it over the years. So not long ago, a white-hat hacker and phreak by the name of Jered Morgan, a.k.a. Lucky225, decided to resurrect the spirit of the Mojave Phone Booth. Anyone can now call the disembodied phone at its original number, where they will enter a conference call; much like calling the desert, someone may be waiting on the other end, or the caller may find only the sound of their own voice echoing in a vast (digital) emptiness.
Back in the real world, the (physical) booth itself remains gone, and even the concrete pads have been demolished. Nonetheless a pilgrimage to the site of the former Mojave Phone Booth at the coordinates provided still seems honorable, given its historic virality and continued, disembodied existence out in the ether.
For a fantastic podcast version of the story check out this 99% invisible episode.
Know Before You Go
Call 760-733-9969 to contact something that exists outside space-time.